Did Russian Cyber Interference in the 2016 Election Violate International Law?

  • 0
  • September 7, 2017
When it was revealed that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by, among other things, hacking into the e-mail system of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and releasing its e-mails, international lawyers were divided over whether the cyber attack violated international law, as none of the standard rubrics for understanding illegal interventions clearly and unambiguously apply to the facts in question. The lack of fit with the doctrinal requirements for an illegal intervention against another State’s sovereignty is simply an indication that the notions of “sovereignty” and “intervention”—though mainstays of contemporary public international law doctrine—are poorly suited to analyzing the legality of the conduct in this case. A far better rubric for analyzing the behavior is the notion of self-determination, a legal concept that captures the right of a people to decide, for themselves, both their political arrangements and their future destiny. Unfortunately, the right of self-determination has largely lain fallow since the global process of decolonization was completed, with the exception of a few cases of controversial secessions. But the Russian hacking campaign is evidence that self-determination’s departure from the scene in international law should be mourned and, if possible, reversed because there are situations and cases where the best legal categories for understanding the situation are not sovereignty and intervention but rather the notion of self-determination.