International Governance of Cyber Security: U.S Dominance or Fear of Security Threats

International Governance of Cyber Security: U.S Dominance or Fear of Security Threats


The globalization process facilitates the flow of information far beyond international borders through the development of virtual networks, which creates new challenges to national and international security. As most developed states are operating on a digital database, their critical infrastructure includes economic, financial, political and military institutions, which have all become vulnerable to cyberattacks. Therefore, protecting sovereignty in cyberspace has become a common interest among states. Today, cybersecurity remains one of the common issues that organizations and government agencies are grappling with. It is for such reasons that the US federal government saw it wise to regulate the use internet as a medium of communication or business transaction to protect individuals and companies from cyber threats. The government has, however, shifted the reason for internet regulation also to undertake cyber espionage apart from the primary intended objective which was to enhance cybersecurity to protect individuals from cyberattacks. This research paper, therefore, addresses the extent to which globalization affects the U.S’ hegemonic role when it comes to the international governance of cyberspace and attempts to examine whether the U.S government uses national security as an excuse to exercise surveillance on its people and other sovereign states. In order to address these questions, the study utilized secondary resources from AUS library and google scholar to gather the needed data and information to discuss the above topic.


International Governance of Cyber Security: U.S Dominance or Fear of Security Threats


Cyberspace remains a domain which lacks definite and distinct borders that can help regulate individuals on what and not what to do when it comes to the use of computers and the internet (Knake, R., & Council on Foreign Relations. 2010). In effect, almost every computer user in the US, including government agencies, is at risk of being attacked by malicious malware which cyber attackers use to retrieve confidential information stored by the user. Such occurrences make national and international engagement on cybersecurity an essential aspect (Henley-Putnam National, 2016). More notably, the global sheer scale of the internet work and the significant number of users who depends on it demands a well-structure global plan to overcome such effects. Today, the internet has become a large human enterprise ever to be created in the history of humanity (Ritzer, G., & Dean, 2015). Over two million people are today connected and use internet services on daily basis with over 88 quadrillion emails sent yearly. As globalization and economic integration continue to take shape, the scope of internet continues to broaden, thus making it difficult to regulate its usage on a global scale. Even with its continued usage, one cannot stop but ask the fundamental question concerning who is mandated to set the rules for the internet and how such rules regulate or undermine its usage across the globe.

The problem

The flow of information, far beyond physical borders, has been facilitated by globalization. However, these flows impose a number of threats and, as a result, the annual costs of cybercrime worldwide increased to $1 trillion (Knake, 2010, p.6). The magnitude of cybersecurity threats has become a major concern. Indeed, protection against cyberattacks is a common interest shared by many states that requires collective action, namely the global governance of cybersecurity.

The Challenges

Despite efforts made toward achieving the effective global governance of cybersecurity, several states have begun to develop their cyber capabilities by investing in new technologies and skilled military cyber units. Thus, compliance with international treaties that safeguard against challenges to both national and international security have become almost unmeasurable. The US federal government agencies such as the FBI, Homeland, and the CIA, have managed to survey communications between different people, not only in the US but also across the globe, through various organizations established to regulate the use of internet. However, such actions are perceived to infringe the rights of individuals to freedom of speech and expression as enriched in the American Constitution, thus making it difficult for the US government to successfully enhance cyber surveillance (Greenwald, MacAskill and Poitras, 2013). Moreover, powerful countries such as the US, Russia and China have begun to compete to dominate the cyberspace domain by exercising surveillance on other sovereign states. There is no doubt that the global governance of cybersecurity faces challenges with compliance, as every state is currently developing its own defense system against cyberattacks. Nevertheless, the United States as a hegemonic power has been using national security as an excuse to exercise surveillance on its people and other sovereign states.

Tentative Thesis: Global governance of cybersecurity is challenged by compliance issue, in which every state is developing its own defense system against cyberattack. Nevertheless, the United States as a hegemonic power has been using national security as an excuse to exercise surveillance on its people and other sovereign states. Hence, there is a clash between the national interests and global interests when it comes to cybersecurity because there is no global government that enforce and ensure compliance.

Theory and Hypothesis

Cyberspace is a domain without physical borders, that is enhanced by time-space compression, where users can perform a multitude of actions in a short period of time (Ritzer and Dean, 2015, p. 238). Due to the eradication of borders in cyberspace, several challenges have emerged for states, non-state actors and individuals. According to Duic, Cvrtila, and Ivanjko (2017), under the influence of globalization, cyberspace has transformed the concept of international and national security; It has opened new operational forms for attackers including states, criminals and terrorists.

