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Saint Augustine
Just War Over Cyber Networks - An Unregulated Frontier
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Just War Over Cyber Networks
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An Unregulated Frontier
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The Cyber domain  is a wild frontier that is governed by few laws.26 Recently, Senator McCain led an abortive effort to pass a critical cyber-bill that would have standardized cybersecurity requirements throughout the USA.27 It is an largely unregulated arena of human endeavor with a pervasive mentality that “anything goes.” One is tempted to assume that the entire cyber world is a place where normal ethical-moral-legal boundaries do not apply.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is a vocal proponent for International Humanitarian Law (IHL)28 that addresses attacks upon civilian infrastructure. Currently IHL only attends to the legality of cyber-attacks upon civilian infrastructure during declared conflict,29 but not during periods of ostensible peace. There is, therefore, a gaping hole in international law concerning Cyber-attacks during undeclared hostilities. Looking forward, it is unlikely that there will be much international appetite for effective international or national cyber legislation in the near future. The process of developing international law and treaties is a painfully slow process, regardless of the fact that the cyber-world moves at the speed of light.

“Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult.”30 Theorists have discussed and debated the reality of new generations of warfare. The simple fact is that insurgencies, guerrilla warfare, and various combinations of high and low intensity conflict have been present throughout human history. CW does not somehow afford a military commander the luxury of ignoring the essentials of war. If anything, the strategic commander must renew his focus upon the essentials of warfighting. CW adds additional layers of complexity that easily obscures Clauswitzian simplicity with both overwhelming capability and sheer information overload.

While CW encompasses a whole new set of ways (methods, tactics, and procedures) and means (various resources) for waging warfare, the ends (strategic outcomes) of war remain largely undisturbed. One must be very careful not to mistake technological advance for evolutionary changes in the fundamentals of warfare. However, CW encompasses an entirely new set of tools and heretofore unimagined possibilities for globally engaging an opponent. With these new tools comes the responsibility to use them wisely and morally.

CW is an exponential expansion of the battle-space. It offers new ways and means to engage the enemy. Gigapixel cameras31 now under development portend a future of Orwellian oversight of entire populations. Drones and robots populate battlespace, communication is satellite enhanced, computers process information at speeds far beyond human capacity—but all these things continue to be directed by human beings. Further, it is estimated that in the next dozen years there will be “5.5 billion people online using 25 Zetabytes (trillion gigabytes) of data.”32 All of these persons will soon be in the cyber cross hairs.

CW was formerly a bloodless arena of conflict but is rapidly becoming weaponized.33 New technologies come online every day. Many of them now expand information warfare into aggressive and deadly realms. Cyber weapons currently have a deterrent value that is leveling out one-sided conflicts by increasing the transactional costs of war.34 After all, how many nations would consider starting a conflict with another while facing the prospect of vital power plants being shut down, with a loss in production that could lead to a 10% (or greater) loss in GDP? Increasingly, CW is more attractive to non-state actors who have no population to please or infrastructure to protect.

Cyber-conflict is primarily disruptive, rather than destructive; and its low entry cost makes it possible for states, terrorist groups and even individuals to acquire cyber-conflict capabilities with relative ease. Cyberspace is accessible to all and therefore makes conflict more thinkable. The less lethal appearance of cyber-conflict and the possibility of concealing the attacker’s true identity (plausible deniability) put serious pressure on every war-related aspect.35

Increasingly, as combatants communicate digitally and operations are automated, their vulnerability to CW efforts increases. For instance, drone warfare is entirely guided by digital means, with the pilot often sitting on another side of the globe. Missiles, warplanes, smart-bombs, and other deadly devices may be guided by GPS signals originating from a network of geosynchronous satellites. Should these signals be interrupted or redirected,36 then weapons might be turned against their users or uninvolved third parties. Recently, a high-end, highly classified intelligence U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone crashed in Iran while on a surveillance mission. There is some compelling evidence that Iranian malware was introduced into the Predator control network, compromising the drone and enabling the Iranians to capture the airplane nearly intact.37

The very real possibility of disrupting basic civil infrastructure38 and services has catastrophic potential for civilians who are protected as non-combatants by Just War morality. Denial of basic human services to an entire society through the disruption of civil networks brings new meaning to the concept  of Total War. A civilian population might be brought to its knees by drought, famine, disease, or civil disorder by some disruptive software adroitly inserted into vulnerable control systems.

Recent cases of cyber-attacks in Estonia in April-May 2007 and Georgia in August 2008 confirm that the conflict spectrum has expanded and includes cyberspace as well (Blank2008). The Estonia cyber-attack, which primarily targeted commercial financial networks, shut down the heavily online Estonian banking system for several days. The cyber-attacks in Georgia defaced the presidential website and made other government websites unavailable. Georgia was unable to communicate on the Internet for days and relocated cyber-assets to the United States, Estonia and Poland….39

CW is judged such a critical battle space that the U.S. Army stood up Cyber Command, headed up by a four-star General Officer. Cyber Command will soon become a Unified Combatant Command in the U.S. military structure.40 CW has nuanced and powerful possibilities for interaction with and response to our nation’s adversaries.

In early October of this year, Harold Koh, the State Department’s Chief Legal Advisor, announced U.S. Policy for Cyber Warfare.41 Henceforth, the USA would regard certain categories of Cyber Attacks as constituting “a use of force.” That particular phrase is a legal term from the charter of the United Nations that denotes the initiation of hostilities. This policy has been affirmed by Secretary of Defense Panetta in recent speeches.42 Announced U.S. policy has, in fact, set a Cyber standard for the initiation of armed hostilities well ahead of the international community.

Last Updated on Saturday, 01 December 2012 22:23