Capacity Building in Cyberspace as an Instrument of Foreign Policy

Photo credit: Minnesota National Guard via / CC BY-ND

The positive impact of the Internet on human development depends on security and safety of the digital environment. With the share of developing countries in the global Internet population increasing rapidly, addressing the threats posed by malicious cyber activities is a clear priority. The purpose of this article is to explore the linkages between international debates on cyber-related issues (i.e. Internet governance, cybercrime, cybersecurity, or international norms) and cyber capacity building. Specifically, the article analyses capacity building projects by the Council of Europe and International Telecommunication Union to answer if and how they can be used as a tool in foreign policy. This question stems from the assumption that capacity building as a process focused on human resources development, organisational arrangements and legal and institutional frameworks is ultimately aimed at deep societal and political transformation.

There is no single ‘good’ model for securing cyberspace – therefore, the exchange of good practices between individual countries and regional organisations may help streamline ongoing efforts. Given different levels of development across the world, a collective effort in capacity building is of paramount importance in both preventing the emergence of safe havens and ensuring that developing countries can fully harness the benefits of ICTs for development. When discussing cyber capacity building methodologies one cannot ignore the lessons from other areas, including on local ownership and the effectiveness of conditionality.
The donor community needs to define a strategic narrative around the issue of capacity building. While the promotion of the multistakeholder approach and human rights online is consistently pushed on the agendas of major international meetings, there is still little understanding about the nature of the ultimate goal. Such a narrative would also help diffuse any misunderstandings about intentions and the nature of the relationship between donors and beneficiaries.
To deal with the challenge of fragmentation at the global level, it is important to address the question of a future architecture for capacity building efforts. At the moment, we observe a multiplication of efforts which often duplicate both the objectives and methods. Providing overarching umbrella architecture for such activities could help streamline those efforts and improve efficiency in the use of limited resources.