Mahathir’s Challenge to UMNO’s Najib Razak in GE-14


March 17, 2017

Mahathir’s Challenge to UMNO’s Najib Razak in GE-14

by Saleena Saleem

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/03/17/malaysias-new-but-not-fresh-opposition-party/

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Anwar Ibrahim and Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in the Good Old Days when the former was heir apparent and Deputy Prime Minister. Today Anwar is languishing in Jail

Speculation is rife that Malaysia’s 14th general election, which must be held by August 2018, may be called this year. The general election comes after a protracted political scandal over state wealth fund 1MDB, with damaging financial mismanagement and corruption allegations leveled at Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Several former leaders from the ruling political party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), have left and regrouped into a new Malay nationalist opposition, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). Led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad as Chairman, and former deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin as President, Bersatu will need to sell itself to a jaded public if it is to pass as a credible contender for UMNO’s Malay voter base.

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Strange brew of Malaysian politicians chasing the rainbow

These public perception challenges stem from the former UMNO leaders’ decisions and actions. At the height of the 1MDB scandal in mid-2015, the expectation that UMNO leaders, particularly Mahathir and Muhyiddin, would lead a massive break-away faction of dissatisfied party members when Najib was at his political weakest, did not materialise.

Instead, they fought for control of UMNO from within for nearly a year. It wasn’t until February 2016 that Mahathir left his old party — for the second time. It was a missed opportunity that gave Najib ample time to build support for his leadership within the various UMNO groups and to present a united front. As a high-profile frontman for Bersatu, Mahathir’s actions during this period may prove problematic for four key reasons as the new party targets the Malay vote.

First, while still in UMNO, Mahathir associated with pro-opposition civil society groups such as Bersih. Mahathir’s participation in the Bersih 4 rally, which was widely seen as a Chinese-dominated anti-Najib demonstration, leaves him vulnerable to Najib’s race-based argument that should Malays fail to support him, the government would fall to a Chinese-led political machine. Given Bersatu’s alliance with the opposition coalition, of which the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) is a key player, such fears can be magnified to its detriment during an election campaign.

Second, Mahathir initially stated he had no intention of establishing a political party upon quitting UMNO, but he did precisely that in late 2016. The timing of his departure from UMNO, which came only after his son, Mukhriz, was forced to resign as the Kedah chief minister by pro-Najib UMNO members, provides ample ammunition to those who claim Mahathir is primarily motivated by his son’s political ambitions rather than a genuine concern for Malaysia’s future.

Third, Mahathir’s past ideological differences, and the harsh treatment of civil society activists and political foes while he was in government, many of whom he associates with today, leaves him open to charges of hypocrisy. For example, during the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s, Mahathir clashed over economic policies with his then-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. This set the stage for Anwar’s imprisonment on charges of sodomy, and his rise as an opposition leader of the Reformasi movement, which advocated an open society and economy.

Mahathir has curtailed fundamental liberties that the opposition stands for — he used the Internal Security Act to imprison DAP’s leader Lim Kit Siang during Operation Lalang in 1987, after government appointments in Chinese vernacular schools spurred an outcry.

Fourth, Mahathir’s criticism of Najib’s alleged misdeeds over 1MDB leaves him exposed to scrutiny over his own actions while he was prime minister. He already faces criticism over the Bumiputera Malaysia Finance Limited scandal in the 1980s, and the central bank’s forex losses of US$10 billion in the 1990s, although Mahathir’s camp claims the two are not comparable.

Bersatu enters into an opposition political landscape that is already divided, and where the various parties now jostle to re-negotiate the terms of a political arrangement for the upcoming elections. A January survey by INVOKE, an opposition-linked NGO, found that a three-cornered fight between the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (which includes Bersatu), the Islamist party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and the ruling party, Barisan Nasional benefits the incumbent government. This makes electoral pacts essential, even as the different ideological bents and histories of the parties in the opposition complicate matters.

