Can U.S. Deter Cyber War?
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Can U.S. Deter Cyber War?

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There has been a great deal of thinking and writing about why deterrence is difficult in cyberspace. Attacks can be masked, or routed through another country’s networks. And even if you know for sure the attack came from a computer in country X, you can't be sure the government was behind it. All of this creates the attribution problem: It's hard to deter if you can't punish, and you can't punish without knowing who is behind an attack. Moreover, much of the cyber activity is espionage, and it's hard to imagine a government threatening military action for the theft of data.

China Defense Daily lays out some of the reasons why Chinese experts think deterrence is hard, or to be more specific, why the U.S. military will have difficulty achieving its deterrence aims. First, though, the article addresses all the “advantages” the United States brings to the table: resources (10 of the world’s 13 root servers are in the United States); technology (operating systems, databases, processors, microchips, network switching, and other core technology are all “in the hands of American companies”); power (there is a large gap between the United States and others in the development of weapons, investment, the training of talent, and the scale of armed forces).

Despite these strengths, the article sees the U.S. as being unable to secure its networks. The announcement of the Defense Department’s Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace, in the Chinese view, encouraged other countries to develop their own offensive capabilities. Attribution is hard, and providing proof of who is behind an attack that would convince others is still extremely difficult. Detection and monitoring capabilities in cyberspace are underdeveloped, so it's a real question whether the U.S. military can detect, provide warning of, and deter an attack before it happens. Finally, if the United States decides to retaliate through offensive cyber attacks, it can have no certainty about the outcomes. The impacts on networks are often limited and can be quickly recovered from.

U.S. intelligence officials are going to AP and The Wall Street Journal and telling them they have identified the specific Chinese groups behind attacks on Google, RSA, and other companies in an attempt to diminish Chinese confidence that they can remain hidden and, thus, strengthen deterrence. Going further down the hall of mirrors, it may be that the purpose of the article in China Defense Daily is to undermine these U.S. efforts. Can Washington believe that it has achieved a credible deterrent if the potential adversary keeps saying it's not possible?

What deterrence is in cyberspace and how it is achieved is exactly the type of discussion the United States needs to be having with China. This article’s use of deterrence (威慑, wei she) is reflective of the Chinese definition, which can be more expansive and normative than the American use, encompassing threat or menace. As far as I can tell, cyber security discussions have only (officially) been happening once a year at the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

Cyberspaces are of course a strategic and economic issue, so it makes sense to have a whole government approach. Still, given the distance between Washington and Beijing, and the speed at which the issue is developing, the Pentagon and the People's Liberation Army should be speaking as frequently, and in as many fora, as possible.

Adam Segal is the Ira A. Lipman Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at Asia Unbound, where this piece originally appeared. Follow him on Twitter @adschina.

Comments
33
Major Lowen Gil Marquez, Phil Army
January 14, 2012 at 22:33

Thou shall not trust the mainland china in giving or sharing your product secret because in the long run they will counterfeit and clone your top secret assets and will lead to your shameful economic defeat, look at some prominent car manufacturing they were the victim of Chinese counterfeiting, we must learn the history, on cyberwar the Chinese still getting more data, the more we discuss the more the got an IDEA. . . think. . .

SubIconoclast
January 14, 2012 at 22:04

… and “cui bono” if the US responds to a perceived attacker, causing harm to someone else’s competition? The naive approach to foreign policy and/or defense – quite popular in special interest circles for its inherent vulnerability to manipulation – does little to advance a nation’s interests.

Proof is necessary to avoid serving as the unwitting puppet of tricksters. It doesn’t necessarily need to convince others, but widely-convincing proof also helps reduce political costs associated with retaliatory action.

mok tuk
January 14, 2012 at 16:19

Furthermore, when Chinese come out of China, suddenly realized that world are looking down, laughing at brainwashing education systems in China, North Korea, understandably, it’s important to build new generation, but teaching the real history is more constructive than fabricated history, that whole history start from great China!!!, And take good look at USA,Canada, Western countries, Japan, Korea, Germany, France, Italy, UK, Taiwan, in democratic society, they do not hesitate condemning own mistakes, also public has full viewing, in case of big dispute in the wide open concept, free opinion and free election, that is power of democracy, real freedom society, And if any conflict happening between democratic states and communist states, that free spirited will is much stronger than brain-washed army!

DownRedChina
January 14, 2012 at 05:54

@John Chan:
“It seems China law enforcers enforce laws with proper manners, therefore no undue violence occurred under their watch”
They act like pirates at high sea. You called killed/robbed fish catch/demanded ransom are proper manners. That’s right. proper manners by a liar Chinese like you.
spewing trash is what you do best. It understood that CCP injected too much trash into your head. Hard to take it out, isn’t it?
FYI, I don’t agree with some of the things Dick Cheney did but as a person he is much more decent than your corrupted CCP masters.

John Chan
January 14, 2012 at 03:18

@DownRedChina,
It seems China law enforcers enforce laws with proper manners, therefore no undue violence occurred under their watch; on the other hand the behaviour of the S. Korean law enforcers seems much to be desired, therefore unnecessary accident happened.

