In my recent discussion of the Trump-Putin summit on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg I spoke of the intense resistance the US has put up in the past to proposals from Russia for a general treaty regulating the use of cyber weapons.
I pointed out that one of the revelations from the Putin Interviews was Russian President Putin’s disclosure to Oliver Stone that the Russians had proposed negotiations leading exactly to such a treaty, but that the US had rejected them.
President Putin was nonetheless able to use the summit meeting with President Trump to persuade him to agree to the setting up of a joint Russian-US working party on cyber security. I said in my article discussing the Trump-Putin summit that though this was in no sense a commitment to begin a full-fledged negotiation leading to a cyber security treaty, it was at least a step in that direction.
The reaction from the US political leadership has taken no time in coming, and it has proved predictably vehement. The most vehement attack can – as might be expected – from Marco Rubio
Partnering with Putin on a "Cyber Security Unit" is akin to partnering with Assad on a "Chemical Weapons Unit". 2/3
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) July 9, 2017
and from Lindsay Graham, who described the proposal in this way
It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close
and who then went on to trash the entire Trump-Putin summit, calling it “disastrous”
Nobody is saying, Mr. President, that the Russians changed the outcome…but they did try to attack our election system. They were successful in many ways. The more you do this, the more people are suspicious about you and Russia. To forgive and forget when it comes to Putin, regarding cyber attacks, is to empower Putin. And that’s exactly what he’s doing
Lindsey Graham’s entire rant about the Trump-Putin summit can be heard here
Perhaps unsurprisingly in the face of this barrage President Trump seems to be drawing back. His first tweet on the subject of the joint cyber security working party was positive but guarded
Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017
However his later tweet on the subject appeared to suggest that no agreement on cyber security with the Russians was likely
The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't-but a ceasefire can,& did!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2017
As is sometimes the case with President Trump, his words were not wholly clear. The reference to “a ceasefire” in this second tweet working almost certainly refers to the ceasefire that President Trump agreed with President Putin in southern Syria. However it is just possible that Trump the words are inclusive and refer to a ‘ceasefire’ not just in Syria but in the ongoing cyber war as well. The words could be interpreted in that way, and it may be that Trump deliberately made that ambiguous.
However even in the very unlikely event that that is true, the very fact that President Trump is using such ambiguous and in his words “guarded” language to talk about the joint cyber security working party suggests that he has little conviction in it.
That hardly suggests a bright future for whatever discussions now take place between the US and the Russians on cyber security.