The previous opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, saw public bickering among its constituent parties over various issues leading eventually to its collapse. Two examples are the political impasse that ensued over disagreements on the Selangor chief minister post in 2014 and PAS’ renewed focus on implementing hudud (criminal punishment).

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Good Luck to all Chief Sitting Bulls led by Chief Maha Bull of Kubang Pasu

The lack of agreement on seat allocations between remaining coalition parties, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP, during the 2016 Sarawak state elections, and the recent DAP resignations of its elected representatives over simmering grievances from the past coalition pact with PAS, reinforce the perception that the opposition face intractable difficulties in maintaining a cohesive front.

The opposition’s current narrative of ‘Save Malaysia from Najib’, which was built on Mahathir’s short-lived ‘Save Malaysia’ movement may not be as compelling for voters compared to calls for change based on democratic ideals of equality, justice and fairness for all races, and which were emphasised during the previous two general elections.

When Mahathir recently criticised Chinese investment projects in Johor, he utilised the race-oriented tactics of the past, which can be off-putting to some voters who had been drawn to the opposition in the first place.

Nevertheless, although Bersatu carries the baggage of its founding members, it is a new political party with the potential to grow in strength if it can sustain itself beyond its immediate challenges. No doubt Bersatu is a potential spoiler for UMNO.

Addressing public perception issues and becoming a serious contender to UMNO may increasingly require the introduction of a younger generation of politicians. With the senior generation playing the role of mentors, this new generation could do much to project the future direction of Bersatu as a viable political party — one that looks beyond the objective of unseating Najib.

Saleena Saleem is an Associate Research Fellow at Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This commentary was originally jointly published in Policy Forum and New Mandala.

 

Pakatan Harapan or Pakatan Rakyat or Whatever–The Opposition has an Identity Problem


March 16, 2017

Pakatan Harapan or Pakatan Rakyat or Whatever–The Opposition has an Identity Problem

by Scott Ng@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Semua mahu jadi tauwkey, hanya rakyat boleh jadi hamba, sama macam UMNO

Opposition supporters are apparently divided over former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s proposal that Pakatan Harapan undergo a rebranding after his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia joins it. Mahathir has suggested that Pakatan adopt a new name and a common manifesto and symbol.

To some, the call confirms their suspicion that PPBM is merely a reskinned UMNO and the inclusion of the party in a grand coalition will simply make it a version of Barisan Nasional, with Mahathir in control. After all, old habits die hard, especially the habits of a confessed dictator. Mahathir ruled for more than 22 years and is used to having his way.

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Le Boss not like a Boss

Of course, this theory assumes that the other parties are willing to make way for Mahathir to ascend to the position of opposition leader and will unquestioningly give in to his dictates. Given PKR’s lack of direction, Amanah’s continuing search for a concrete identity and DAP’s poor appeal among rural Malays, it isn’t hard to imagine Mahathir leading the charge.

However, PPBM does not enter the coalition as the first among equals. It joins as yet another party despite the pedigree of its luminaries, and fittingly so. Mahathir & Co will have much work to do in convincing liberals, progressives, and moderates that PPBM is not Umno in sheep’s clothing. What good would it do to replace a government if it merely results in more of the same?

So the first order of business, should Pakatan accept PPBM into its fold, should be to come out with a concrete policy platform, one that looks at the specific laws and practices that must be reformed, mechanisms that must be reviewed and government agencies that must be revamped.

Although Mahathir’s proposals are still merely suggestions, Pakatan’s discussions around them are sure to be robust. Nevertheless, it is hoped that all the Pakatan parties recognise the suggestions as eminently reasonable.

Pundits have long pointed out the need for a uniform identity and platform for Pakatan Harapan, and the appearance of being united via a common symbol is a first step towards consolidating the coalition as an entity. With PAS poised to be a spoiler in the coming election, it is more important than ever to present a unified front. Certainly, only one candidate from the coalition should be fielded in every constituency.

Whether Mahathir’s agenda dominates the coalition platform is truly a problem for the three Pakatan parties to hash out on their own. There is little to suggest that Mahathir will get his way unquestioned, but perhaps ideas coming from a field-tested veteran of political battles will be beneficial in the long run.

