Strategic Cyber Conflict Issues in Deepening Foundations of Cyber Conflict

This study intends to address the strategic-level issues related to cyber conflict, including foundational work on deterrence, compellence, escalation control, command and control, and war termination. The study shall explore key features of cyber conflict among a range of potential actors, including nation states, non-state groups, and a complex hybrid of conflict involving both state and non-state actors. The research will draw inspiration from the strategic canon (e.g., Sun Tzu, Clauswitz, Schelling, Kahn), and apply those principles and insights to the very different dynamics of cyber conflict in the information age. The study will produce a standalone monograph of approximately 100 pages.

Key questions for this study include:
  • Will cyberwarfare constitute a significant form of coercive power?
  • How vulnerable are nations, their critical infrastructures and key organizations to cyberwarfare?
  • What large-scale effects can be achieved through cyberattacks?
  • How easily can they be protected/defended?
  • Could cyberwar be used to conduct economic coercion: sanctions, blockades, etc?
  • Can cyberwarfare be used for deterrent purposes?
  • What factors will govern the capacity of a state or organization to deter cyberattack?
  • What characteristics of cyberwarfare capabilities will constitute the most effective deterrent means versus what sorts of adversaries?
  • What thresholds for response might be established?
  • How will adversaries signal intent/communicate in situations involving cyberwarfare capabilities?
  • How would coercive and deterrent uses of cyberwarfare forces likely fail or fall short?
  • How can states and organizations establish the most effective defenses?
  • How will effectiveness of cyber defense interact with effectiveness of other coercive means, particularly economic or military?
  • Will cyberwarfare influence regional security dynamics?
  • How will disadvantaged groups or states view opportunities and risks?
  • How will strategic culture influence its adoption and use?
  • How would cyberwarfare impact crisis stability and crisis management considerations?
  • Will threats of decapitation or paralyzing communications substantially change crisis dynamics?
    • In what types of situations?
  • What types of events are most likely to exacerbate crises involving cyberwarfare?
  • How do difficulties of attribution and the possibility for "spoofing" particularly influence these considerations relative to cyberwarfare?
  • What are the possibilities for collateral damage and/or unintended effects from use of certain cyberwarfare capabilities, particularly malicious code?
  • How should command and control arrangements be orchestrated?
  • What considerations will impact release authority?
  • How would cyberwar influence war termination dynamics?
Study Lead: Dr. James Mulvenon