Cyber Warfare, Asymmetry, and Responsibility: Considerations for Defence Theorem

Cyber Warfare, Asymmetry, and Responsibility: Considerations for Defence Theorem

Jai Galliott (The University of New South Wales, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8793-6.ch001


Cyber attacks pose fresh challenges for high-level military strategy and the ethics of war. In this chapter I consider the interplay between cyber warfare, asymmetry and responsibility and the relevant implications for defence theorem. In the first section, I examine this form of technologically mediated fighting and suggest that when deployed by technologically superior states in certain contexts, it may not embody the sort of symmetry and equality that characterises just warfare. More specifically, it will be argued that cyber warfare can generate a morally problematic ‘radical asymmetry' that sets justice and fairness in conflict or competition with the initial strategic aims of such wars in that they could provoke localised terrorism or guerrilla attacks. Having considered the impact of asymmetry in this domain, I then examine the impact on the attribution of moral responsibility and how this is challenged in technologically mediated conflict.
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A Brief Background To The Cyber Asymmetry Problem

‘Asymmetry’ and ‘asymmetric warfare’ are terms that are used and acknowledged widely throughout military, security and policy communities. US Major General Perry Smith puts it well in saying that ‘[asymmetry] is the term of the day’ (Saffire 2004, p. 13). The problem is that references to asymmetry and associated terms have become so common and casual – to the point that they are virtually omnipresent in scholarly work, government reports and media briefs related to modern military affairs – that there is now a fair deal of confusion and distortion in thinking about asymmetric warfare and this can skew the argument concerning cyber warfare, if not resolved.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cyber Asymmetry: The absence of symmetry in information conflict.

Asymmetric Tactics: Include the use of or deployment of: (1) chemical weapons; (2) biological weapons; (3) nuclear weapons (known collectively in the post-Iraq era as ‘weapons of mass destruction’); (4) information war (such as attacks on key financial, infrastructure or defence systems); (5) terrorism (which is notable because of its focus on non-combatants); and (6) other operational concepts that may involve guerrilla tactics, the involvement of non-state actors, the commingling of military forces with civilian communities in an effort to complicate weapons use, and the use of primitive weapons in unusual and surprising ways.

Jus ad Bellum: A set of criteria that should consulted before engaging in war to determine whether it is just and/or morally permissible.

Radical Asymmetry: Where one side can inflict damage on the other with virtual impunity.

Jus in Bello: A set of criteria that should consulted during war (or once it has commenced) to determine whether it is just and/or morally permissible.

Responsibilty: The state or fact having a duty to deal or be held accountable for something/someone.

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