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Special Core: Contesting Western and Non-Western Approaches to Global Cyber Governance

- Blog Post by Xuechen Chen and Yifan Yang

- Special Issue available here

- Podcast available here



Contesting Western and Non-Western Approaches to Global Cyber Governance beyond Westlessness

Cyberspace governance, as one of the fastest-growing fields of global governance, has inevitably become an arena for geopolitical rivalry as well as a new focal point of normative contestation among major actors in international politics. Whereas the US has long been considered a dominant player and a rule-shaper in the global cyberspace governance regime, the past two decades have witnessed newly emerging dynamics that have significantly challenged the US’ hegemonic position and Western dominance. Norms for governing cyberspace have become increasingly contested internationally by a variety of actors and stakeholders at the global, regional and domestic levels. In addition, the redistribution of power from West to East has engendered an increasingly confrontational and competitive multipolar system in cyberspace governance, with rising powers from the non-Western camp becoming increasingly proactive and are seeking to play a greater role in the reformulation of norms and standards in cyberspace governance.

Against this backdrop, a new special core published in the International Spectator brings together a number of early-career scholars of different disciplines of Political Science, aiming to examine competing ideas and norms on cybersecurity governance from comparative perspectives, shedding light on the promising research field of global cybersecurity governance and the debate on ‘Westlessness’ in the study of international politics.

This Special Core makes a twofold contribution to the existing debate on global cyber governance by critically engaging with the notion of ‘Westlessness’ which was proposed at the 2020 Munich Security Conference. First, by examining a diverse range of empirical cases and subfields of cyber governance, it demonstrates ways in which the Western dominance over the norms, discourses and approaches concerning cyber governance has been fiercely contested by emerging powers and nascent players in the Global South. As demonstrated by the contributors of this Special Core, over the past decade, rising powers such as China, Singapore, South Korea, ASEAN and Latin America have all demonstrated stronger willingness and ambition to reshape the normative and regime structures in global cyber governance, according to their own values, interests and local contexts.

Whilst the existing debate on the normative framework of global cyber governance has long been confined to the debate between ‘multi-stakeholderism’ and ‘multilateralism’, our contributors’ analyses provide a more nuanced understanding of the complex nature of global cyberspace governance by taking into account a wider array of positions and approaches. These observations reveal that cyberspace governance, as a newly emerging and fast-growing policy area of global governance, has been increasingly characterised by a salient trend of knowledge and power diffusion and redistribution away from countries in the Global North towards developing regions and emerging actors.

Second, this Special Core offers a critical assessment of the notion of ‘Westlessness’ and its relevance to the study of international politics. Whilst the concept of ‘Westlessness’ has been primarily adopted to depict the erosion of Western dominance and the rise of the non-Western world, contributors to this Special Core argue that it is imperative to move beyond the reductionist ‘West vs. non-West’ dichotomy in global cyber governance. Specifically, it demonstrates that there is a lack of a unified ‘Western’ normative position and coherent approach towards cyber governance. For example, Xuechen Chen and Yifan Yang argue that the EU is emerging as a new norm entrepreneur and autonomous regional actor that has proactively promoted its own vision of cyber governance. In so doing, the EU contributes to challenging the predominant US-centric approach from within the Western community. In addition, a dichotomous perspective highlighting the division between the West and non-West tends to neglect the increasing level of entanglements and potential normative convergence between the Global North and Global South, as demonstrated by Xinchuchu Gao. As evidenced in Saeme Kim’s article, a growing number of middle powers, such as South Korea and Singapore, have sought to find an alternative ’third way’ towards cyber governance to avoid being trapped in the geopolitical rivalry between the dominant Western and non-Western powers. Moreover, as shown in Louise Marie Hurel’s essay, it is necessary for researchers to shift their attention towards how Cybersecurity Capacity-building knowledge frameworks and normative considerations developed in the Global North have become increasingly intertwined with the realities, norms and discourses concerning cybersecurity capacity-building in the Global South.

This Special Core also seeks to pave the way for further research on global cyberspace governance. To advance our understanding of the latter beyond the conventional conceptualisation of ‘Westlessness’, two pathways can be envisioned. First, given the existence of divergent norms in cyber governance, it is worth further uncovering the conditions under which a diverse array of norms and regulatory approaches has emerged and has been sustained by taking into account the socio-economic, political and cultural contexts in different countries and regions. Second, considering the increasing degree of normative entanglement and mutual learning among different international actors, it is imperative to study the causal mechanisms underlying the processes of norm and policy diffusion in the sphere of global cyber governance. This will enrich our understanding of how cyber governance norms and policies travel across different regions, and how these norms and policies are contested, reconstructed and localised by different actors from both the Global North and the Global South.


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