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Reports indicate that new legislation in the Senate proposes to authorize US military cyber warriors to go on the offensive against Russian attacks on the United States in cyberspace. It also mandates a cyber deterrence doctrine.
These same reports indicate that lawmakers were disappointed in the administration’s latest cyber policy. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s fiscal year 2019 defense policy bill designates clandestine military operations in cyberspace as “traditional military activities.” This affirms the secretary of defense’s ability to order cyber operations. A related section of the bill “authorizes the National Command Authority to direct US Cyber Command to take appropriate and proportional action through cyberspace to disrupt, defeat and deter systematic and ongoing attacks by Russia in cyberspace,” the report states:
(a) In General.—It shall be the policy of the United States, with respect to matters pertaining to cyberspace, cybersecurity, and cyber warfare, that the United States should employ all instruments of national power, including the use of offensive cyber capabilities, to deter if possible, and respond when necessary, to any and all cyber-attacks or other malicious cyber activities that target United States interests with the intent to—
(1) cause casualties among United States persons or persons of our allies;
(2) significantly disrupt the normal functioning of United States democratic society or government (including attacks against critical infrastructure that could damage systems used to provide key services to the public or government);
(3) threaten the command and control of the United States Armed Forces, the freedom of maneuver of the United States Armed Forces, or the industrial base or other infrastructure on which the United States Armed Forces rely to defend United States interests and commitments; or
(4) achieve an effect, whether individually or in aggregate, comparable to an armed attack or imperil a vital interest of the United States.”
There are several interesting aspects to this Congressional proposed strategic policy.
1. The concept of cyber deterrence as a doctrine.
2. That deterrence of cyber-attacks may also be achieved by the use of non-cyber responses.
The congress determining national security strategy is by itself unique. The formal authorization of a cyber deterrence doctrine opens the whole realm of what is deterrence?
My UCLA graduate school professor (Bernard Brodie who was one of the founders of deterrence doctrine thought of deterrence as” a strategy intended to dissuade an adversary from taking an action not yet started, or to prevent them from doing something that another state desires. A credible nuclear deterrent, he wrote, must be always at the ready, yet never used.”
Subsequently the capacity to harm another state was to be a motivating factor for other states to avoid it and influence another state’s behavior. To be coercive or deter another state, violence must be anticipated and avoidable by accommodation.
Deterrence is considered to consist of the capability to inflict such harm and the willingness to do so. Capability is the more easily demonstrated aspect of deterrence. It is achieved through observable tests, news reports or use. Willingness is the hard part to quantify. It is usually thought to consist of demonstrated use or as during the cold war some form of automaticity to the response. With the consequences of a major nuclear exchange being so great during the cold war and automatic responses discussed openly no side was willing to test the willingness of the other.
This lack of willingness to test the other side’s willingness became the source of moderation during the cold war. Simple escalation of the DEFCON or making advanced alert status visible was used as a method of signaling willingness.
How one is to signal willingness in the cyber world is a fascinating question. It may require some cyber ‘skirmishes.” Possibly these have already occurred.
As we go forward in the evolution of strategic thought the concept of cyber deterrence will require significant additional study and the response to questions, such as:
- What is the potential damage?
- What is the nature of escalatory steps?
- What are the defensive measures? (These will most likely be constantly changing.)
This article should open a dialogue of cyber deterrence. Please make your comments and check back for the comments of others.
I have recently been reading the Dagger Brigade posts (2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, which the author once commanded) as it moves around Eastern Europe training with allies as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve—a program to demonstrate NATO resolve to deter the Russians for dramatic attacks and conquest of its previous kingdom (satellite countries).
Atlantic Resolve and other NATO activities in Eastern Europe and the pledged increase in force capabilities seem to assume a conventional force attack by the Russians. This approach is called into question by current Russian activities.
Russia is aggressively building up its nuclear forces and is expected to deploy a total force of 8,000 warheads by 2026 along while modernizing its deep underground bunkers, according to reports citing Pentagon officials.
The Russian force build up implies several aspects of its view of future warfare. The 8,000 warheads will include both large strategic warheads and thousands of new low-yield and very low-yield warheads. These will circumvent arms treaty limits. Russia’s new doctrine is one of using nuclear arms early in any conflict.
This new doctrine as it evolves seems to combine the use of low and very low yield nuclear weapons in conjunction with attacks by tactical ground forces. Simultaneous it seeks to maintain strategic deterrence by having a modernized mobile strategic arsenal. The mobility of the strategic forces enhances their survivability. Part of this deterrence effort includes fortification of underground facilities for command and control during such a nuclear conflict.
The United States and NATO are watching this alarming expansion as to determine if Russia is preparing to break out of current nuclear forces constraints under arms treaties, including the 2010 New START and 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaties. Russia has already violated the INF accord by testing an illegal ground-launched cruise missile.
This Russian nuclear arms buildup is among the activities being studied by the ongoing Pentagon major review of US nuclear forces called the Nuclear Posture Review. The conclusions of the review are expected to be disclosed early next year—possibly coinciding with state of the union address by the president: He is on the record as saying: “I want modernization and rehabilitation… It’s got to be in tip top shape,”
The current posture review reverses the views of the Obama administration which called for reducing the role of nuclear weapons and the size of the arsenal. The cut back in nuclear forces by Obama was based on assessments—now considered false by many officials—that nuclear threats posed by Russia and other states had been lowered significantly, and that Moscow and Washington were no longer considered enemies.
The Obama administration based its strategic nuclear deterrence and warfare policies on the incorrect and outdated assumption that the prospects of US.-Russia military confrontation had been reduced sharply. However many have noted that since 2010 Russia, China, and North Korea have been engaged in steadily building up their forces with new nuclear arms and delivery systems, while Iran remains an outlier that many experts believe will eventually decide to build a nuclear arsenal. The Obama administration did not react to this changing strategic situation.
The Pentagon’s new posture review is based in part on a reversal of the outdated Obama-era assessment. Most likely it will include:
- Recognition of an increased global nuclear threat
- Recommendations on increasing the US nuclear force modernization—warheads and delivery vehicles
- A recommendation to revise US and NATO warfighting doctrine, tactics and techniques.
To many this may result in a modernized version of the Reagan era capability gap and a cry for almost drastic efforts to close the gap. This will be a major fight for resources that President Trump could lose based upon liberal intransigence and an unwillingness to accept the threat. Will the US and NATO react in time and with appropriate responses?
Is NATO’s Atlantic Resolve soon to be an inappropriate activity when the Russian nuclear threat is considered? OR can it or should it be modified to include the artillery battalion in the deployed brigade combat teams (BCTs) have nuclear warheads available? Should the deployed artillery battalions train for the conduct of nuclear operations? Should the ground forces train for operations in a nuclear environment? Should additional nuclear capable systems be deployed with the BCTs? These are all questions that NATO and the US need to consider as the efforts to deter Russian aggression continue.
Is the cold war returning?