By: William Ossoff
The rule of non-intervention is a longstanding rule of customary international law whose precise content has been a subject of constant contestation since its formation. As such, the rule has served as only a limited deterrent to state behavior. However, the growing prevalence of state-sponsored cyber political operations, such as Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, has revived interest in defining the rule of non-intervention. Powerful states who historically have not been the strongest proponents of the rule, such as the United States, are now vocal about its applicability in the cyber context.
This Note provides, in Parts I and II, an account of the historical debate over the definition of nonintervention. It provides a unique contribution to the scholarly literature through a novel comparative analysis, in Part III, of the terminology used by states to describe the rule of non-intervention’s applicability to cyber operations. It then applies these various definitions, in Part IV, to a range of hypothetical cyber operations in order to help determine which operations might violate the rule of non-intervention. As the Note concludes, the rule’s deterrent effect on future cyber political operations will depend in no small part on which state’s definition, if any, becomes predominant.