Moral Low Ground

US Government


In a stunning yet mostly ignored development, the Pentagon will soon implement a major new strategic doctrine that will consider computer attacks from foreign nations acts of war that could be met with military retaliation. The United States is clearly attempting to forge an official strategy for dealing with the increasing threat of cyberattacks and military and government planners have gone back to the Cold War strategy of deterrence.

According to the New York Times, the genesis for this new stance originated in May 2009, just four months after President Barack Obama took office, when General Kevin P. Chilton, head of the US Strategic Command, declared that “the law of armed combat will apply” in the event of a cyberattack on the United States. “I don’t think you take anything off the table in considering a response. Why would we constrain ourselves?” he asked.

Not taking anything off the table means that the Obama administration may consider a nuclear attack against a country if a cyberattack causes what is deemed to be sufficient damage to the United States to warrant such drastic measures.

Administration officials told the Times that the President would “consider a variety of responses” including economic sanctions, cyberattacks and military strikes to deal with any disruption of our electronic infrastructure.

The new policy has many glaring problems. First, it represents the opening of a new theater of potential war. Just as then-President George W. Bush’s National Space Policy (illegally) declared American ownership of space in 2006, this new cyberstrategy could one day lead to deadly conflict. Second, the policy is silent on how the Pentagon would respond to a computer attack from a non-state actor such as a terrorist group. Third, it doesn’t say how severe a cyberattack would have to be to elicit a military retaliation. Fourth, as demonstrated by the 2010 cyberattack on Google that probably originated in China, it still isn’t known whether or not the action was the work of the Chinese military or government or just some skilled civilian hackers.

“One of the questions we have to ask is, ‘How do we know we’re at war,?'” one former Pentagon official told the Times. “How do we know when it’s a hacker and when it’s the People’s Liberation Army?”

Of course, the Obama administration claims it would only respond militarily to a computer attack as a last resort. But the entire world knows that the United States often relies on its military prowess as a preferred method of problem solving and this new policy will cause a great deal of unease.

Perhaps this new strategy will deter potential cyber-aggressors. But it is more likely that it will lead to more needless death and destruction. And that’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from the Nobel peace laureate, the warmonger-in-chief Obama.

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