In the recent past, the threats of attacks on critical cyber and network systems have increased manifold, especially with the crippling governmental and industrial reliance on technology for all their integral activity and information.
It was only a matter of time that these cyber frameworks would become new targets and frontiers where wars and clandestine debilitating operations could be carried out. A timeline of cyber attacks shows that these attacks date back to 1973, and the recent attack on Lockheed Martin and many other American confidential servers show that Cyberwar is here to stay.
Not surprising that the Pentagon wouldn’t sit quietly facing imminence of and having already faced such attacks. The WSJ reported recently that the Pentagon would consider cyber attacks originating in another country on certain key systems as an act of war and would be avenged with a military response from the United States.
A few weeks ago, the White House released a policy document for the cyberspace called “The International Strategy for Cyberspace” which sought to protect vital cyberspaces in the US from attack and if they were electronically attacked, that would result in a retaliatory attack.
The article cites many military personnel concluding that such cyber attacks could be similar to that of traditional warfare, coming within the ambit of a legal ‘armed attack’, if they have similar effects and therefore require the equivalent response. Difficulties could also arise in determination of the course of the attack, whether it was supported by a government etc. All of such considerations would be necessary in evolving a strategy to undertake unilateral military campaigns against such cyber attacks.
Voice of America cites a former defense official who says:
Pentagon strategy documents are usually more about capabilities than specific actions. “The Pentagon doesn’t decide when we go to war. And the Pentagon doesn’t decide these policy questions. The Pentagon is the doer. They are the ones who take action when they are directed by competent political authority and the command structure. The Pentagon is in the training and equipping business. And what they do is, they have to anticipate the kind of capabilities that they’re going to need to have in the future for future conflicts.”
However, some others say this is an important first step towards a strategic policy against cyber war and will serve as a warning to any future perpetrators considering such attacks.
Also, see this Yale Journal of International Law article on the link between Cyber attacks and Article 2 (4), U.N. Charter, prohibition on use of force.
Even though doctrinal and legal definitions of acts of war, armed attack etc. are unclear, this trend in the United States is a movement in the right direction as it shows evolution of traditionally held beliefs of what constitutes war.