Scott Ng is an FMT columnist.

 

From Obamacare to Ryancare to Don’t Care and maybe Trumpcare


March 15, 2017

From Obamacare to Ryancare to Don’t Care  and maybe Trumpcare

Twenty-Four Million Reasons the G.O.P. Health-Care Bill Is No Good

 By John Cassidy
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Is Ryancare the alternative to Obamacare?

For days, the political world had been waiting nervously for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) ’s assessment of the House Republicans’ Trump-endorsed proposal to replace Obamacare. On Monday afternoon, when the numbers-heavy report finally appeared, one figure it contained dominated all the others: twenty-four million.

This was the C.B.O.’s estimate of how many fewer people would have health insurance if the Republican legislation—which is called the American Health Care Act—passes. In 2018, the first year that many of the bill’s changes would go into effect, fourteen million “more people would be uninsured under the legislation than under current law,” the report said. The difference “would rise to 21 million in 2020 and then to 24 million in 2026.”

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By anybody’s terms, twenty-four million is a lot of people. It is far larger than the fifteen million that two economists from the Brookings Institution had suggested last week that the C.B.O. might come up with. “To put the 24 million coverage loss in perspective, that reverses the entire coverage gain from the ACA,” one of the Brookings economists, Loren Adler, said Monday on Twitter.

As recently as January, Trump was promising that his Administration would provide “insurance for everybody.” Even for a President whose acquaintanceship with the truth is a casual one, explaining away the figures in the C.B.O. report could be tricky. It was not surprising, therefore, that the White House quickly dispatched Tom Price, the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, to rubbish the C.B.O. analysis. “We disagree strenuously” with the coverage estimates in the report, Price told reporters at the White House. Price insisted that the G.O.P. plan would “cover more individuals at a lower cost.”

Price didn’t provide any numbers to back up this claim. He hasn’t got any. (In fact, on Monday night, Politico reported that the White House’s own internal analysis of the health-care bill projected that twenty-six million fewer people would have coverage over the next decade.) The only thing that the Administration and its allies on Capitol Hill have to fall back on is the vague promise to follow up the A.H.C.A. with a second piece of legislation that would give insurers more freedom to offer cheaper, lower-quality plans, which, in turn, might persuade more young and healthy people to sign up. But that’s a pie-in-the-sky promise. Changing the rules for insurers would require sixty votes in the Senate, which the Republicans don’t have.

The C.B.O. analysis didn’t account for the possibility of insurers being able to offer cheap and lousy plans. The main thing driving its conclusions wasn’t changes to the individual market but the House Republicans’ reckless and deliberate assault on Medicaid, the federal program that provides health care for the poverty-stricken and the working poor. In estimating that twenty-four million people stand to lose their insurance coverage, the C.B.O. said that fourteen million of this total would be accounted for by reductions in Medicaid rolls.

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Any Hope for Trumpcare?

It is important to understand how this estimate was arrived at, and why it is reasonable. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government lifted the income threshold for Medicaid eligibility to nearly a hundred and forty per cent of the poverty line. At the same time, Washington also promised states, which administer Medicaid, that it would pay ninety per cent of any costs entailed in this expansion. Thirty-one states, including sixteen that now have Republican governors, took the feds up on this offer. The G.O.P. bill would end the Medicaid expansion in 2020—sooner, possibly, if the White House accedes to demands from ultra-conservative groups. The legislation would also change the way the rest of the Medicaid system is financed, shifting to a “block grant” model in which Washington would pay a fixed amount to the states for each recipient.

As a result of these changes, the C.B.O. report said that “some states would discontinue their expansion of eligibility, some states that would have expanded eligibility in the future would choose not to do so, and per-enrollee pending in the program would be capped.” The end result would be a big drop in enrollment and also a big drop in spending—eight hundred and eighty billion dollars over ten years. “By 2026, Medicaid spending would be about 25 percent less than what CBO projects under current law,” the report says.

