What fearmongers get wrong about cyberwarfare

Evgeny Morozov writes: Should we worry about cyberwarfare? Judging by excessively dramatic headlines in the media, very much so. Cyberwarfare, the argument goes, might make wars easier to start and thus more likely.

Why so? First, cyberwarfare is asymmetric; being cheap and destructive, it may nudge weaker states to conflicts with stronger states — the kinds of conflicts that would have been avoided in the past. Second, since cyberattacks are notoriously difficult to trace, actors may not fear swift retaliation and behave more aggressively than usual. Third, as it’s hard to defend against cyberattacks, most rational states would prefer to attack first. Finally, since cyberweapons are surrounded by secrecy and uncertainty, arms control agreements are hard to implement. More cyberwarfare, in other words, means more wars.

Not so fast, cautions a new and extremely provocative article by Princeton doctoral candidate Adam Liff in the Journal of Strategic Studies. According to Liff, to assume that cyberwarfare has an inherent logic — a teleology — that would always result in more conflict is short-sighted. Furthermore, it fails to consider the subtleties of both military strategy and power relations. Instead of basing our cyber policy on outlandish scenarios from second-rate films, we have to remember that those who would deploy cyberweapons have real agendas and real interests—and would have to pay real costs if something goes awry.

Given today’s geopolitical situation, Liff sees no reason for the doom-and-gloom fearmongering of leading ambassadors of the cyber-industrial complex, most notoriously Richard Clarke and his best-selling 2010 book Cyberwar. Liff even spells out several scenarios where cyberwarfare would actually decrease armed conflict. That’s right: The advent of cyberweapons may eventually promote world peace. Hippies of the world unite — and learn how to mount cyberattacks! [Continue reading…]

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