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  • Writer's pictureSanjana Rathi

Latin America CyberDiplomacy and foreign ties for Critical Infrastructure

Cyber diplomacy is an evolution of public diplomacy, also called public diplomacy 2.0. The development of cyber-diplomacy responds to the shift in international relations. Cyber diplomacy can be defined as a framework that defines rules for engagement and negotiate agreements in gathering intelligence and information from other countries to avoid friction in cyberspace, bearing in mind the foreign policy agenda. It is also seen as an attempt to use diplomatic resources and functions to secure national interests concerning cyberspace. Generally, a national cyberspace or cybersecurity strategy insight on the foreign agenda. It also includes Cybersecurity, cybercrime, confidence-building, international freedom, and internet governance.

In many articles, cyber-diplomacy is considered the same as e-diplomacy or digital diplomacy. However, these concepts differ from each other. While cyber-diplomacy involves managing foreign policy in today's age, diplomacy or digital diplomacy reflects the impact of new technology on diplomacy's objective, tools, and structure. Digital diplomacy or diplomacy is the study of the use of ICT tools and methods for diplomacy and foreign affairs. However, cyber-diplomacy involves diplomacy, conflict resolution, agreements, and cyberspace policies.

We see a growing awareness of cyber diplomacy in the Latin American region. Currently, there are many cybersecurity policies, strategies, and frameworks being formed. There are also alliances to mitigate conflict concerning cyberspace. However, all of these are made with different objectives.

While the Tallinn Manual and the NATO countries have their partnership and policies advocating liberalization of cyberspace, countries in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation advocate "National Cyber Sovereignty." Although most countries adhere to the liberalized cybersecurity and diplomacy development ideology, there is less development in the SCADA and infrastructure domain. There are also many trade-wars facilitated by the national ICT regulations being fought in International Forums like WTO, WCO, and WIPO. These also directly impact cybersecurity procurement decisions on the National Level. However, this understanding is limited and not extended to the domain of critical infrastructure. This lack of clarity in the current Cyberdiplomacy practices and the stand that many cooperations are a barrier to resilient national security and trade in the ICT supply chain is the maintenance of Cybersecurity at every level. Therefore, there is a need for evolved research in 'Supply Chain Cybersecurity.' The study of Supply Chain Cybersecurity and analysis to deduce a strategic action plan for security maintenance.

In the realm of hard power, LATAM country's comprehensive policy toward all countries around the globe has included important elements of military and security cooperation and raised questions about whether its intentions extended beyond just commercial sales of arms. In Latin America, there have been two phases in development: first, low-level military sales and exchanges of items like transport aircraft and an anti-tank missile, and second, sales worth approximately $100 million a year of more sophisticated equipment such as aircraft, radar, and air-to-air missiles, mainly to Venezuela but also to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. This phase has also included greater bilateral and multilateral military-to-military engagement and exercises, training, forums, and humanitarian missions, including naval participation. China, the United States, Australia, and the European Union have all organized these exercises alongside navies from various Latin American countries like Brazil, Mexico, and Peru. Notably, China, the United States, Australia, Japan, and the European Union have significantly invested in LATAM's critical infrastructure. China is the country that has used strategic and diplomatic channels to penetrate the vital infrastructure sector. However, the lack of knowledge of cyber diplomacy at a strategic level has facilitated heavy Chinese investment without considering the vulnerabilities associated with SCADA security.

Notably, China and Argentina have signed agreements for technology transfer, military cooperation, and telecommunication agreements. Similarly, we see agreements and trade cooperation between Chile and China on trade and commerce, including technology transfer. It is essential to mention Chile's Ministry of Mining awarded BYD a contract to extract up to 80,000 tons of metallic lithium. BYD won the contract with an offer of $61 million. While Chile, Brazil, and many other Latin American countries oppose Chinese ideology and political views in the domain of Cybersecurity, and human rights in international forums such as the United Nations, they have trade commerce and even military ties with China, overlooking their cyber diplomatic standing in international platforms.

