The New Rules: Don’t Fear U.S. Cyber Deterrence

The New Rules: Don’t Fear U.S. Cyber Deterrence

It is tempting to view the Obama administration's new cyber strategy as the creation of yet another "conflict domain" to worry about in U.S. national security. Thus, in our enduring habit of piling new fears on top of old ones -- nuclear proliferation, terror, rising powers and failed states, among others -- we imagine yet another vulnerability/threat/enemy to address with buckets of money. In truth, the strategy document is just our government finally acknowledging that, as usual, any fruitful international dialogue on this subject awaits the first move by the system's most advanced military power.

The same stalemate exists in the realm of space weaponry, with the major difference being that there are sufficiently big enough portions of the Pentagon that still dream of a future era of space warfare to prevent any serious initiation of dialogue there. In the cyber realm, however, both our government and our private sector feel enough pressure to start the process. This is for the good, and it should be welcomed. We just need to remember that everybody has their own definition of what constitutes offending cyberbehavior: America thinks it's fine to target authoritarian regimes by encouraging Web access-enabling workarounds for anti-government protesters, and rising China thinks it's fine to target U.S. technology companies as part of its economic leapfrogging strategy. Naturally, these definitions conflict in the real world, as each sides see the other attempting to destabilize its own "righteous" way of life.

As an advanced economic and military power, the U.S. is more dependent on communication networks than any of its real or putative enemies. Therefore, we have the most to gain by fostering an international consensus on any cyber "rules of the road." The clearer that consensus, the more America will preserve its military and economic advantages. But in a world of multiple rising powers, all engaged in various catch-up strategies, it's not surprising that few of them are all that eager to help America achieve that perceived lock-in. That reality alone doesn't confirm the "vast" threat; it simply reflects the great convergence between advanced and emerging economies, which is a good thing, unless you believe a world divided into haves and have-nots is inherently a safer one.

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