from the stop! dept
The cyberwar hype has been going on for nearly a decade now. And, while it is very much the case that cybersecurity to defend from international actors is very much a real need, it’s also true that dangling the threat of cyberwarfare over the public’s heads has been purposefully done to excuse governmental power grabs at the military and intelligence agency levels. It’s also been true throughout this hype-fest that the US government has been practically begging for there to be a cyberwar in the first place… except that other nations mostly seem to play with this at the most minimal levels. And, in the past, the American government has indicated that real shooting wars may result from cyberwar activities.
Now, none of the above is meant to suggest that there can’t be a situation in which a foreign state actor engages in “cyber” actions so egregious that traditional military action would be warranted. Rather, the point is that such scenarios are both so egregious in their nature, and that they certainly haven’t occurred to date, that to make threats of shooting wars as a result seems like a massive overreaction.
Unless, of course, you’re President Joe Biden, in which case you walk in front of the Office for the Director of National Intelligence and assert with certainty that the next kinetic war will absolutely start as a result of a “cyber breach.”
“If we end up in a war, a real shooting war with a major power, it’s going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach,” the president said in a speech at the Office for the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees 18 US intelligence agencies.
Although he did not say who such a war might be fought against, Biden immediately name-checked Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, alleging that Russia was spreading misinformation ahead of the 2022 US midterm elections.
This is quite stupid for a variety of reasons. Let’s start with the most obvious: when politicians talk about conflicts between “major powers”, you can simply replace “major” with “nuclear” and it’s the same message. And if we’re talking about suffering a “cyber breach” conducted by a “nuclear power”, then proactively escalating the engagement rules into the kinetic warfare realm puts the entire world in a suddenly more dangerous place.
And this doesn’t even work from a level of deterrence either. First, nations like Russia and China have generally shown themselves to be largely un-deterrable in the cyberwarfare space. It’s not even entirely clear that our intelligence services are fully buttoned up on any given breach when it comes to who the attackers are and what level of state action is involved. For that to result in a kinetic war is, again, very stupid.
The statement also gives full permission to America’s rivals throughout the world to put out their own statements in kind. And does anyone seriously doubt that we are engaging in cyber breaches at some level against our rivals ourselves? So, given Biden’s stance, would it be morally correct for Russia or China to suspect America of some kind of intrusion… and start shooting? That’s really where we want to end up?
Somehow I doubt it. Instead, this appears to be good, old-fashioned American myopic thinking at work. We do entirely too much of this: try to put out deterrence or threats without understanding that the result will be nations throughout the world lobbing those same threats right back at us. And if all of that were to result in warfare, never mind nuclear warfare, that would be abhorrent.