The response by middle powers to the emerging centrality of cyber space in the conduct of future war has been slow and fragmented. Their cyber war play-books are not blank but they look very different from those of pace-setter countries. A paper that I will present at an international conference in New Delhi next week, “Securing Cyberspace: Asian and International Perspectives“, describes a number of international benchmarks which might provide guideposts for a rapid catch-up in middle power capabilities for military security in the information age (for cyber-enabled war).
On the one hand, the paper looks at the future international policy environment. It calls out major trends in the policy settings of two pacesetter countries: China and the United States. Both regard military dominance in cyber space as one of the primary determinants of success in war. Few governments among the middle powers have been prepared to canvas in public the centrality of cyber-enabled warfare or craft policies and doctrines accordingly. The discussion of the polices of China and the United States lays the foundation the paper’s review of international trends in war avoidance (preventive diplomacy) and middle power needs to shape those developments. The United States and China have taken decisions in 2015 that reveal their determination to race ahead to the next stage of development of cyber arsenals. They seek to create conditions in cyber space that in war time could undermine the effectiveness of the weapons systems, deployed units and military-related civil infrastructure of an enemy as quickly as possible. The two major powers are placing considerable attention on disabling enemy cyber systems in the early stages of hostilities, or even on a pre-emptive basis.
On the other hand, the paper previews trends in the technologies and characteristics of cyber-enabled war (attack technologies and defensive systems) and complex cyber-enabled war scenarios. These trends are moving in a direction that will present almost insurmountable challenges to the security of most middle powers. These countries will need to develop complex responsive systems of decision-making for medium intensity war that address multi-vector, multi-front and multi-theatre attacks in cyber space, including against civilian infrastructure and civilians involved in the war effort. Middle power defense forces will need to maintain distinct capabilities for cyber warfare at the strategic level. The capabilities need to be unified in both policy and doctrinal terms in a way that lays a clear pathway for mobilization of each country in very short time to fight a medium intensity, cyber-enabled hot war. This will require new technologies of decision-making that do not yet exist in most G20 countries.
The paper recommends that interested middle powers build a much more visible community of interest around the concept of cyber-enabled warfare with a recognized authoritative hub (a global cyber warfare studies center) that can unite political, military, diplomatic, business, scientific and technical interests and expertise. The NATO Centre for Cyber Defense can be a strong partner in this but the NATO alliance framework places some constraints on its potential role. In the next two decades, the war-fighting needs of middle powers in cyber space, as for their counter-terrorism needs, cannot be met without considerable dilution of pre-existing alliance and blocs and more effective bridging of the big geopolitical divides. Collective security in cyberspace may be the only answer for middle powers.