The Internet is a Military Secret

Guy-Philippe Goldstein is a novelist and a strategy consultant. He considers cyberwar a destabilizing innovation in warfare, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on a TED Conference in Oxford. Such destabilizing innovations are nothing rare in military history, he says. Cross-country vehicles and high-speed planes powered the German Blitzkrieg from the 1930s to 1940s. On realclearpolitics, Austin Bay recently cited some more communication-related attacks of the past century.

Fortresses of the five-pointed shape as developed by French military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban during the 17th century on the other hand – they were practically impregnable – belong to the stabilizing kind of innovation.

America planned the biggest cyber attack to date before invading Iraq in 2003 – aiming at the country’s financial system and at freezing billions of Dollars. Only fears within the Pentagon that digital and financial collateral damage wouldn’t be limited to the Middle East, but affect Europe and America too, led to the cancellation of the plan, writes the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Andrian Kreye, the paper’s correspondent, likens cyberwar to the Mongol invasion of Persia, on their way to Europe. Half a million Persians were there to defend their country. Only 120,000 Mongols defeated them. Their main advantage was intelligence. The archers bridged the distance between the fronts and the central camp, and kept the commanders informed. They kept charging where the Persians were least prepared.
Genghis Khan had developed this information system, writes Kreye. It revolutionized warfare, and the world order.

There are only few countries these days that have the potential to get in on cyberwar, says Goldstein – America, Germany, France, Britain, China, and Russia (it strikes me that Japan isn’t mentioned – after all, cyberwar is no traditional warfare). The Obama administration plans to create a new military command to coordinate the defense of Pentagon computer networks – and to improve U.S. offensive capabilities in cyberwarfare.

The notion of what cyberwar is meant to be seems to remain vague – and so do the U.S. government’s plans. UK-based IT magazine The Register quotes from a report by Washington’s National Academy of Sciences: “Today’s policy and legal framework for guiding and regulating the US use of cyberattack is ill-formed, undeveloped, and highly uncertain,” the report, published by the National Academy of Sciences, states. “Secrecy has impeded widespread understanding and debate about the nature and implications of US cyberattack.” The Academy’s report urges a broad, unclassified national debate and discussion about cyberattack policy.

The American plans have suffered some setbacks recently, especially when Melissa E. Hathaway, a cybersecurity aide inherited from the Bush jr. administration, resigned her post early this month, and consequently withdrew her application for coordinating the cyberattacks initiative.

But like in every arms race, unilateral restrictions won’t necessarily lead to competitors restricting themselves, too – the potential of cyberwar is more likely to worry the existing great powers, than countries like China which are intent on rising. Window speeches are one thing. A lack of transparency or accountability on the other hand may worry Americans, but not the Chinese. For now, there are no arms reduction talks in this field anyway. Germany is getting prepared for the new arsenal, too. Die Welt reported in February that the Bundeswehr now operates a cyberwar department of its own – the army neither confirmed nor denied the reports.

It’s all a big secret. If you really want to know what’s going on there, you’ll need to become a hacker.


Serve your Country – Become a Network Security Adviser, July 31, 2009

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