Geneva Summit: Trust as key pillar

Nicolas Zahn • June 2021

At the recent summit between the United States of America and Russia, the importance of having a space to meet and discuss contested political issues was once more highlighted. Discussions on how to work towards a safe and trustworthy cyberspace were also on the agenda.

Bridge-builder: President of the Federal Council Guy Parmelin addresses the presidents of the USA and Russia in front of Villa La Grange. © FDFA, Alessandro della Valle

International Geneva in the spotlight

Concluding his European tour, US-President Joe Biden met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on June 16th in Geneva.

The high-profile meeting, while brief and without a clear outcome, was received positively and showed that even in the age of hybrid diplomacy, face-to-face meetings of heads of state are important.

It was also another opportunity for Switzerland to showcase its good services with international Geneva acting as a stage for the meeting of heads of state. And it flooded social media with pictures and videos of an almost empty city (see for yourself under #GenevaSummit2021)

Cyber on the agenda

Biden and Putin discussed issues of digital governance, particularly relating to cybersecurity. This clearly shows the importance of the field and that the current situation is not tenable, even for countries such as the USA and Russia.

The meeting concluded with the promise of having working groups to continue exchange on cybersecurity and President Biden also presented President Putin with a list of critical infrastructure that should be “off-limits” for cyberattacks.

It remains to be seen what the meeting and the working groups will really deliver for a trustworthy cyberspace but it is certainly a good first step. For further commentary on the cybersecurity aspect of the meeting see here, here and here.

Cyberspace also needs trust

The interactions between the USA and Russia were reminiscient of earlier interactions that highlighted the importance of trust, think e.g. of the “confidence-building measures” during the Cold War. Forums such as the summit in Geneva can provide a space to have an exchange that fosters trust.

However, in addition to these efforts a broader and constant debate about digital trust is needed. It is not only about trusting state actors in the field of cybersecurity, but also about citizens being able to trust digital services throughout the year.

A cascade of scandals involving digital technologies has further eroded public trust in digital services and we actively need to restore this lost trust to harness the potential of digital progress.

This is why the Swiss Digital Initiative as part of international Geneva’s ecosystem will be promoting digital trust through projects, such as our Digital Trust Label.