Self-Defensive Force Against Cyber Attacks: Legal, Strategic and Political Dimensions

International Law Studies, Vol. 89, 2013

15 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2013

Date Written: March 19, 2013


When does a cyber-attack (or threat of cyber-attack) give rise to a right of self-defense – including armed self-defense – and when should it? This essay examines these questions through three lenses: (1) a legal perspective, to examine the range of reasonable interpretations of self-defense rights as applied to cyber-attacks, and the relative merits of interpretations within that range; (2) a strategic perspective, to link a purported right of armed self-defense to long-term policy interests including security and stability; and (3) a political perspective, to consider the situational context in which government decision-makers will face these issues and predictive judgments about the reactions to cyber-crises of influential actors in the international system. It aims to show specifically how development of politics, strategy, and law will likely play out interdependently with respect to this particular threat – cyber-attacks – and to draw some conclusions about legal development in this area based on that analysis.

Keywords: cyber-attacks, self-defense, armed attack, force

Suggested Citation

Waxman, Matthew C., Self-Defensive Force Against Cyber Attacks: Legal, Strategic and Political Dimensions (March 19, 2013). International Law Studies, Vol. 89, 2013. Available at SSRN:

Matthew C. Waxman (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States
212-854-0592 (Phone)
212-854-7946 (Fax)


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