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What on Earth is the Cyberspace Solarium Commission?

Congress has mandated a new commission that hopes America’s approach to the Cold War can help protect U.S. cybersecurity, according to the group’s two co-chairs.

The Cyberspace Solarium Commission will issue recommendations for a national strategy for cyberspace in Spring 2020, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) added.

“Today, the United States faces a new and rapidly evolving threat from cyberspace – not one defined by a single nation, as in the 1950s, but rather by a dynamic and far-reaching scope,” they wrote in a Lawfare blog posted Monday.

“The stakes, however, are no less expansive: the future of the U.S. economy and national security,” they concluded.

According to The Washington Post, the commission launched in May 2019 with 14 members, including four executive branch leaders and a bipartisan mix of four House and Senate lawmakers.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) launched the commission by inserting an amendment creating it in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual defense policy bill.

Besides Gallaher, King and Sasse, Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) is also a commission member. Langevin co-founded the House Cybersecurity Caucus.

Additionally, the commission boasts Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Director Christopher Wray and acting deputy secretaries at the Defense Department (DoD) and Homeland Security Department (DHS) as members.

“The United States can no longer take as a given traditional U.S. advantages in this domain, from technological prowess to an innovative workforce,” Gallagher and King wrote. “The country must evolve.”

“The commission will advocate for the implementation of these recommendations so that the U.S. follows through on changing the strategic environment in cyberspace, which currently threatens the long-term security and prosperity of the United States,” they added.

The commission’s name, meanwhile, references former President Dwight Eisenhower’s Project Solarium from 1953. Eisenhower established the project to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and the president later adopted many of its best ideas into his administration’s foreign policy.

Much like the original Solarium, today’s version envisions sweeping policies with far-reaching historical consequences. The commission differs from the project, however, by focusing on three concerns about cyberspace rather than a single nation like the Soviet Union.

First, the commission aims to determine what role both the public and private sectors should play in securing America’s critical and information infrastructure. Next, the commission wants to decide how DoD should address cyberattacks from foreign nations that damage U.S. economic and national security. Finally, the commission seeks to address how America and its allies should promote and enforce government “norms” in cyberspace.

What’s next, then, for the commission? The answer may be debating a grand strategy for national cybersecurity.

In 1953, Project Solarium split into three groups of commissioners, with each one representing a different philosophy for handling the Soviet Union. That year, Eisenhower conducted a one-day competition between the groups during one of his National Security Council (NSC) meeting.

Ultimately, the clash’s strongest ideas found their way into Eisenhower’s “New Look” policy, dictating the course of Cold War diplomacy for decades to come.

King told the Post in May that the commission might have a similar “contest of wills” in September 2019, which may occur publicly. The Independent senator – who caucuses with Democrats – added that the commission might try publishing the results of its discussion in December 2019.

President Trump’s administration has largely focused on projecting strength in cyberspace, and it remains unclear what involvement he’d have with the commission.

The commission formed amid such major cybersecurity concerns as Chinese intellectual property theft, Russian election meddling and criminal hacking.

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