Cyber alliances will push geopolitics in a new direction


The rise of cyber alliances and new cyber threats will force governments to reassess their behavior on the global stage.

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As the war in Ukraine intensified in April, a series of cyber attacks hit German wind energy companies. The attacks disrupted the systems of nearly 2,000 wind turbines. The group behind the attack was allegedly linked to Russia.

Of course, the cyber attack on Germany was not unexpected. Due to the Ukraine war and the growing chasm between Russia and the West, a protracted cyber campaign between both sides was inevitable.

But what was unexpected was the target: Germany’s clean energy sector. It was a sign that a new era of cyber warfare was underway. Now “targets” that flew under the radar (like Toyota’s supply chain), or targets that no one expected to be hit due to their non-threatening nature (like Germany’s sustainable infrastructure), are suddenly fair game.

This indicates a new status quo emerging in the cyber world.

Reconfiguration of geopolitics

When it comes to cyber attacks, “the gloves come off”. There’s no telling how serious the next cyber attacks could be. Will national nuclear weapons systems be disrupted (as the recent FBI investigation into Chinese technology near US military bases avoided)? Or will the whole of society, from ambulances to financial institutions, lose access to telecommunications (as happened in Portugal)?

Such fears are behind the call for the formation of a “cyber alliance”. These would be new groups focused on dealing with cyber threats posed by various world powers. These alliances would be exclusive and would include only a few nations. Such a model is likely to further divide the world, taking geopolitics in a new direction.

Take the United Kingdom. As political candidates battle it out to become Britain’s next Conservative leader and prime minister, the idea of ​​an “international alliance between nations” has emerged – specifically to deal with China’s cyber threats. As a new era of “vertical globalization” begins, the British government’s strategy is increasingly to “disengage” from China.

Jump to Estonia, where a former president has called for a “digital alliance” to tackle the world’s cyber threats. The alliance should be made up of democracies linked by values, not just geography. The proposal is a sign that Eastern European nations are beginning to think twice about their relationship with China. And, the first place they take action is on the cyber front.

The rise of cyber alliances and the new cyber threats facing the world will prompt governments to rethink their behavior on the world stage.

For example, the West could introduce a cyber security shield based on artificial intelligence. This shield would protect Western nations from cyber-attacks that target critical infrastructure, interfere in elections, or even “inject” deep spoofing into societies. This would be similar to the “Digital Iron Dome” that Israel is building. Except it means that Western nations are building “cyber walls” between themselves and the rest of the world.

It also means that the AI ​​cybersecurity shield could begin to influence, if not define, the foreign policies of nations. Tomorrow, if the AI-Shield launches an offensive cyber-attack against another nation, it will redefine the foreign policy of the nations within the Cyber-Shield. These governments will find themselves in reactive mode, struggling to keep up with the decisions AI is making in the cyber world – and the consequences that follow.

Or countries like China and Russia “could enhance their existing cyber alliance, formed in 2015, to include new areas – such as the commercial sphere. These governments may begin to view many foreign businesses as “cyber threats.” This is not new. But so far, to address this, these governments have focused on data export controls.

Except now, governments could go further. They could force companies from certain geographies to “adopt” systems – like Kirin (a Chinese OS) or Sailfish Mobile OS Rus (a Russian mobile operating system) – if they want to access certain markets and gain government support. Of course, this type of strategy is not limited to China or Russia. In India, the government is asking foreign technology firms, especially smartphone makers, to adopt India’s locally developed navigation system through GPS or BeiDou.

All of this means that cyber alliances and new technology vectors (such as navigation systems) will give governments more control over businesses. Of course, the “invisible hand” of government has always existed, as when the West demanded data from Big Tech. But now, in the case of what China and Russia might do, these governments might have direct “eyes and ears” into business operations.

The shape of the alliances to come

When Pelosi visited Taiwan recently, a series of cyber attacks hit the island. This was nothing unusual, as Taiwan is hit by more than 5 million cyber attacks every day.

But these new attacks were different. They targeted everything from 7-11 convenience stores to train stations and turned them into “broadcast terminals” for China. Messages criticizing Pelosi began appearing on these sites.

Like the attack in Germany, it was a sign that the face of cyber attacks is changing. It is imperative that governments grapple with the new realities facing their economies and societies. Of course, it will not be easy, for several reasons.

For starters, there may be dozens of cyber alliances, each originating from a different power. These alliances will compete to bring nations into their camp – and adopt their own cybersecurity frameworks. This will further divide the world, as different cyber security rules, standards and protocols exist in different spheres of influence.

At the same time, while current cyber alliances are initiated by countries, the next alliances may be initiated by companies. Tech companies already have enormous power over geopolitics. There is nothing stopping them from forming their own cyber alliances that complement, compete with, or conflict with what governments are doing.

However, in addition to all this, the biggest question that countries face is whether they are rethinking cyber security in the new era of geopolitics that has begun. Because whatever a government wants to do, it will be reversed by the new geopolitical realities emerging everywhere. Most shockingly, in some cases there may be no choice or wiggle room.

As cyber alliances grow and geopolitics are reconfigured, the new fault lines that are forming could force countries to take action they never imagined—and face consequences they were never prepared for.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, views and editorial policies of TRT World.

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