An Umbrella in a Hurricane: Cyber Technology and the December 2013 Amendment to the Wassenaar Arrangement

Pyetranker, Innokenty | September 1, 2015

Scenes of near-apocalyptic devastation resulting from good software gone bad are no longer the stuff of science fiction flicks starring bodybuilders-cum-governors. Lightning-fast technological progress and the ubiquity of the Internet have made it easy for our imaginations, as well as our political leaders, to conjure up realistic images of cyber nightmares come true. Now that fears about what lurks inside cyberspace have gone mainstream, I examine one action ostensibly aimed to allay such fears: the December 2013 amendment to the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies (commonly known as the Wassenaar Arrangement). My analysis of the December 2013 amendment—which was passed to prevent certain dual-use cyber technologies from falling into the wrong hands—proceeds in three parts. First, I argue that history teaches that cyber products are not generally amendable to export controls. Second, I find that the Wassenaar Arrangement’s institutional flaws are so enfeebling that the Arrangement’s very utility is questionable. Third, I assert that economic incentives, globalization, and the intangibility of cyber technology all present formidable obstacles to the December 2013 amendment’s success. Although the December 2013 amendment is likely doomed to irrelevance, I conclude that concerted action—rather than passive pessimism—must be our response to cyber threats.