The unmanageable nature of cyberspace, as evidence by the growing number of cyberattacks and serious threats to security, emphasizes the need for institutional global governance for cybersecurity. In 2014, U.S. policy makers insisted on the need for a formal governance structure to manage the complexity of cyberspace (Kavanagh, 2015, p.4). The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) are examples of agents in governance arrangements that have arisen out of the functional need of states to regulate cyberspace (p.284). However, these IGOs have been criticized for their inability to adjust to the rapid changes in the cyberspace domain and for being accountable for their funding resources. The following are some of the hypothesis that this research study aimed to analyze.

Hb1: Global governance of cyberspace is challenged by the concept of sovereignty.

Hb2: Cyberspace changes the concept of international security.

Hb3:  United States as a hegemonic power has been using national security as an excuse to exercise surveillance on its people and other sovereign states.

Literature Review

The idea to connect individuals across the world through a single platform (the internet) was first developed almost five decades ago. When the idea was initiated and the use of internet made a reality, almost all nations failed to think much about its growth and how it would affect the safety of its users and government agencies. By and large, these developed countries, who were at the forefront of adopting it, systematically failed to adopt measures which would later be used in regulating it (Eriksson, 2001). These countries were convinced that the internet was an excellent idea which would revolutionize key sectors of the economy, hence, they let it grow without any specific rules to govern it. Later, these governments realized that the internet was a powerful platform which if not regulated would result in unforeseen ramifications. They looked up and recognized the fact that the internet was growing and becoming an immense entity which would be difficult to control if urgent measures were not put in place to regulate it.

Individuals were concerned that if not controlled, the internet could be used in changing governments, run nuclear power plants, spread hate and inciteful message with the objective of instigating war, or even using it to access confidential information about powerful individual, corporate entities, or government agencies. With such realization, different governments across the world, led by the US, showed immense interest in the internet and its regulation (Kavanagh, 2015). This resulted in re-sovereignization of the internet and cyberspace in general in what is famously known as the ‘Rise of a Cybered Westphalian Age” where sovereign nations have much interest and control on the internet.

Cyber Security

The need to safeguard the use of internet services was first based on the technique of Domain names. In any web address, the domain name if often the portion of the web address that starts with the phrase http://.  In the cyberspace, domain names are vital in identifying the web page that every user seek to access. Computers are built to use the Domain Name System (DNS) which are then translated into an Internet Protocol (IP) address, which is a binary number helps to inform the Internet routing system the specific server on the internet that should be accessed (Rosenzweig, 2012).  It is from here that the IP informs the Domain Name System how to retrieve the information or web page and connects it with the user computer. Based on the above explanation, it is evident that the DNS works in a three-phase process. In order to have a website, an individual is often required to register his/her domain name which is then hosted on a different server which must be identified by a unique IP address (Shane, & Hunker, 2013). Hence, when the user wants to access a particular website, he/she must type the correct domain name of the website which the computer then connects to the serve through the DNS programming, and return the right web page on the user’s computer screen.

Today, the DNS function is absolutely critical in addressing cyberattack and cybercrimes. This is because if the DNS was to be broken in anyway, then the communication process through the internet would automatically break down. It is also mean that in case of any malicious attack on a company’s or government’s agencies’ internal servers, then IT experts can follow the IP address of the attacker and locate where he/she is located (Cavelty, 2008). Thus, the registry of domain names is essential in knowing which IP addresses are specifically target to interfere with the normal functioning of individuals’ computers. The Internet Corporation for Assigning Names and Numbers (ICANN), established in 1998, is a non-profit organization that is mandated with the responsibility of setting the rules concerning creation and distribution of domain names across the world. The organization, which is located in Los Angeles, California, is today one of the achievements by the US government in the fight to control and regulate the US of internet


Hegemonic stability theory is an international relation theory which rooted in different fields of political science, history, and economics. The theory argues that for there to be a stable international system, then a single nation-state must remain a dominant power, commonly known as the hegemon (Valeriano & Maness, 2018). The theory further argues that if the hegemon’s power diminishes as the dominating state, then the stability of the international system ceases to exist. According to (Alexander & Jaffer, 2018), the US has decades now been the dominating nation on matters concerning technology and internet thus making it hegemon state on matters concerning cyberspace and its application. (Rovner & Moore, 2017). Instead of cooperating with the US to safeguard the cyber space, these countries have begun to raise concerns about their sovereign national security. These countries have also started developing their own offensive and defensive capabilities based on their dependency on the cyber network, as theories of intimidation cannot be implemented in the cyber domain (Duic, Cvrtila, and Ivanjko, 2017, p. 1572).