The drop in spending on Medicaid helps explain why the C.B.O. estimated that the G.O.P. reform would reduce the deficit by three hundred and thirty-seven billion dollars—a fact that some Republicans seized upon. But why, you might ask, would the deficit be reduced by just three hundred and thirty-seven billion dollars over ten years when spending on Medicaid would fall by eight hundred and eighty billion dollars? The answer is that the bill would take most of the money that is saved from reducing Medicaid and hand it out to rich people in the form of tax cuts. The legislation would abolish the 3.8-per-cent Medicare tax on investment income and the 0.9-per-cent surtax on ordinary income that the A.C.A. applied to people who make more than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year. According to the C.B.O., getting rid of these taxes and some annual fees that the A.C.A. imposed on insurers would reduce revenues by five hundred and ninety-two billion dollars over ten years.

If the Republicans really wanted to fulfill Trump’s promise of insuring everybody—or, at least, preventing a big fall in insurance rates—they could have taken the five hundred and ninety-two billion dollars and used them to maintain the Medicaid expansion. Or to enlarge the new tax credits they want to offer for the purchase of individual insurance, which, in some cases, would be much smaller than the subsidies offered under Obamacare.

And I mean much smaller. In a table at the end of its report, the C.B.O. provided some “illustrative examples” of how different types of people might fare under the new system. Take a single sixty-four-year-old with an annual income of twenty-six thousand five hundred dollars. Under Obamacare, after receiving a generous federal subsidy, this person would pay seventeen hundred dollars in annual premiums. Under Trumpcare, or Ryancare, or whatever we want to call it, this person would pay fourteen thousand six hundred dollars. That’s an increase of twelve thousand nine hundred dollars!

To be sure, the way the new system would be set up, not everybody would be a loser. For example, a single forty-year-old with an annual income of sixty-eight thousand two hundred dollars could end up saving more than four thousand dollars a year, according to the C.B.O.’s figures. But, in general, people would pay more, at least in the early years after the measure goes into effect.

In the first few years, as some healthy young people drop their insurance plans because they are no longer mandated to purchase them, premiums would go up fifteen or twenty per cent, the report says. After 2020, average premiums could start dropping, and by 2026 the C.B.O. projects they would be ten per cent lower than under the current law. But that would mainly be because insurers would be offering cheaper, crappier plans to young people, and older people would be dropping insurance because they could no longer afford it. It will be interesting to see how Trump tries to sell that prospect to his supporters, many of whom are older and living on modest incomes.

John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. He also writes a column about politics, economics, and more for newyorker.com

On the Twitter Man in The White House


March 15, 2017

The Epic of Donald Trump–The Twitter Man

by  Garrison Keillor

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-epic-of-donald-trump/2017/03/14/4a206218-08cf-11e7-93dc-00f9bdd74ed1_story.html?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-b%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.21c356aa8b80

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The Twitter Man in The White House

The $54 billion bonus heading for the Pentagon is a beautiful thing, and so far I haven’t heard a dog bark against it, even though we don’t appear to have $54 billion worth of new enemies and we’ve now come to admire former enemy Vladimir Putin, and the idea of throwing billions at the Islamic State is like going after bedbugs with bazookas, so there it sits, a big lake of cash waiting for water skiers.

Base pay for a private first class these days is around $22,000 and, granted, it is not rocket science — aerospace engineers can earn a hundred grand or more — but a Radio City Rockette earns about $1,500 per week. Should we be paying more for precision tap-dancing than for the defense of our country? Meanwhile, apple pickers are hauling down around $23,000 while orange pickers get $20,000. I’d say our soldiers are due for a big raise. Those caissons don’t roll themselves, you know. The shores of Tripoli are an ever-present threat to our security. And the halls of Montezuma are out for revenge.

I just hope that my good friends in the Pentagon will stop and think about the value of the arts and literature to our national defense. Some of that money, perhaps $3 billion or $4 billion, would be well spent encouraging writers and artists to cast a warmer light on our uniformed services than what we’ve seen the past century or so when, aside from George M. Cohan’s “Over There” (1917) and Frank Loesser’s “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” (1942), the arts have been decidedly anti-war.