Glorifying Vietnam’s invasion of its smaller neighbour is a wrong thing to do. It is really shameless how you distorted the facts.
It is China’s sovereignty gives China’s law enforcers to arrest and expel illegal fishing and other activities from China’s territory.

Fabricating lies thru the thin air to smear others is a standard practice taught in the Dick Cheney School of Darth Vader, it seems you are a graduated of that school.

DownRedChina, which nation do you come from, fabricating lies about China without revealing yourself is cowardice and only proves you are not credible.

DownRedChina
January 14, 2012 at 00:44

Provide just one case Vietnamese fishermen killed anyone. Vietnamese authority provided illegal Chinese fishermen food and fuel after arrest. The Chinese did the opposite.

“S Koreans are too aggressive and a guard got kill in a shuffle.” It was clearly a intentional murder – not in a shuffle like you described.

Didn’t Vietnam rescue Cambodia from Pol Pot which was planted by your CCP masters? Your CCP masters got Cambodian blood on their hands.

Tibet people are setting themselves on fire as we speak. Xinjiang and inner Mongolia people aren’t happy as we speak. They should have their lands back.

Who give China the rights to arrest Vietnam/Phillipines/Japan/SKorea fishing inside their EEZ?

Fishing ban during fish breeding season should be issued by all nations.

DownRedChina
January 14, 2012 at 00:26

Provide just one case Vietnamese fishermen killed anyone. Vietnamese authority provided illegal Chinese fishermen food and fuel after arrest. The Chinese did the opposite.

“S Koreans are too aggressive and a guard got kill in a shuffle.” It was clearly a intentional murder – not in a shuffle like you described.

Didn’t Vietnam rescue Cambodia from Pol Pot which was planted by your CCP masters? Your CCP masters got Cambodian blood on their hands.

Tibet people are setting themselves on fire as we speak. Xinjiang and inner Mongolia people aren’t happy as we speak. They should have their lands back.

Who give China the rights to arrest Vietnam/Phillipines/Japan/SKorea fishing inside their EEZ?

Fishing ban during fish breeding season should be issued by all nations.

yang zi
January 13, 2012 at 22:21

I have to agree with you on some of your points. is that Vietnamese fisherman are very easy, they don’t fight against arrest.

S. Korean fishing thing is a bone head move by China, marking EEZs with S. Korea, prevented Chinese fishermen from their traditional fishing ground. S Koreans are too aggressive and a guard got kill in a shuffle.

Back to SCS, I am glad to see ASEAN and China is meeting in Beijing. one thing came out is everybody should be able to fishing in SCS regardless EEZs. I like this, hopefully China will not arrest Vietnamese fishermen and Vietnam will issue a fishing ban during fish breeding season.

I really hope Vietnam can face its past, distribute its SCS oil revenue to Cambodia and Chams. after all, those resources supposed to belong to them.

DownRedChina
January 13, 2012 at 21:13

@John Chan: “WTO and UN exercise democracy, what you are suggesting contravenes democracy, a behaviour of dictatorial imperialism.”
Carrot policy doesn’t work with CCP. It’s time for stick.

“USA is the king of jungle laws, it is a title and fact recognized by the world. Even The Diplomat has an article that attributes to it.”
Provide facts/links.

DownRedChina
January 13, 2012 at 20:53

Let’s take a look at the big picture. The challenges are huge. It is China’s culture to steal/cheat/copy/counterfeit. They have no respect for international laws. They teach their children from the very young age that it’s OK to cheat/steal to get ahead in life. I’d like to quote from the article
“Law Not War in the South China Sea” from author John Hemmings. He wrote “Years of school-taught nationalism has complicated efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the South China Sea dispute. Time to try the legal route.” Chinese children have been brainwashed all their life. It’s very difficult for them to integrate into civilized world when they grow up. That’s why there are so many problems regarding China (IP theft, Counterfeit products, land sea grabbing ambitions and so on and so forth) They often turn to violence if they don’t get their ways (killed South Korean officer when they got caught fishing in SK’s water). CCP is the root of all.

John Chan
January 13, 2012 at 19:38

@Watcher,
It is an American who said “Americans are the most manipulated people.”

Leonard R.
January 13, 2012 at 18:48

@girish: “The source of attack cannot be considered as origin of cyber attack. In-fact only foolish perform cyber attacks from their own source which can end up exposing them-self.”

This is similar to the “No criminal could possibly be that stupid,” defense in court.

And that argument is usually a losing one. Criminals often are very stupid. Every day stupid criminals commit stupid crimes. And they get caught.

To continue this line of reasoning further, the PLA has behaved very stupidly several times in the our recent past. Maybe it is possible that the organization behind the hackers is in fact – rather stupid. After all, unlike Russians or Indians, they keep getting caught. Don’t they?

But if we assume girish is correct for a moment and that the source of an attack should disqualify from being a suspect, maybe the US should simply ask, cui bono?
And maybe it respond against the nation that benefits from the hack,
without regard to what the ostensible source of the attack was.

yang zi
January 13, 2012 at 16:05

Yes, I’ve attended Falun Gong Master Li’s lecture, he claimed Jesus is a Buddha below his level.

US and the Christian world public doesn’t know this, if they do, they will treat Falun Gong even worse.

When you think of it, Dalai Lama is a cult leader too. who in their right mind claiming to be a living Buddha?

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