Beyond state-centrism: International law and non-state actors in cyberspace

Michael N. Schmitt, Sean Watts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Classically, states and non-state actors were differentiated not only by disparities in legal status, but also by significant imbalances in resources and capabilities. Not surprisingly, international law developed a state-centric bias to account for these imbalances. Cyberspace and cyber operations, however, have closed a number of formerly significant gaps between states' and non-state actors' abilities to compromise international peace and security. In fact, some non-state actors now match, if not exceed, the cyber capabilities of many states in this respect. Where public international law had long proved chiefly relevant to states' interactions with other states, cyber operations by non-state actors increase the frequency with which public international law provides relevant and binding legal rules. This article surveys existing public international law for norms relevant to the cyber interactions of cyber-empowered states and non-state actors. Specifically, the article illustrates how the principles of sovereignty, state responsibility and the jus ad bellum are particularly relevant to States engaged in struggles with non-state actors for security and supremacy in cyberspace.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)595-611
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Conflict and Security Law
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Safety Research
  • Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Beyond state-centrism: International law and non-state actors in cyberspace'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this