Explanation of Position at the Conclusion of the UN Open-Ended Working Group

Michele Markoff
Acting Coordinator
Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C.
March 12, 2021


First, I wish to thank Ambassador Lauber, Under-Secretary-General Nakamitsu, the Secretariat, and the support team for their tremendous efforts over the last two years of this Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG). The United States is pleased to join consensus on the final report of the OEWG.

Although the United States voted against General Assembly Resolution 73/27 that established the OEWG, we participated in this OEWG because we welcome opportunities for international dialogue with other member states on matters of international security in cyberspace. Building on the work of previous Groups of Governmental Experts (GGE), and working in parallel with the current GGE, we have engaged in good faith and with a sense of urgency to universalize the emerging framework of responsible state behavior in cyberspace that was articulated in the three consensus GGE reports of 2010, 2013, and 2015 and affirmed by the UN General Assembly in 2015.

This final report is not perfect in our opinion. And we continue to have reservations about the need for the new OEWG to run until 2025. However, we recognize that we are not alone in our disappointment; many states have said they wanted to see more issues important to them addressed in the report. We therefore support the initiative to share a two-part chair’s summary on the extent of our discussion and the many proposals from member states.

As we have indicated throughout our negotiations, the United States cannot subscribe to calls for new legal obligations. If some states refuse to explicitly affirm essential elements of existing international law and are unwilling to comply with the affirmed voluntary norms, what possible confidence could we gain from negotiating a new treaty instrument? We remain of the view that ICTs are simply not susceptible to traditional arms control arrangements. It would be futile – and a tremendous distraction – to spend a decade or more negotiating a new legally binding instrument.

In the end, however, we think the report is a step forward, and we are pleased to join consensus on it. All UN member states are making a clear affirmation that international law applies in cyberspace, and that states should be further guided by a set of non-binding, voluntary norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace. Furthermore, all UN member states recognize the important role of capacity-building and confidence-building measures to improve international cyber stability.

Above all, we have been heartened by the level of engagement from member states, the quality of participants’ contributions and, ultimately, the hard work we all did to reach a consensus outcome. Our hope is this report’s adoption will usher in a return to consensus-based action and collaboration toward mutually-beneficial outcomes that build on the existing framework of international law, voluntary norms, and confidence building measures.

Finally, we express our deep appreciation to the Chair and the Secretariat, who have done a fantastic job throughout this process. And we are encouraged by the collaborative and serious dialogue among member states and with the whole international community. We look forward to continuing our discussion of these issues in the next GGE meetings in April and May toward a positive conclusion of that process and further opportunities for engagement with all member states and other stakeholders.