Podcast 🎧 & blog: Cyber diplomats from all around the globe will soon gather in Tallinn

06.06.2023 | Federico Plantera


The Tallinn Summer School of Cyber Diplomacy returns for its fourth edition, keeping up the pace with global developments in diplomacy and cybersecurity. But it’s not just about the mainstreaming of cyber diplomacy as a foreign policy topic, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In both war and peace times, it has become evident how international collaboration can set the world to create a safer and more secure cyberspace – from attributing cyber operations, to applying international law on the Internet too.

Tanel Sepp is the current Ambassador-at-Large for Cyber Diplomacy at the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Counting on his latest role after a long career in Estonian diplomacy, we explore together in this podcast episode how the Tallinn Summer School invites everyone to keep upholding a free, open, and secure cyberspace.


Cyber diplomacy was ever as relevant as it is today

The position of Amabassador-at-Large for Cyber Diplomacy is not a new thing – more and more countries are beginning to sport this expertise in their ranks. It’s a government post, that is also a signal. “So if a country wants to emphasize the importance of one concrete field, such as cyber diplomacy, then this kind of position can be created to show how much attention and care we place on this subject,” Sepp highlights.

“I definitely believe we do not have enough diplomats dealing with cybersecurity issues. In many countries, it is a matter of capacity. So how could we help on an international level? Our answer is to train more diplomats. Previously, we have been focusing on like-minded countries. But we saw that capacity issues are very relevant more in general, on a global scale.  This year, we have attendees from all corners of the world,” he says.

“What are the key challenges we are facing right now? What are the future perspectives? And looking at the threat picture, how should we cooperate in order to mitigate risks.” These are the main questions the Summer School aims to address.


Five days to train and prepare the foreign service for cyber talks

The Summer School is organized by the Directorate-General for International Partnerships of the European Commission, the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, e-Governance Academy itself, and the Estonian Centre for International Development (ESTDEV).

In this five-day intensive programme in Tallinn, attendees will hear from current and former cyber diplomacy practitioners about five main topics of interest:

  • Day 1 – digitalization and cybersecurity
  • Day 2 – international cybersecurity and responsible state behaviour
  • Day 3 – enforcing cybersecurity frameworks
  • Day 4 – cyber capacity-building, and how to improve cyber resilience
  • Day 5 – table-top cybersecurity exercises

While we leave you to the Summer School’s concept note for more information about the programme, we shall take stock of how the cyber diplomacy landscape has changed in the past 15, 20 years. Russia’s invasion in Ukraine is only the latest episode, though a big one, of how this field evolved across the seasons.

“If we go back to when the Internet started being used more widely, people were quite enthusiastic and optimistic about the opportunities that this new way of connecting was giving us. And that was coherent with how the Internet, back then, was developing,” Sepp says.

What changed then? “Now, there is increasingly an ideological war, so to say, between different mindset or approaches to the cyberspace. Let’s consider how do we govern the Internet. Right away, it comes to mind that there are different blocks of countries who would not, at the moment, get to the same conclusions. Some countries want more state control, others fight for more democratic values and transparency.”

“I’m not saying that, in the context of Russia’s aggression, this rift has become bigger. But such topics definitely marked many discussions and debates at the United Nations level,” Sepp points out.


Overcoming the digital divide within our own ranks

The Summer School looks at young, promising diplomats who are starting, or have just started, to deal with the topic of cyber diplomacy – but need to kickstart their expertise to begin with. “But it absolutely does not mean that we limit the participation only to those people. It is a school for all diplomats.”

“What I actually see, in quite many countries, is that there is a digital divide even within the foreign service. On one hand, there are more old school diplomats who are trying to do foreign policy, in fact, in a rather old school way. And then you have a group of enthusiasts who are dealing with digital diplomacy and cyber diplomacy.”

“But we need to train people everywhere, across all ministries,” Sepp explains. Increase awareness and knowledge, build capacity, create global networks. All in the name of a safer global cyberspace – a goal that cuts across the diplomatic sphere of cybersecurity too.


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