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International law on cybersecurity is characterized by at best a thin consensus on the existence of rules, their meaning, and the desirability and content of new rules. This legal landscape results in a unique pattern of argumentation and persuasion by states and non-state actors both in advocating for a regulatory scheme for cyber activity and in reacting to malicious cyber acts. By examining argumentation in the absence of a generally agreed legal framework, this chapter seeks to provide new insights into the motivations for and effects of international legal argumentation in shaping debates and behavior. After describing the legal landscape on cybersecurity, it analyzes the process of persuasion used by states in proposing legal rules and responding to cyberattacks. It endorses a multilevel framework that addresses states’ choices to invoke law, how they do so, and the results in the normative universe of cybersecurity. This framework is then applied to key non-state actors arguing about current or future international law. It concludes by drawing out the larger implications of the cybersecurity example for understanding the role of legal rules in international discourse.


This material was originally published in Talking International Law: Legal Argumentation Outside the Courtroom edited by Ian Johnstone and Steven R. Ratner and has been reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. For permission to reuse this material, please visit