Fortnightly Review

Fortnightly Review

Fortnightly Review

Trump Administration’s National Cyber Strategy Highlights International Cooperation

On September 20, 2018, the Trump Administration released its “National Cyber Strategy of the United States” (hereafter “Cyber Strategy”). Cybersecurity experts have long called for a comprehensive national strategy, compelled by the rising threats posed by cyber-intrusions for economic prosperity and national security, which have grown as nation-state, non-state, and criminal actors increasingly exploit cyber vulnerabilities for malign purposes. Specifically, the Cyber Strategy called out China for its “cyber-enabled economic espionage and trillions of dollars of intellectual property theft.” In the 40-page document, President Trump laid out his administration’s strategic guidance founded on four pillars—with a strong emphasis on international cooperation.

The four pillars are:

(1) defend the homeland by protecting networks, systems, functions, and data; (2) promote American prosperity by nurturing a secure, thriving digital economy and fostering strong domestic innovation; (3) preserve peace and security by strengthening the United States’ ability in concert with allies and partners—to deter and if necessary punish those who use cyber tools for malicious purposes; and (4) expand American influence abroad to extend the key tenets of an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure Internet.

Most notably, the Cyber Strategy underscores the importance of robust international cooperation and coalition building—which have clear potential applications to Taiwan. Indeed, the Cyber Strategy calls for working “with like-minded partners to attribute and deter malicious cyber activities.” According to Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder and CTO of CrowdStrike, this has been a “key and necessary step that has been lacking in US cyber policy for many years.” Under the new strategy, the United States will launch an international Cyber Deterrence Initiative through which coalition members will “coordinate and support each other’s responses to significant malicious cyber incidents, including through intelligence sharing, buttressing of attribution claims, public statements of support for responsive actions taken, and joint imposition of consequences against malign actors.”

The release of the Cyber Strategy follows President Trump’s Executive Order 13800 from March 2017 on “Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure,” which builds out the initial steps that began during the second Obama administration with the issuing of the Executive Order on “Blocking the Property of Certain Persons Engaging in Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities.” The latter order, an initiative that followed a persistent increase of cyber-espionage incidents attributable to Chinese-state actors, led to the “US-China Cyber Agreement” in September 2015. Yet, the success of the Agreement—which the Trump administration reaffirmed in 2017—has been mixed, and many cybersecurity experts believe that it did not do enough to deter the PRC’s aggressive cyber activities. Indeed, despite an apparent drop in economic espionage cyberattacks on US firms originating from Chinese actors during the first year following the agreement, in a testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2018, former commander of USCYBERCOM and director of the National Security Agency Admiral Mike Rogers revealed:

For example, Presidents Obama and Xi committed in 2015 that our two countries would not conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property for commercial gain. Subsequent evidence, however, suggests that hackers based in China sustained [emp. added] cyber espionage that exploited the business secrets and intellectual property of American businesses, universities, and defense industries.

The new Cyber Strategy appears to recognize the limitations posed by a bilateral, patchwork, and ad hoc approach to dealing with cyber-threats. Specifically, the Third Pillar of the new Cyber Strategy emphasizes the need for the United States to “formalize and make routine [emp. added] how we [the United States] work with like-minded partners to attribute and deter malicious cyber activities with integrated strategies that impose swift, costly, and transparent consequences when malicious actors harm the United States or our partners.” As “priority actions,” the Cyber Strategy sets out the following priorities: (1) more information sharing with key partners; (2) imposing consequences on malign actors; (3) imposing costs collectively in concert with like-minded allies and partners; and (4) working with allies and partners to identify, counter, and prevent the use of digital platforms for malign foreign influence operations while respecting civil rights and liberties.

Furthermore, the Cyber Strategy indicates how the interconnected nature of the cyber domain necessitates Internet governance, which is not only vital for economic security but also national security, and required international cooperation because of the challenge posed by the rise of revisionist authoritarian powers. Consequently, the Fourth Pillar calls for collaboration with allies and partners to collectively assure that cross-border communications, content creation, and commerce generated by the open, interoperable, reliable, and secure architecture of the Internet. As a matter of US policy, the Cyber Strategy states:

We will work to ensure that our approach to an open Internet is the international standard. We will also work to prevent authoritarian states that view the open Internet as a political threat from transforming the free and open Internet into an authoritarian web under their control, under the guise of security or countering terrorism.

