Cyber Security: Why Military Forces Should Take a Back Seat

Editor’s Note: In an
October, 21 2013 op-ed for The Interpreter
, Ian Wallace explains why the “cyberwar” analogy is misapplied. He argues that “cyberwar” language diminishes civilian responsibility, increases complacency, reduces focus on sustainable defense, and can lead to needlessly aggressive doctrine, concluding that fixation on “cyberwar” desensitizes us to the real cybersecurity challenges at hand.

I’m grateful once again to have the chance to respond to some comments on my 27 September cyber piece (Is There Such a Thing as Cyberwar?). Although I enjoyed reading Tony Healy’s comments, I disagree with his suggestion that ‘Whether cyberwar is real war is not important’.

This is more than a semantic discussion. Unless you understand the nature of the threat, it is difficult to respond adequately. And while Tony is right to say that governments are beginning to respond to the challenge, few have yet done so effectively. That’s why use of the term ‘cyberwar’ is potentially so consequential. A major part of the difficulty is that, intentionally or not, ‘cyberwar’ tends to imply a military response to threats. I do not think that is sensible.

Before explaining why, however, I should recognise that a large part of the reason for the persistence of the ‘war’ analogy is the absence of good alternatives.

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