A Tale of Two Draft Resolutions: A Report on the Polarizing International Law Discussions at the 2023 OEWG Substantive Session


The UN’s Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) had its Fourth and Fifth Substantive Sessions in 2023,
which included intense discussions on the applicability of international law in cyberspace. However, the
sessions were naturally overshadowed by Russia’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine which resulted
in several heated exchanges and uses of the right to reply during the sessions.

The sessions themselves did not proceed as expected, as a proposal by Russia and several other states
for a new binding convention, although ultimately largely ignored by the final report, significantly altered
the direction of the discussions. Additionally, a statement by Russia which undermined the applicability
of international humanitarian law (IHL) in cyberspace similarly caused a distraction. Ultimately, the
Sessions, while undoubtedly making some progress, were partially derailed by the unexpected
proposals and statements.

Furthermore, besides the final report, two draft resolutions were produced at the end of the Sessions,
which contained significant differences on key issues. This outcome reflects the increasing polarisation
that is present in the discussions themselves. This paper is a report on the discussions and outcomes
of the Fourth and Fifth Substantive Sessions of the OEWG in 2023 which aims to analyse the discourse
as well as implications of the outcomes of the discussions.

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