Is There Such a Thing as Cyberwar?

Editor’s Note: In a
September 27, 2013 op-ed for The Interpreter
, Ian Wallace asks “what is the definition of cyberwar?”  While cyber represents a disruptive technology and a potential new battlespace, he argues that it is not appropriate to describe current cyber activities as “war.” War is temporary and objective-oriented, but cyber is a permanent space without clearly delineated goals.

Darragh Murray may be surprised to learn that I share several of the concerns he lays out in his riposte to my piece on the potential for greater cooperation between the ‘Five Eyes’ in the realm of military cyber operations. It might be helpful to clarify a few misunderstandings, as well as addressing Darragh’s questions.

First, just to be clear, I do not believe we are currently in a ‘cyberwar’. In fact, quite the opposite. As I have written previously, I believe such talk is dangerous.

Equally, I agree that we need to be careful about falsely applying the term ‘war’ to what happens in cyberspace. One of the most interesting writers on this subject is King’s College, London’s Thomas Rid, the author of a new book called Cyber War Will Not Take Place. As Rid set out at a recent event at the Brookings Institution, his main target is on the notion of ‘cyberwar’ as something set apart from more general war.

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