Cyber treaty not in the cards

Coordinator for Cyber Issues at the Department of State,  Christopher Painter.

Christopher Painter, coordinator for cyber issues at the State Department, wants to advance the principle of "self-restraint" in cyberspace.

The rapidity with which cyber technology changes makes any agreement on a broad treaty to establish cyber norms unlikely, according to the State Department’s cyber envoy.

"You often hear people say we need a treaty in cyberspace [and] I've said often I don’t know what a treaty is in cyberspace," Christopher Painter, the State Department’s coordinator for cyber issues, said at Georgetown University's International Conference on Cyber Engagement on April 27. "I don’t know who signs that treaty, I don’t know who the parties of that treaty are."

Painter is instead working on smaller measures to cultivate trust among nation-states in a field not given to transparency. The measures include exchanging points-of-contact and discussing cyber doctrine, Painter told FCW after his conference remarks.

"Let's not try to like rush into a treaty that would take years and we’re not really even sure what that’s about," he added. 

Though cyberspace has challenged traditional notions of sovereignty, the Internet has a physical backbone of infrastructure that lies within various nation-states. Even so, developing international norms in cyberspace has been a thorny process, given the myriad issues involved, from intellectual property to human rights. While Painter presented a succinct list of peacetime cyber principles at the conference, the U.S. government's approach to cyberspace is still evolving.

Painter recently returned from a multilateral cyber summit in The Hague, where he said one of the main outcomes was the establishment of the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise, a group created to help fight cyber crime, detect threats and protect privacy.

Following that agreement, Painter said he is looking to advance principles of "self-restraint" that nation-states can agree to during peacetime. Those principles include not conducting online activity that intentionally harms critical infrastructure, not preventing national computer emergency teams from responding to cyber incidents, and cooperating with international cyber investigations, Painter said.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is a former FCW staff writer.


  • Acquisition
    network monitoring (nmedia/

    How companies should prep for CMMC

    Defense contractors should be getting ready for the Defense Department's impending cybersecurity standard expected to be released this month.

  • Workforce
    Volcanic Tablelands Calif BLM Bishop Field Office employee. April 28, 2010

    BLM begins move out of Washington

    The decision to relocate staff could disrupt key relationships with Congress and OMB and set the stage for a dismantling of the agency, say former employees.

Stay Connected


Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.