The geopolitics in the region also impact international relations and the decisions that shape the world order. For example, in 2007, Costa Rica won new investments in exchange for its recognition of Beijing 2007. Also, Honduras announced receiving a grant from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to finance a hydroelectric project. Venezuela is also a country that has gained economically from direct investment stocks held by China. Ecuador, Suriname, and Guyana are also smaller tax havens gaining from the ties with China. One of the main arguments that can justify these countries' cyber and diplomatic decision-making is China's cyber diplomacy embedded in the cyber-sovereignty principle. Although cybersoverenity explains the national security posture for China, in a diplomatic arena, this can add to the cybersecurity threat landscape if there is an asymmetry in comparative advantage in Cybersecurity. Since China's cybersecurity policy and structure do not support the open cyberspace framework, it gives the tax havens advantage of emerging as data haven in this context. As a result, China's foreign direct investment stock value favors these Latin American Countries. For example, one of the massive investments that China has made in SCADA technology in Costa Rica is that they have granted the Costa Rican Government a $450 million credit for constructing a highway. Also, the Chinese Development Bank agreed to pay around $900 million for the modernization of the Costa Rican National Oil Refinery processing plant, jointly with Soresco - a Chinese state-owned oil company.

Notably, Cuba chose the Chinese firm Huawei over Google even though the proposal by Google was more advantageous for its goals to expand wireless and broadband access. However, it can be agreed that Cuba's state-owned economy aligns with the decision.

China's overindulgence in the hemisphere geopolitics is a concern for security and the cybersecurity landscape on the international stage. Internationally, there is still an ongoing dialogue on international laws and normative frameworks for developing policy and strategy. Since this is an area that is yet to be developed, there needs to be consideration of the diplomatic decisions' implication on the overall development.

Cybercrime and Acts of War due to vulnerabilities in SCADA and the absence of a cyber diplomacy framework in the domain

There has been a significant development in regional Cybersecurity where the states that are a part of the Organisation of American Studies have shown unity in cybersecurity issues. There has been a unanimously adopted Comprehensive Inter-American Cybersecurity Strategy. This has enhanced multilateral cooperation throughout the hemisphere. In addition, there has been significant development in law enforcement cooperation to repair critical infrastructure facilities. This fact is encouraging, as this is a multidimensional field requiring collective action.

However, despite significant diplomatic ties and multilateral engagement in initiatives, there has been a lack of continuation. Also, there are specific challenges in technological advances and slow adaptation due to institutions with a shortage of comprehensive strategic legislation and know-how.

LATAM countries are eyeing 5G development, and technology companies globally are looking towards this opportunity for growth. However, every few governments in the LATAM region pay attention to its vulnerabilities. One of the reasons for this is that 5G is no longer just about telecommunication networks. It is a technology that will accelerate the pace of connection and give an edge to government-owned smart city projects across the region. Furthermore, the intersection of technologies with the 5G network would facilitate the connection of billions of intelligent devices and autonomous vehicles and accelerate the development rate of artificial intelligence and robotics. While this will lead to innovation and developments in technology used in the critical infrastructure sector, but also add to the vulnerabilities.

Security concerns remain a challenge, and policymakers in the LATAM countries require an integration of the diplomatic aspects while making vital decisions on technology adoption and integration. As the findings in these areas are fragmented, and there is a lack of security knowledge, there is a requirement for a governance model that integrates cyber diplomacy principles in everyday operations.

One of the aspects concerning national security and overshadowing effective cyber diplomacy is Chinese investment in LATAM's critical infrastructure development, and these companies go global. These technologies are going global. There is an increase in Chinese smart city solutions underpinning sophisticated surveillance technologies. In the past five years, there have been agreements signed by Latin American countries for technology transfer - especially surveillance technologies that were initially built in the People's Republic of China's public security apparatus. Most of the technology projects in the critical infrastructure are funded by Chinese state-owned banks.

Latin American countries like Brazil, Columbia, Chile, and Uruguay have built regulations and policies that reflect their maturity in the cyber-domain. However, the diplomatic ties for technology and innovation transfers demonstrate possible vulnerabilities due to the unconsidered cyber-diplomatic underpinning of a future of tech-driven authoritarianism.

As an example of consideration of cyber-diplomacy in strategic decision-making, it is important to note that the Australian Government banned high-risk vendors, including Huawei, from involvement in the 5G networks.

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