After a week of diplomacy at the United Nations where European leaders unsuccessfully tried to arrange a US-Iran meeting, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani demanded that Washington back up its accusations that Iran was behind the attacks. Photo: AFP

Over the past few decades, the Internet and cyberspace have had an impact on relations between countries. In this battle, major countries, including China and the United States, try to outperform other countries in technology, which has positive implications for the advancement of the Internet, but at the same time the Internet has created a new atmosphere of competition, even hostility. Crucially, we have witnessed this in the current US-Iran rivalry.

On the subject of Internet content and the role and policies of governments in controlling cyberspace, powerful countries are trying to influence the direction and expanse of the Internet space. On the other hand, weaker countries in the field are trying to influence the Internet through content filtering, with a negative and defensive outlook. In such an environment, the serious competition that exists between Western countries and others is taking shape every day.

In the cyber-political space, “values” and “interests” are played out by various actors such as governments and organizations. And non-governmental organizations, and even people, are produced, distributed and consumed. As a matter of fact, cyber-policy has put new players alongside governments as the most important international-relations players, sometimes more powerful and successful than the governments themselves.

However, apart from all the positive benefits and benefits of the Internet, the reality is that it has provided a new war space that is referred to as cyberwarfare. In this type of war, countries and other actors use the Internet to spy, sabotage, create riots or revolutions, and even destroy critical military facilities.

Of course, the Internet has also created a new space for countries to cooperate and interact. In this context, it has made it easy and cheap to build relationships among all actors, including governments, individuals, organizations and institutions, with high speed and precision. As a result, the conditions for cooperation and interaction have become more important than ever.

As for the wider impact of the Internet on all aspects of politics and international relations through the dissemination of awareness, the fact is that the Internet has greatly contributed to facilitating and expanding access to information and knowledge in the national and international arena. Individuals and human societies have become more aware and literate than ever before, and the world is confronted with a new form of “awakening” in Muslim countries known as “Islamic awakening.”

As a result, political demands such as respect for democracy and the need to respect the political independence of nations, respect for cultural and religious values, the right to decent socio-economic development, and increased sensitivity to environmental issues are voiced. Accordingly, the Internet has affected the operating environment of countries and other actors.

Finally, a new space – cyberspace – has emerged in the international arena that cannot be analyzed based on past theories, approaches, and levels. In cyberspace, new and different kinds of friendship, cooperation, competition, hostility and war have been created alongside the patterns of the past. In addition, diverse actors have been added to traditional actors, which are highly ambiguous and unpredictable. As a result, new theories, approaches and perspectives that are much more flexible and open to the past need to be emphasized.

Cyber-politics and cybersecurity are nowadays considered major issues by international-relations experts, along with older issues of war, economics, women’s rights and the environment, and some even consider it more important than others.

The Iranian government’s National Center for Cyberspace has outlined some of the Hassan Rouhani regime’s cyber-policies as follows:

“Over the past 15 years, soft norms have become internationally binding norms, and this process has been going on without Iran’s presence and effective role play, the process and formation of norms and binding norms that may sometimes conflict with national and international interests. Being sovereign, it would severely damage Iran’s rights and interests and provide future grounds and excuses for pressure and sanctions from the cyberspace.

“With the proliferation of political and media reports … on Iran’s cyberattacks on the US and Saudi Arabia, highlighting and inducing Iranian government support for destructive and stealing information and ‘presenting Iran as a cyber-threat’ accelerates the process. The sanctions could provide grounds for further pressure, cyber and non-cyber sanctions, and hostile countermeasures against our country, whose prospects could pose a threat to our country’s cyber interests. In the process, the country will see the imposition of a future ‘cyber crusade’ that requires the necessary technical, political and diplomatic arrangements beforehand in cooperation with all actors in the field.

“Establishment of normative grounds for joint action by US companies as a ‘frontline of cyberwarfare’ against the Iranian government and Iranian companies under the pretext of conducting cyberattacks by Iran and joint collective action to combat filtering and support for national [distrust] flows in.”

For example, cyberspace has provided new conditions for countries to cooperate and compete, and of course other actors in the military and security, political, economic, environmental, women’s, children’s, health, and education fields and more. Thus cyberspace has created new conditions in which international-relations issues are raised differently, resulting in a new form of cyber-policy that has particular implications for national and global security. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen the Iranian government at the national level by thoroughly explaining and properly explaining cyber-politics and cybersecurity and its impact on all areas.

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Sajad Abedi

Sajad Abedi is a resident fellow at a national defense and security think-tank in Iran and a postdoctoral student at the University of Tehran. He is also an advisory board member of the Cyber Security Research Center at Islamic Azad University.

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