Often lost in the debate over surveillance and the actions of the National Security Agency is that cyber space is a potential battlefield where countries will vie for superiority just as they do with air, sea, and land. So it should be no shock to anyone that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently announced that he was looking to expand cybersecurity cooperation with our Canadian and Mexican neighbors.
As noted by the Armed Force Press Service, a new Canadian/American/Mexican working group on cyber issues will look "to identify potential opportunities to work together to share best practices and lessons learned."
What that ultimately means is quite uncertain, especially given that within the U.S. it is difficult to determine what constitutes "best practices." It will also be interesting to see if there will be joint monitoring for and response to state-level cyber intrusions -- perhaps a 21st century version of the old NORAD. Maybe this time it will be called NORCAD?
Whatever the case, such cooperation is certainly appropriate. The interdependencies between the three countries are well known, and while a cascading failure to critical infrastructure is still more of a remote possibility than some would acknowledge, the threat is still real. More importantly, given the ability of cyber attackers to penetrate a targeted system through any manner of electronic doors, working with partners to help bolster their cybersecurity has clear national security benefits.
Of course, international cooperation cannot end with Canada and Mexico. Just as America learned on Dec. 7, 1941, that it could not hide from World War II behind the guns of the U.S. Navy, we also cannot expect a cyber wall surrounding our immediate neighbors to insulate our country from attack. These kinds of military partnerships have to be established across the globe and hopefully as a result, some form of norms associated with the use of cyber weapons will be established.
The partnership announced by Secretary Hagel is a step in the right direction, and with any luck it will lead to broader international cooperation on combating cyber threats and enemies.