33 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2016
Date Written: June 15, 2016
Cyberwar is routinely over-hyped as a substitute weapon of mass destruction. More typically, cyber operations work as complements to power in other domains, generally limiting the aggressive potential of cyberspace on its own. However, there are situations where complementarity can undermine the stability of other domains in the most dramatic fashion. We examine the unusual contingency of a nuclear brinksmanship crisis in which offensive cyber operations (OCO) against nuclear weapons and/or their command, control, and communications (NC3) undermine deterrence and make war more likely. Nuclear nations have traditionally been free to display their nuclear capabilities openly — often in contrast to other forms of military power — given the lack of effective countermeasures to nuclear attack and its obvious destructiveness. Nuclear transparency in turn makes it easier to judge the balance of power, reducing the danger of misperception and war. Military advantages achieved in cyberspace typically cannot be disclosed without compromising their military effectiveness. Because of this commitment problem, OCO are best used rather than threatened. Unfortunately, the same warfighting advantages of NC3 OCO become dangerous liabilities for deterrence. Variation in operational capacity to conduct, detect, and mitigate NC3 OCO can be expected to make brinksmanship crises more or less unstable, should they occur. Increased uncertainty about the true balance of power will tend to undermine both nuclear and conventional stability. Policy measures must look to improve rather than degrade nuclear transparency.
Keywords: Cyber Capability, Deterrence, Stability, Nuclear Weapons, Transparency, Effectiveness, National Security, Covert Action, Credibility, Disclosure, Defense, Cyber Attack, Compellence, Offensive Cyber
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