Waiting For The Cyberbarbarians: Foreign Policy

Oct 30th, 2011 Criticism, cyber attack, warfare

On October 21st, 2011, Robert Haddick wrote for Foreign Policy on how the issue of cyberwarfare has caused confusion amongst US policymakers.  Noting how former JCS Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen mentioned cyberattacks in the same vein as nuclear weapons, Haddick argued that US policymakers' lack of progress on formulating cyberattack doctrine is dangerous.  The article went on to question how top US military officials can view cyberattacks akin to nuclear weapons, but still have trouble formulating a cyberattack doctrine.  Although the Pentagon does have an official cyberstrategy, that strategy is vague and offers little guidance to establish cyberwar rules of engagement or retaliatory doctrine. 

In exploring the struggle to formulate cyberattack doctrine, Haddick believes that formidable obstalces have stymied policymakers' efforts.  For example, the Obama administration refused to use cyberweapons against Libyan air defenses because it feared that the attack would set a precedent that other adversaries could later exploit against the US.  Furthermore, the US government refused to hack Osama bin Laden's bank accounts because it feared that the attack would cause investors to lose faith in the financial system.  Haddick believes that the US is reluctant to use cyberattacks because it heavily relies upon computer networks, and thus, is reluctant to escalate combat in one of its favored domains.  

Haddick argues that it is this reluctance that makes the establishment of an effective cyber-deterrent difficult.  Effective deterrence, like the US nuclear deterrent, generally requires a demonstration of force that intimidates would-be adversaries.  However, until demonstrated, the US cyber-deterrent is largely hypothetical and of little value.  Haddick concludes that such a demonstration is unlikely.         

The source article can be found here.   

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