viernes, 9 de septiembre de 2016

Cyberspace has brought about an era of persistent confrontation.

War in Peace


(Joint Publication 3-0, United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, August 11, 2011, p. V-6)

What if warfare—the kind we see in World War II movies—never occurs again? The two great wars of Europe were total, unambiguous, and definitive. There was a beginning (a declaration), a prosecution of conflict, and a clear and declared end, including a postwar occupation and recovery. Histories of such conflict have made great books, and no end to them is in sight.Warfare today, however, seems almost always ambiguous, murky, confusing, ongoing, and politically complicated—especially for the very legalistic United States. Warfare today is a combination of low-intensity (military) conflict and a fight over information via cyberspace—especially over “narratives” that sway public opinion.1 And usually this warfare does not involve much violence, certainly not compared to the wholesale slaughters of the 20th century.2

This isn’t exactly new—warfare has always consisted of competing narratives and had periods of low intensity. What is new is that our adversaries now specifically stay in the early stage of cyberspace operations, information operations, and very limited or no kinetic conflict, careful never to escalate to state-on-state conventional war.3 In short, our adversaries and competitors have embraced cyber warfare precisely to avoid kinetic hostilities with the United States, but in so doing they can at least from time to time still achieve their political objectives.4

Traditionally, the United States sees itself as either at peace or at war. Today, this divide is at best blurred and perhaps forever outdated. Today, we seem always in some sort of confrontation. “Steady state” operations imply a status quo—when little needs to be done, and relationships are static. This may be an unhelpful legacy of the great wars in Europe and the Pacific. (It may also have to do with our habit of Manichaean thinking, an artifact of religion.)

It is precisely because the United States enjoys dominance in many military domains that its adversaries plan and struggle against U.S. interests short of declared mass kinetic warfare, especially in the cyberspace domain. Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and the Islamic State/al-Qaeda maneuver forces, conduct cyberspace operations, influence media, and pay for information all to shape a new environment without resorting to direct kinetic conflict with the world’s sole superpower.
U.S. adversaries today see the world in a constant state of conflict and competition; the U.S. political elite sees the world in a state of peace, with “war” a deviation to be quickly corrected.

Cyber warfare is the delivery of effects via cyberspace and can be as un-invasive as collecting intelligence or delivering propaganda, or as invasive as disrupting government websites or stopping a civilian Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system at a dam, an electrical power plant, or an air traffic control facility.5 A cyber “attack” is any hostile act using a computer or network system intended to disrupt or destroy an adversary’s critical cyber systems, assets, or functions.

Cyberspace is a unique military domain in which the United States and adversary forces meet and compete every day. The United States is engaged in almost continuous contact with adversaries in cyberspace, with often-ambiguous legal implications that frequently hamstring our ability to respond. The media has occasionally called it “virtual warfare,” but a better term for the situation may be “cyberspace confrontation,” or “warfare during peacetime.” Although since World War II we have had a succession of limited wars (a sine wave of conflict), cyberspace may have invited, in Army Chief of Staff George Casey’s phrase, an “era of persistent confrontation.”6

Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and the Islamic State/al-Qaeda use cyberspace to pursue a variety of goals, including operations that emplace cyber weapons on our critical infrastructure (both public and private), steal intellectual property, attack U.S. industry, and enable terrorist acts. More recently, Russia has used such methods to influence a presidential election—a new threshold of audacity and danger. Our adversaries’ strategies usually combine traditional military forces and information operations to maneuver, influence, and manipulate information in cyberspace.

As a result, the United States is often hesitant to act politically and militarily during these periods of ostensible peacetime, even though its adversaries are not. (U.S. adversaries are well aware of how and why we find ourselves frozen.) We must recognize that there is a category of conflict that may not be easily recognized as “war” by most, but which involves the violation of U.S. sovereignty and interests, as well as the theft of resources and treasure.

The cyber domain did not usher in a new, definitive form of warfare, as some originally feared—just the opposite. Warfare did not change with the addition of the air or space domain, and cyber, too, is merely a new vector. It does not so much transform warfare as shift it “to the left”: There is more “Phase 0-1” competition—including cyber attacks—during peacetime and fewer “Phase 3” kinetic violence. Nowadays adversaries escalate confrontation with the United States within Phase 0, but rarely past Phase 1. And since cyberspace is pervasive and part of everyone’s environment, it is an especially seductive military domain for adversaries to exploit, especially authoritarian states.

Because U.S. adversaries know we see ourselves as either in peacetime or in wartime, they maneuver as aggressively as they can in Phase 0. Cyberspace is the one military domain where clear boundaries and red lines have not been established. Action in this phase is far easier for authoritarian states to conduct than liberal, consensus-building democracies. Thus, the United States often finds itself reacting late, insufficiently, or not at all to more nimble authoritarian states.


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