The issue of mass surveillance by the US government dates back to World War 1. After taking part in the second World War II, the US government strengthened its surveillance through various programs such as Project SHAMROCK and Black Chamber. The government enhanced its surveillance by forming different intelligence agencies such as the FBI, CIA, and the NSA, institutions which were mandated to undertake the surveillance process. The government, through the congress, also enacted various laws which gave these law-enforcing agencies the power to undertake surveillance on its citizens secretly without the knowledge of the public. It was until the Civil Rights Movement that Americans started to witness the impact of the government controlling individual’s actions through surveillance processes. During this era, many black people who were advocating for equality were put under constant surveillance and even labeled as integrationists or subversives.

On the international platform, the aspect of surveillance was strengthened by the formation of the UKUSA Surveillance agreement of 1946 which later evolved into the ECHLON collaboration in 1955 (Watt, 2017). The agreement involved five English speaking countries; the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, also known as the Five-Eyes. These countries agreed on the need to create one agency that would focus on intercepting electronic communications, with mush emphasis placed on domestic surveillance capabilities. It was, however, until the September 11th attacks of 2001 in the US, that the government intensified its surveillance both on domestic and international spheres. Contemporary mass surveillance in the US relies upon annual presidential executive orders which often declares continued State of National Emergency. The order was first signed by President George Bush in 2001. The signing of the presidential executive order has been continued on annual basis during President Barack Obama regime and now President Donald Trump’s era.

With the creation of additional surveillance agencies like the DHS and the Directorate of National Intelligence, the scale of national surveillance on American citizens have exponentially escalated. The issue of mass surveillance increased to incorporate telephone conversation. It is reported that major telephone companies were colluding with National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor telephone conversations and records of US citizens (Greenwald, MacAskill, & Poitras, 2013). It was also reported that the NSA was collaborating with various internet website companies such as Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft, to view email address of its citizens and non-citizens.

The US government also spends billions of dollars annually to update its National call data system and to access crucial information that touches on political and economic issues of other nations. In the fiscal year 2009, the Director of National Intelligence was accorded 49.8 billion USD to undertake its surveillance roles. The amount has however been increasing yearly. In the 2017 financial year, the agency was allocated USD 54.9 billion and later increased to USD 57.7 billion in 2918. Because of the dominance of the US on the issue of cyberspace, other countries saw it necessary to also enhance their regulation and control on cyberspace to mitigate terrorism, undertake national surveillance on its citizens, and protect computer users from various cyberattacks.


It is evident from the above analysis that the continued dependency on the usage of internet across the globe enhances the vulnerability of the users to experience various forms of cyberattacks. It is therefore important for countries to promote their efforts in controlling the usage of internet to address the adverse effects associated with inappropriate usage of internet services such as cyber related crimes. From the analysis, it is also eminent that the US is still a hegemonic nation on matters concerning cyberspace. However, the continued desire by other countries in controlling the international cyberspace should be a major concern for the US government. On the continued usage of internet and the continued desire of every government to regulate its usage, there is no doubt that the influence of cyberspace in international relations will increased.

Based on the hegemonic theory of international relations, the US should invest resources in key cyber capabilities to overcome its competition, which includes China, Russia, and North Korea, all of whom are advancing their cybersecurity capabilities in order to strengthen its place as a hegemonic state when on issues concerning cyberspace and to promote the stability of international relations. It is also evident that the US government, through various national security agencies, has been infringing the rights of the people by implementing secret surveillance on individuals’ conversations. However, with the increasing terror activities across the globe, such actions are necessary to enhance national security and thwart various planned terror activities. Even with the objective of national security in place, the US government needs to scale down its surveillance on Americans to enable them enjoy their privacy as enshrined in the constitution. Some of the limitation of the study was that it relied primarily on secondary data source and also did not analyze the quantitative relationship of continued use of internet and the associated cyberattacks. Hence, there is need for future study to address such issues.



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