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When was the last time a great poet wrote an ode to the importance of following orders? 1854, that’s when. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die,” immortalizing Lord Cardigan’s botched mission in the Battle of Balaclava — “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Tennyson was England’s poet laureate at the time and felt obliged to turn a military disaster into something heroic. No American poet laureate ever wrote anything similar, and maybe that’s because they’re paid $35,000 a year. Make that $350,000 and give the laureate the rank of major general and a cap with a plume and see if the tune doesn’t change.

Our Nobel laureate Bob Dylan could have written (but did not):

Well it ain’t no use to sit around the barracks

And ask why you must drill.

Or ask why we have to carry rifles:

They are to injure, maim and kill.

Get out of bed at the break of dawn,

Put your helmet and your uniform on,

You’re not a bishop, son, you’re just a pawn.

Don’t think twice, it’s all right.

It’s no wonder that wealthy New York real estate heirs shopped around for physicians to diagnose heel spurs to exempt them from the draft. For a century, nobody has written a great work of literature celebrating America’s military — “Slaughterhouse-Five”? “Catch-22”? “The Naked and the Dead”? “The Things They Carried”? I don’t think so. Nobody read “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and went down to the recruiting office to sign up.

It was not always thus. Look at what Homer did for the Greeks with his “Iliad.” It’s an action epic, one hero after another, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Achilles, Ajax — no introspective nonconformist in the ranks, wondering, “Why are we brutalizing each other? Why can’t we sit down and talk through our differences?” Because we are us and they are them, and it’s one for all and all for one, so grab your spear and go puncture those Trojans, son.

What we need to make America great again is American literature about greatness. Look at Leo Tolstoy. He could’ve just written “Peace” but he wrote “War.” too, both of them, glorifying General Mikhail Kutuzov, who engineered the defeat of Napoleon. Spending some of that $54 billion on the arts would be an excellent investment. If they need someone to write an epic poem, here I am, my pen is poised.

Media to the right of him,

Media to the left of him,

Democrats embittered.

Loud was his battle cry,

The man with long red tie,

Onward he twittered.

Rising in early dawn,

Turning his smartphone on,

Texting he bravely fought,

Tweet after tweet he shot

With his red hat on,

Looking like George C. Scott

Playing George Patton.

It’s the story of a man who overcame his heel-spur handicap by playing golf regularly and eventually took command in his bomber jacket and led the country to greatness. It’s going to be fantastic. I promise you.

Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality.

Gauging The Hudud Thing in Malaysia


March 14, 2017

Gauging The Hudud Thing in Malaysia–Political Islamism out of UMNO’s desperation

by Rashaad Ali

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/03/08/gauging-support-for-islamic-law-in-malaysia/

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The Desperate Godfathers of Hududism in Malaysia–UMNO’s Najib Razak and PAS’Hadi Awang

The 18 February 2017 rallies both for and against the bill to amend the 1965 Criminal Jurisdiction Act, known as RUU 355, have opened yet another political and social schism in Malaysian society. RUU 355 began as a private member’s bill by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s (PAS) President Hadi Awang and seeks to raise the penalties for certain crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of sharia courts in Malaysia.

Public opinion appears divided on the issue, as the continued politicisation of religion takes precedence over authentic religious debate on the matter. Some see the bill as a facade for the eventual entry of hudud — Islamic — laws into the country. PAS held the rally in support of the bill, which drew a reported 20,000 people, while the counter rally was organised by the non-governmental organisation Bebas and drew a much more modest crowd of around 200.

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Hudud –The  Political Hypocrisy of  It All

Support for the bill is significant enough. Various surveys, including one conducted recently amongst university students, indicate Malay-Muslim support for the amendment and for the implementation of Islamic laws. The pro-RUU 355 rally emphasises this and the numbers indicate some level of moderate success for PAS — mobilising 20,000 odd people for a rally is no small feat.

