The cyber age demands new rules of war

Responsible governments should set rules that inhibit the drift towards covert acts of aggression

From Zbigniew Brzezinski, Financial Times:  The sophisticated dissemination of computer viruses can disrupt the military industrial assets of rivals. States can commission unacknowledged assassinations of foreign leaders and of scientists engaged in weapons development. They may back hacking of foreign institutions for intelligence purposes as well as of private business entities to gain commercial advantages.

Some states are also experimenting with more comprehensive cyber warfare designed to disrupt the operational infrastructure of targeted states, as in the case of the assault on Estonia and its banking institutions in 2007. A rogue but technologically sophisticated state can now gain the capacity to launch a non-lethal but paralysing cyber attack on the socioeconomic system and the most important state institutions of a target country. . . .

An open discussion of today’s novel risks to global stability might still help to avert unprecedented disasters. Responsible governments with a stake in global stability and technological capacity need to convene a process designed to set rules that inhibit the drift towards covert acts of aggression. As the world’s foremost innovator, the US should take the lead.

But to make that process productive, the US itself – while resisting the temptation to do to others what America condemns others for doing – must make certain that its vulnerabilities are not easily exploited by adversaries that are difficult to identify. It is perplexing that the US, which apparently is able to use computers to inject undetectable viruses into sensitive foreign targets, seems so vulnerable and so uninformed regarding foreign hacking into its assets.

Calm and determined deterrence – including intensified efforts credibly to identify perpetrators as well as readiness in effect to retaliate in kind – must be the point of departure for new and genuinely reciprocal rules of the game. The need for such rules is becoming urgent.

The writer was national security adviser to US president Jimmy Carter and is the author of ‘Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power’.  (graphic: Public Service Europe)

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