The independent resource on global security

11. International governance of artificial intelligence, cyberspace and outer space


Overview, Vincent Boulanin, Allison Pytlak and Nivedita Raju

I. Governing the impact of artificial intelligence on international peace and security, Vincent Boulanin

II. Governance of cyberspace and the malicious use of information and communications technology, Allison Pytlak

III. Developments in space security governance, Nivedita Raju

Emerging and disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), synthetic biology and quantum technologies are having a profound impact on security. Efforts to establish international principles of responsible use of these technologies are gathering pace, especially in three priority technology areas: AI, cyberspace and outer space.


Artificial intelligence

It was an important year for the governance of AI at the international level in at least three respects. First, the group of governmental experts on autonomous weapon systems (AWS) under the 1981 Certain Conventional Weapons Convention (CCW) adopted language that could form the basis of a two-tiered regulation on AWS. The CCW also adopted a mandate that could mark a potential end point for the discussion on AWS in the context of the CCW. At the same time, states approved a new discussion track under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly that could serve as a basis for a future ad hoc process to complement or replace the CCW process.


Second, states formally acknowledged the need to widen the conversation about AI risks beyond AWS, to cover other ways through which advances in AI may present challenges for international peace and security. This shift was reflected by the first-ever meeting of the UN Security Council on AI in July 2023 and the creation of two new discussion forums: the international summit on Responsible AI in the Military Domain (REAIM) and the AI Safety Summit.


Third, the conversations concomitantly reached deeper technical and higher political levels. At REAIM, for example, states extensively discussed the problems of transparency, interpretability and bias associated with the use of AI applications based on machine learning, while the AI Safety Summit led to extensive discussion and commitment to the testing and evaluation of advanced AI systems. At the same time, these discussions mobilized decision makers at much higher political levels than ever before. The UN secretary-general and several heads of state engaged personally on the issue. It was also notable that AI was a key point in the bilateral meeting between the presidents of China and the United States in November 2023.


Cyberspace and the malicious use of ICT

Information and communications technology (ICT) continued to play a role in the foreign policy and military activities of states and other actors in 2023. Cyber capabilities were often used in combination with other tools, mechanisms and activities. Cyber operations were used in the wars in Ukraine and Gaza in 2023, with activity centring on distributed denial of services (DDoS) attacks and website defacements, along with dis- and misinformation campaigns and influence operations. Russia’s targeting of Ukraine’s allies was another feature of cyber operations in 2023.


The prevailing geopolitical climate continued to limit the effectiveness of multilateralism to develop additional norms or instruments for cyber governance, but there was progress within certain frameworks in 2023. Negotiations on a future UN cybercrime treaty continued despite concerns about its potential to negatively impact human rights; the 2014 African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (Malabo Convention) entered into force; European Union institutions drafted a Cyber Resilience Act; the International Criminal Court announced its intention to consider evidence on cyber misconduct; and there were multiple governmental and non-governmental initiatives focusing on specific cyber threats. This patchwork approach to cyber governance is the most likely way of achieving progress, but incorporating accountability and transparency mechanisms will be important.


Space security

Several multilateral initiatives for space security governance were also pursued at UN forums in 2023. The UN Disarmament Commission on transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs) for outer space adopted a consensus-based report with practical recommendations for implementing TCBMs. This demonstrated that agreement could be reached on smaller issues, despite the decades-long stalemate in multilateral space security discussions. However, at the UN open-ended working group (OEWG) on reducing space threats, which convened its final session in 2023, states were unable to reach consensus on a report. Nonetheless, these OEWG sessions highlighted key issues for upcoming discussions, including ensuring the protection of civilians; preventing debris-creating anti-satellite weapons tests; regulating non-kinetic attacks on space systems; adopting measures for information sharing; and clarifying the role of commercial entities in conflicts involving space systems. In November 2023 a UN group of governmental experts was convened to discuss further practical measures to prevent an arms race in outer space, while the General Assembly proposed two new OEWGs.


With the adoption of multiple UN processes there is a risk of further polarization and overlap of substance in discussions about space security governance. Moreover, states do not share the same resources or capacity to engage in all these upcoming multilateral processes. States will therefore need to participate in good faith and try to ensure complementarity and coordination in order to prevent further exacerbating some of the harmful dynamics currently affecting space security governance. 

Dr Vincent Boulanin, Allison Pytlak and Nivedita Raju