Plan X and the new war playground

Today’s Washington Post has an article highlighting plans from the Pentagon to ramp up cyber-warfare capabilities. The idea is to move beyond spying, espionage, and subterfuge orientation, that the US should be better prepared to act decisively, incisively, and on a large scale.

An interesting rationale for this is offered:

Daniel Kuehl, an information warfare professor at the National Defense University’s iCollege, said the Air Force built its history around attacks on infrastructure — in Korea, Vietnam, Serbia and Iraq.

“In all of those conflicts,” he said, “we went after the other side’s electricity with bombs.”

Today, he said, cyberweapons could be more humane than pulverizing power grids with bombs.

If a cyberwarrior can disrupt a computer system controlling an enemy’s electric power, the system theoretically can also be turned back on, minimizing the impact on civilians.

First, this can turn out working the other way, if it makes military officials more trigger-happy (or click-happy). There may be temptation to engage in more preemptive coercive acts since ‘less civilians will be affected’.  This would in turn create a more aggressive military stance from the country, so the policy implications here are not very predictable.  Imagine an aggressive application of the Bush Doctrine in which one is armed with such cyber-warfare capabilities.

Second, unsaid in the article, is the issue of sovereignty.  It is one thing to target a nuclear energy factory in a rogue state…or to freeze bank accounts of known or suspected terrorist networks ….but what are the implications of attacking an electrical grid remotely via a computer?  It’s easy to make the case for going after Al-Qaeda or obvious terrorists in cyberspace, but what about going after states?  If the electricity grid in a city of millions is shut down and thousands are without electricity, there’s a real impact on civilian population.   Third, is the optics, which look too similar to totalitarian regimes shutting down political activists for comfort.   Lastly, there’s domestic implications.  Military technology always trickles down into the government, then into the private sector, and then into regular mainstream civilian life.

Read the entire source article here: With Plan X, Pentagon seeks to spread US Military might to cyberspace. 


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