But as the subject of this bill is central to the party’s aims, larger numbers could have been expected. This suggests a difficulty in appealing to urban folk and that mobilised supporters from other, more remote parts of the country account for the majority of the turnout.

Image result for zaid ibrahim dapThis Guy does not  know where he is coming or going in Malaysian Politics–UMNO to PKR to DAP and what next?

The counter rally, held at the same time but at a different location to the PAS gathering, better demonstrates the mood regarding the bill. While the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) was critical of the bill when it was first announced, it eventually distanced itself from the counter rally completely. The only DAP name who attended was Zaid Ibrahim, and that was in his individual capacity rather than as a party member.

The DAP’s absence is unsurprising as the issue puts it in a difficult position: the DAP may not support the bill, but attending the counter rally would cement the perception that they are an anti-Malay and anti-Muslim party. The discourse surrounding this issue has been very black and white; support for the bill is seen as a Muslim’s religious duty, while opposition to it is deemed vehemently anti-Islamic.

The general public’s low attendance at the counter rally suggests that the issue was not significant enough to take to the streets in numbers. For Malay-Muslims, the fear of reprisal for attending a rally seen as anti-Islamic is a significant factor in keeping people away. It appears easier for the pro-RU 355 rally to draw Malays, as the narrative is more populist, keeps with a conservative Islamic position and is supported by major Malay parties like the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and PAS.

As for non-Muslim participation, it appears this issue is neither relevant nor attractive enough to drag would-be participants out of bed in the morning. They can hardly be blamed as many voices from the pro-RU 355 camp constantly state that the amendment will not affect non-Muslims.

Although this amendment does not mean that non-Muslims are suddenly going to be tried under sharia law, having two legal systems for two different groups of people brings the notion of equality before the law into question. For a multicultural country that should seek to be inclusive instead of exclusive, these amendments are not helpful, especially when considering the knock-on effect it will have on the country as a whole.

Past cases of overlapping jurisdiction between sharia and civil courts, such as conversion cases or burial rights of non-Muslims indicate that the separation of the courts is not clearly defined. While the bill aims to raise the penalties for certain crimes under sharia law such as murder and theft, some constitutional experts argue that these crimes fall strictly under the purview of federal, not sharia, law. This bill exacerbates an already highly polarised society divided along racial and religious lines.

It is also another episode in the overall Islamisation trend happening in Malaysia that directly and indirectly affects all groups in society. Various incidents in the past few years point to how religious relations in the country can easily sour. A church was forced to take down its cross display in 2015, there have been recent issues with the usage and distribution of paint brushes containing pig bristles and there is now moral policing of dress code at government buildings.

The issue is complicated further because it is primarily for political rather than religious purposes. Putting aside PAS’ ambition to see this through, the bill is an obvious affirmation of the party’s own religious credentials. In the current climate, this helps to regain the trust of its core supporters, which also explains why the UMNO has jumped on the bill’s bandwagon. It helps the UMNO bolster its image at a time when the administration has suffered a dip in popularity. The timing of this issue is also convenient, as elections are due to be held by 2018.

As it stands, it would not be surprising if the bill passes next month when it comes to parliament. Opposition members who oppose the bill are likely to be absent from the vote for fear of being branded anti-Islamic. If the amendment passes, the biggest concern is whether it will worsen existing racial and religious polarisation in the country. Given the political dimension of the bill and the looming general election, a more inclusive Malaysia is not yet on the horizon.

Rashaad Ali is a research analyst with the Malaysia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This article was first published here on RSIS.

 

 

A Normative Approach to Preventing Cyberwarfare


March 14, 2017

A Normative Approach to Preventing Cyberwarfare

by Joseph Nye@www.project-syndicate.org

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CAMBRIDGE – A series of episodes in recent years – including Russia’s cyber interventions to skew the United States’ 2016 presidential election toward Donald Trump, the anonymous cyber-attacks that disrupted Ukraine’s electricity system in 2015, and the “Stuxnet” virus that destroyed a thousand Iranian centrifuges – has fueled growing concern about conflict in cyberspace. At last month’s Munich Security Conference, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders announced the formation of a new non-governmental Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace to supplement the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE).

