Why liberal democracies have a distinct edge on cyber capability

Source- Live Mint

Synopsis – Key finding of Cyber Capabilities and National Power Reports.

Relevance – Cyber capability is a new domain of competition among nations. The report ranks countries, which will provide a clear picture of, how capable are countries in this domain.


The International Institute of Strategic Studies net assessment of Cyber Capabilities and National Power compares countries across seven criteria-

  • Strategy and doctrine
  • Governance, command and control
  • Core cyber-intelligence capability
  • Cyber empowerment and dependence
  • Cyber security and resilience
  • Global leadership in cyberspace affairs
  • Offensive cyber capability.

The report has divided the 15 countries into three tiers of cyber power-

  • First Tier – The US is the only country with world-leading strengths in all categories.
  • Second Tier– Countries each of which have world-leading strengths in some of the categories. This Include China, Russia, UK, France, Canada, Israel and Australia.
  • Third Tier – Countries that have strengths or potential strengths in some categories but significant weaknesses in others. The countries in the early stages of their cyber power development like India, Japan, Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and North Korea.
India specific observation according to the report-

India’s approach towards institutional reform of cyber governance has been slow and incremental compared to other countries.

India also lacked the history of an intelligence apparatus that older powers like the UK and France had which needed to be built up from scratch.

Key finding of the report-

Doctrinal difference between liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes – liberal democracies did not have to worry about defending their ideological borders like authoritarian states.

  • Liberal democraciesdo not have to use their resources on controlling what their citizens think.
  • Authoritarian regimeson the other hand such as China and Russia, have focused on hiding information in order protect their citizens from foreign ideas and also erect psychological barriers in their minds. They have established a system of censorship [Firewall], coercion and information control to protect its authoritarian regime from being threatened by their citizens.
    • This allows Liberal democracies to focus on offensive capabilities to achieve the desired effect in a sharp and surgical manner.
    • While Authoritarian regimes likely to spend a lot more on its Great Firewall than on its offensive cyber units.

Open societies must ensure that technology does not become a Trojan horse for both cyber attackers and illiberal values.

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