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Cybersecurity: an instrument for international security: Role, responsibilities and challenges of Switzerland; a contribution for an effective Swiss cybersecurity strategy

Author Laura CRESPO
Director of thesis Prof. Dr. Solange Ghernaouti-Hélie
Co-director of thesis
Summary of thesis

The Swiss Federal Council (Bundesrat) adopted a national cyber security strategy entitled the “national strategy for Switzerland’s protection against cyber-risks” on 27 June 2012. Along with a number of states that have developed and published a national cyber security strategy from 2009-2014, Switzerland has followed the inter-national trend as it recognizes the need for a comprehensive and society wide approach when coping with new emerging risks such as cyber: citizens, businesses, critical infrastructures, the public and private sector are addressed by the national strategy.

Throughout globalization, the interdependency of countries has reached an unprecedented level. A conflict or crisis, even in a faraway land, often has a direct impact and consequences on Switzerland. This holds even truer in the cyber domain, where interconnectivity also leads to more vulnerabilities and risks. These need to be managed at national, regional and international levels.

According to the Swiss Constitution the principle interests that the Swiss foreign policy is intended to safeguard are the independence, security and prosperity of the country. Therefore, in committing itself to preventing conflicts among other things, Switzerland is fostering international stability, which in turn has a positive influence on the country’s security. The Swiss Foreign Policy Strategy for the time period of 2012 until 2015 defines four strategic axes, one of which addresses the need to “continuing and adapting Switzerland’s stability in Europe, in regions bordering Europe and in the rest of the world”.

Against this background, Cybersecurity can be regarded as an instrument conducive to international peace and stability. Therefore, the thesis discusses Switzerland’s cyber security policy between 1997 and 2012. The adoption of the national strategy for Switzerland’s protection against cyber risks in 2012 marks a milestone in the development of a cyber security mechanism. However, it can be regarded as the result of a long-lasting process that was initiated in 1997, when the Federal Administration, the Federal Chancellery, conducted a strategic leadership exercise on cyber attacks for the first time. Thus, the first part of the thesis will be dedicated to a historical overview and development of Swiss cyber capabilities. Against this background, the thesis will outline the Swiss approach and explain why the Federal Council has chosen this path.

The second part of the thesis comprises a comparative analysis. First, the paper will compare the Swiss approach with other national Cyber strategies, namely the ones published by the United Kingdom, Autria and the Netherlands. Both countries have a similar understanding of the threat and thus, opted for a similar approach as Switzerland.

In order to illustrate a different course of action, the French policy with respect to cyber security will be described. Centralizing cyber competences and responsibilities is at the core of the French model.

The last part of the thesis outlines international initiatives and processes with respect to cyber security. The section is dedicated to the role Switzerland can play at an international arena. To this end, the paper will discuss what cyber diplomacy constitutes, whether cyber diplomacy as an emerging policy area and evolving field needs to be tackled differently from other policy areas and how Switzerland can contribute to the establishment of globally accepted rules of responsible state behavior. The main focus will be laid on confidence building measures in the realm of cyber security.


Administrative delay for the defence