The world is facing a new era of technological ubiquity. With 19.4 billion connections globally between internet-enabled devices—1.6 billion of which were added in the last year alone—cyberspace is expanding into every area of life and transforming society at an accelerated pace. And the United States is the most connected nation in the world—which brings opportunities but also increased vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, U.S. politics, laws and national security policy have not kept up with both the risks and the opportunities stemming from the dynamism of technological change.
This is not for a lack of trying. Every presidential administration for the past 25 years has dedicated strategic thinkers, substantial resources and precious political capital toward the question of how best to defend U.S. interests and promote U.S. values in cyberspace. Significant progress has been made—but U.S. adversaries are progressing faster, and risks in cyberspace continue to outpace America’s ability to counter them. The United States can no longer take as a given traditional U.S. advantages in this domain, from technological prowess to an innovative workforce. The country must evolve. That is why the president and Congress established the Cyberspace Solarium Commission.
State-backed malicious cyber actors, particularly those in China and Russia, are rapidly approaching parity with the U.S. in offensive capability, while other threats like North Korea, Iran and some nonstate actors are quickly increasing their already formidable capabilities. At the same time, while the information-driven economy and open society of the United States have generated innumerable opportunities, they also leave the country disproportionately vulnerable to malicious cyber actors seeking to steal the sources of U.S. innovation, destabilize the foundations of U.S. politics or threaten critical infrastructure. Policymakers from both parties have been working for years to arrest this dangerous trend—but their activity so far is neither sufficiently agile nor comprehensive enough to address the scope of the threats we face.
In the early years of the Cold War, the United States faced a similarly exigent strategic challenge where risk threatened to rapidly outpace the country’s ability to respond and counter it. The Soviet Union presented a challenging, peer-level threat for which American strategic culture was ill-prepared. At the time, containment, strategic nuclear deterrence and other foundational concepts that are now recognized as mainstays of the era had not yet been firmly established. U.S. policymakers had to find a nuanced synthesis from competing approaches that ranged from isolationism to war, and they had to do it fast.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower convened the 1953 Project Solarium to do just that. He gathered three teams of senior government officials and outside experts to develop three different approaches to countering the Soviet threat. These teams were charged with quickly turning their approaches into complete strategies, while jockeying for intellectual advantage over their rival teams and defending their strategies against expert scrutiny. This competition of ideas led to the best aspects of each being incorporated into a comprehensive approach—one that would inform the subsequent “New Look” policy, along with the NSC 162/2 policy paper, and helped stabilize the Cold War.
This new Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which we are co-chairing, draws inspiration from Eisenhower’s historical legacy. Established by the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, this bipartisan, intergovernmental and multisector body is charged with evaluating divergent approaches to defending the United States in cyberspace and driving consensus toward a comprehensive strategy.
Our commissioners include eminent thinkers and cyber experts, private-sector leaders, members of Congress and senior officials from across the executive branch. Strategists, technologists, economists and policymakers populate our staff. The recommendations this commission will issue in the spring of 2020 will be forward looking and prescriptive, rather than a snapshot report that sits on a shelf. The commission will advocate for the implementation of these recommendations so that the U.S. follows through on changing the strategic environment in cyberspace, which currently threatens the long-term security and prosperity of the United States.
To achieve these ambitions, the commission is applying the lessons of Eisenhower’s Solarium by tackling big, difficult problems head-on, including:
- What are the appropriate roles and responsibilities across the public and private sectors when it comes to securing U.S. information, innovation and critical infrastructure from malicious cyber activity? Is there an ideal model that mixes standards with supportive incentives to ensure that the United States is prepared to address everything from criminal data breaches to state-backed cyberattacks?
- What is the Department of Defense’s role in this effort? Where does its responsibility to respond to persistent campaigns perpetrated by hostile governments begin and end? How should the department conceive of its mission in an environment in which countries like China and Russia are engaging in ongoing cyber campaigns that damage the U.S. economy and national security, while still falling below a threshold that would constitute a use of force?
- How should the United States and U.S. allies and partners promote global norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace? How should the U.S. deploy diplomatic, economic and legal tools to shape a just and stable digital world? What will be necessary to ensure that the internet remains free and open, the economy continues to reward innovation, and human rights and democratic values extend into cyberspace?
To find effective and actionable answers to these questions, the commission and its staff will be casting a wide net. We are already consulting with academics, engaging policy experts, learning from businesses large and small, and leaving no stone unturned in our search for innovative ideas.
This is where you come in. We need your new ideas, your unique perspectives and your informed insights. Send your solutions, your ideas and your expert referrals to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the wake of World War II, Eisenhower knew the Soviet Union presented an unusual and precarious challenge and one that he absolutely needed to get right. Today, the United States faces a new and rapidly evolving threat from cyberspace—not one defined by a single nation, as in the 1950s, but rather by a dynamic and far-reaching scope. The stakes, however, are no less expansive: the future of the U.S. economy and national security.
The Cyberspace Solarium Commission needs to get this right—and it needs your help to do it.