Cyber or Cold War?

According to NYT article a secret legal review on the use of America’s growing arsenal of cyberweapons has concluded that President Obama has the broad power to order a pre-emptive strike.


1. The above mentioned article also claims that: Cyberweaponry is the newest and perhaps most complex arms race under way. Do you agree with this statement or not and why, and in general how would you describe a cyberweaponry

2. What are the pros and cons the above mentioned legal review about pre-emptive strike in your opinion?


Myriam Dunn Cavelty, Head of the New Risk Research Unit, Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich – Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

1. Cyber”weapons” are programs; “malicious” software, viruses, worms, etc. Calling them weapons serves a very specific (political) purpose, and the results of the legal review shows how successful certain circles within the US government have been in claiming a responsibility in countering the “cyberthreat”: Weapons are there to wage war, and war is waged by the military. The same goes for the concept of “arms race” that certain people use. It seems obvious that we know what it is going on – and it seems obvious that the “old” strategic logics of the Cold War apply to whatever it is that is happening right now. Strategic rivals arming themselves against you – what else can you do but arm yourself as well? While I think it is undeniable that many state actors have a great interest in cyberspace and its use for violent means, falling back to Cold War thinking and metaphors is not helpful. It makes different approaches to a peaceful cyber-environment very difficult and it conjures up a world of zero-sum games, where peaceful cooperation is very difficult if not impossible. Malicious software is not (necessarily) a weapon – in fact, it hardly ever is, in my opinion.

2. Establishing rules about aggressive conduct in cyberspace is certainly a good thing. That the Americans are thinking (aloud) about the rules of engagement, including a pre-emptive strike, is also logical, given their thinking. It also serves a clear deterring purpose, following the earlier “hack us and be bombed” statements that some high-ranking officials made. It can be seen as a signal to (potential) attackers to not start meddling with this superpower, unless they want retribution. But I guess it also serves a real purpose of clarification, what to do in case of a digital Supergau.

Peter W. Singer, Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative, Brookings Institution

1. Cyberspace is both a crucial area for global communication and commerce, but it is also a growing area of competition and even conflict. The threats range from the more than 60,000 pieces of new malevolent software created each day to carry out cyber theft to new specially designed weapons like Stuxnet designed to cause physical damage. We are not in some kind of cyber Cold War as some describe, but the threats and concerns are very real.

2. The pros is that we are starting to think about important key questions. The cons are that too much of the policy release is happening via leaks (my comment on this here) and that its still very unclear how one determines what is exactly an “attack” that merits preemptive response. IE, too often in cyber space we lump together everything from acts of nuisance to espionage to criminality to terrorism to warfare as all one and the same.

Dorothy Denning, Distinguished Professor of Defense Analysis, Naval Postgraduate School

1. Yes, its new and the complexity comes not only from cyber technologies, which are inherently complex, but also from a lack of experience with cyber as a domain of warfare conducted at a state level.

2. It seems like a good idea that a pre-emptive strike against a foreign threat require Presidential approval.  Although this would delay taking offensive action against the threat, it  would not delay taking immediate and appropriate defensive actions in order to prevent or mitigate an anticipated cyber attack from the foreign adversary.


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