'Each man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world'
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

'Artists are tricky fellows sir, forever shaping the world according to some design of their own'
-- Jonathan Strange, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Technology (2)

Hot War in Cyberspace

The problem with the recent British Defence document, the Strategic Defence and Security Review is that it highlighted a lot of solutions without ever really defining any problems. There was no strategy and no real idea of what problems that British realm might face in the future. This idea of streamlining forces whilst increasing the sophistication of the equipment has been at the heart of the American-led Revolution in Military Affairs - put succinctly, the idea that increasingly sophisticated technology will lead to precision warfare, eliminating collateral damage and deterring potential adversaries because of the intelligences of the military systems.  

This has been the U.S. approach to combat systems for a generation. And it isn't just about policy - the military-industrial base that Eisenhower so famously warned of is an omnipotent entity - it powers the U.S. economy. Elected officials have a proportion of their electorate that are either military or work for defence-related companies. As such, any attempt to downsize the military, to streamline by reducing output, damages the economy and damages reelection. This is the inherent problem for democracy in that it panders to short-term considerations. The U.S. has created technologically cutting edge systems without ever really asking what military arena they could realistically be employed in - hence William Lind's fashionable counterwork on 'fourth generation' warfare.  

There is a telling statistic now: 95% of all the U.S. military's communications pass through civilian channels (Berkowitz, B. 'Warfare in the Information Age' in Arquilla and Ronfeldt eds. 'In Athena's Camp', pp.141-74). The U.S. has driven military evolution as simply the need to increase the technological edge to its weapons, and this increasing sophistication points to a massive vulnerability - cyberwarfare. 

The definition of cyberwar is difficult, and there is an ambiguity since it is fought in both military and civilian domains. The responder spheres hence overlap, ensuring conflict. If a virus shuts down the electricity at a hospital and people die, is this a hot war - in death by proxy, can pixels be met by military reprisals? How can you be certain if the actor involved is a state or non-state actor? What role thus can national boundaries ever play in this realm? 

Cyberwarfare involves the rise of mezzanine players - non-state actors ensconced within national boundaries - organized crime, solo hackers.  One recent study concluded vaguely that whilst '300 world-class individuals' are added annually to the UK in terms of people with the ability to commit cyberwarfare, 25 000 are added annually of 'world class' level ability to commit cyberattacks in China. They are highly paid, highly motivated - and part of organized crime. Cybersecurity is now a main issue in military arenas. Witness the military conference on cybersecurity in London, January followed by the Munich Security Conference in February, annual event since 1962, first time that cybersecurity had been foregrounded in the conference. Ten of the 13 Global Internet routers are in the United States, making it the playground of choice for anarchists and competitive hackers. Moreover, the increasing level of sophistication (stuxnet made people sit up across the globe) means that your own PCs could aid cyberwarfare, unwittingly. Your PC could already have picked a side in a battle not yet fought. 

More on RMA:
Krepinevich (1994) 'Cavalry to Computer: The Pattern of Military Revolutions', National Interest
Cohen, E. (1996) 'A Revolution in Warfare', Foreign Affairs
Cordesman, A. 'A Lesson in Transforming Warfare', FT, 18 Feb, 2005
Freedman, L (1998) Revolution in Strategic Affairs, Adelphi Paper 318, IISS

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