In unambiguous terms, the Cyber Strategy asserts that the United States will, through capacity-building initiatives, form “strategic partnerships that promote cybersecurity best practices through a common vision of an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure Internet that encourages investment and opens new economic markets.” Moreover, that “The United States will work to strengthen the capacity and interoperability of those allies and partners to improve our ability to optimize our combined skills, resources, capabilities, and perspectives against shared threats.”

In the preliminary analysis, the Trump Administration’s Cyber Strategy represents a strong first step in the US government’s long overdue whole-of-government approach to cybersecurity. In particular, the Cyber Strategy’s strong emphasis on robust international cooperation and its recognition of the need for coalition building with like-minded allies and partners present an important opportunity to deepen US-Taiwan cooperation in cyberspace. As a vigorous democracy with a robust economy and a front-line security partner of the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, Taiwan has a unique role to play in the US Cyber Deterrence Initiative, especially in countering China’s cyber-aggression and supporting international rules and norms for Internet governance.

The main point: The National Cyber Strategy’s strong emphasis on robust international cooperation and its recognition of the need for coalition building with like-minded allies and partners present an important opportunity to deepen US-Taiwan cooperation in cyberspace.

US-Taiwan Strengthens Agricultural Cooperation as Trade War Simmers

Washington and Taipei are steadily strengthening cooperation on multiple fronts including in agriculture in the midst of growing tensions between the United States and China. On September 27, trade officials and business leaders from Taiwan signed a letter of intent to purchase up to 3.9 million metric tons of soybeans worth US$1.56 billion from US farmers over the next two years. The delegation was the 12th “Agricultural Trade Goodwill Mission” from Taiwan in the past 10 years. The purchase ceremony was attended by 12 members of the US Congress: Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI), Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ),  Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS), Rep. Greg Harper (R-MS).

Taiwan is the eight largest overseas markets for US agricultural exports at the value of around US$3.3 billion. US export growth of agricultural products to Taiwan increased 7 percent between 2007 to 2017. Around a quarter of Taiwan’s annual total imports of agricultural products came from the United States. From 1998 to 2017, Taiwanese importers reportedly purchased US$32 billion worth of US grains products. The deal from this year’s goodwill mission with additional purchases of US soybeans is timely in light of China’s retaliatory tariffs on $34 billion worth of US goods, which include agriculture products such as soybeans. The United States’ agricultural sector was hit particularly hard by China’s retaliatory tariffs since soybean has been the United States top agricultural exports to China—with cotton at a distant second. In 2017, US soybean exports were nearly $22 billion and China accounted for 57.3 percent of US exports. Consequently, the US-China trade war has been a sensitive political issue for President Trump.

In his opening statement during the United Nations Security Council meeting on September 20, President Trump asserted: “Regrettably, we’ve found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election coming up in November against my administration. They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president to ever challenge China on trade, and we are winning on trade.” The White House reportedly gave a background briefing following Trump’s remarks in which a senior administration official claimed “that China had targeted farmers and workers in districts that make up part of Trump’s base.” In an apparent reference to his earlier charge, President Trump later tweeted an image of a China Daily insert in the Des Moines Register with the quote: “China is actually placing propaganda ads in the Des Moines Register and other papers, made to look like news. That’s because we are beating them on Trade, opening markets, and the farmers will make a fortune when this is over!”

Against the backdrop of growing trade tensions between the United States and China, Taiwan’s imports of agricultural products from the United States have increased with US soybean imports surging 80 percent above the average for 2013-17 in the first seven months to 1.2 million tons. The new purchases by Taiwanese companies will mean a 30 percent increase from the 2017 pledge of soybean purchases. The recently signed purchases follow last year’s mission in which Taiwan’s grains importers signed a Letter of Intent with three American grain associations for around 370 million bushels (or 10.2 million metric tons) of grains, worth nearly US$3 billion, which included the purchase of soybeans, corn and wheat.

Writing in an opinion-editorial for the Washington Times in the lead-up to the 2017 goodwill mission, Taiwan’s top diplomat to the United States, Ambassador Stanely Kao, stated:

This robust and steadily growing trade and investment partnership has laid a solid foundation for a free, fair, high-standard and reciprocal bilateral agreement in the future that would cover agricultural products and elevate our economic relations to a higher level, increasing our trade volume, supporting more jobs in the US, and benefiting more American citizens.

Indeed, against the backdrop of growing trade tensions between the United States and China, Washington and Taipei appear to be steadily strengthening cooperation and building a broader economic foundation in the bilateral relationship.

The main point: Against the backdrop of growing trade tensions between the United States and China, Washington and Taipei are steadily strengthening cooperation in agriculture.