The GGE’s reports in 2010, 2013, and 2015 helped to set the negotiating agenda for cybersecurity, and the most recent identified a set of norms that have been endorsed by the UN General Assembly. But, despite this initial success, the GGE has limitations. The participants are technically advisers to the UN Secretary-General rather than fully empowered national negotiators. Although the number of participants has increased from the original 15 to 25, most countries do not have a voice.But there is a larger question lurking behind the GGE: Can norms really limit state behavior?

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Most experts agree that a global cyberspace treaty currently would be politically impossible (though Russia and China have made such proposals at the UN). But, beyond formal treaties, normative constraints on states also include codes of conduct, conventional state practices, and widely shared expectations of proper behavior among a group (which create a common law). In scope, these constraints can vary from global, to plurilateral, to bilateral. So what can history tell us about the effectiveness of normative policy instruments?

In the decade after Hiroshima, tactical nuclear weapons were widely regarded as “normal” weapons, and the US military incorporated nuclear artillery, atomic land mines, and nuclear anti-aircraft weapons into its deployed forces. In 1954 and 1955, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told President Dwight Eisenhower that the defense of Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam and of offshore islands near Taiwan would require the use of nuclear weapons (Eisenhower rejected the advice).

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Nobel Laureate Economist Thomas Schelling

Over time, the development of an informal norm of non-use of nuclear weapons changed this. The Nobel laureate economist Thomas Schelling argued that the development of the norm of non-use of nuclear weapons was one of the most important aspects of arms control over the past 70 years, and it has had an inhibiting effect on decision-makers. But for new nuclear states like North Korea, one cannot be sure that the costs of violating the taboo would be perceived as outweighing the benefits.

Similarly, a taboo against using poisonous gases in warfare developed after World War I, and the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons. Two treaties in the 1970s prohibited the production and stockpiling of such weapons, creating a cost not only for their use, but also for their very possession.

Verification provisions for the Biological Weapons Convention are weak (merely reporting to the UN Security Council), and such taboos did not prevent the Soviet Union from continuing to possess and develop biological weapons in the 1970s. Similarly, the Chemical Weapons Convention did not stop either Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons against their own citizens.

Nonetheless, both treaties have shaped how others perceive such actions. Such perceptions contributed to the justification of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the international dismantling of most Syrian weapons in 2014. With 173 countries having ratified the Biological Warfare Convention, states that wish to develop such weapons must do so secretly, and face widespread international condemnation if evidence of their activities becomes known.

Normative taboos may also become relevant in the cyber realm, though here the difference between a weapon and a non-weapon depends on intent, and it would be difficult to forbid – and impossible to prohibit reliably – the design, possession, or even implantation for espionage of particular computer programs. In that sense, efforts to prevent cyber conflict cannot be like the nuclear arms control that developed during the Cold War, which involved elaborate treaties and detailed verification protocols.

A more fruitful approach to normative controls on cyberwarfare may be to establish a taboo not against weapons but against targets. The US has promoted the view that the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), which prohibit deliberate attacks on civilians, applies in cyberspace. Accordingly, the US has proposed that, rather than pledging “no first use” of cyber weapons, countries should pledge not to use cyber weapons against civilian facilities in peacetime.

This approach to norms has been adopted by the GGE. The taboo would be reinforced by confidence-building measures such as promises of forensic assistance and non-interference with the workings of Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs).

The GGE report of July 2015 focused on restraining attacks on certain civilian targets, rather than proscribing particular code. At the September 2015 summit between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the two leaders agreed to establish an expert commission to study the GGE proposal. Subsequently, the GGE report was endorsed by the leaders of the G20 and referred to the UN General Assembly.

The attack on the Ukrainian power system occurred in December 2015, shortly after the submission of the GGE report, and in 2016, Russia did not treat the US election process as protected civilian infrastructure. The development of normative controls on cyber weapons remains a slow – and, at this point, incomplete – process.