Advantage one is Ambiguity —



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Christensen et al. ’19 — Guillermo Christensen (J.D., Georgetown University; Serves on the international advisory board of the Reeves Center for International Studies, College of William and Mary); “Commodification of Cyber Capabilities: A Grand Cyber Arms Bazaar;” 2019; https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ia/ia_geopolitical-impact-cyber-threats-nation-state-actors.pdf
Lack of Redlines
The lack of clear international norms regarding the use of cyber capabilities has led to the creation of unwritten rules among cyber actors on how to operate.43 The default “red line” that has been drawn among nation-states is defined by the use of cyber capabilities with consequences that lead to war, and anything below that line being acceptable. The problem with this redline is that there is no consistency onq what the range of cyber behavior should be below this threshold. Several experts mentioned that countries such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea all seem to be more tolerant of operational and diplomatic risk than the West. The imprecision of the redline becomes more of an issue when considering non-state actors who have little regard for law that is clearly written.
One aspect of this environment is the lack of clear norms related to cyber operations against private sector companies.44 Some foreign actors pursue this tactic as a means of applying pressure on the US short of war to change its policies or to drive an ideological agenda.
The emergence of private sector firms and criminal groups that are willing to sell cyber capabilities has made this environment more tenuous,45,46 as there are also no agreed upon international regulations guiding what types of capabilities are acceptable to create and sell.
Although there has been dialogue about creating rules for cyber conflict and operations, such as the Tallinn Manual, Tallinn Manual 2.0,47 and Digital Geneva Convention proposed by Microsoft,48 there is still no agreement across the international community. An academic noted that the redline has been continually moving towards more destructive behavior,49 with incidents such as Stuxnet, WannaCry, and NotPetya, which leads to the potential for escalation and unintended consequences.
Escalation and Unintended Consequences
As cyber effects move increasingly closer to what are universally viewed as acts of war, there is the increasing potential to cross a redline that elicits kinetic or military response. The lack of agreed-upon redlines in this area introduces a risk of miscalculation among nations, particularly in crisis situations. Governments may operate under differing perceptions that may or may not be evident to their rivals. A cyberattack occurring during a period of inflamed tensions could unintentionally place a government in a situation in which it would have to respond to assuage popular anger or maintain credibility in other diplomatic or military arenas. The possibility of a cyber operation causing unintended consequences adds further risk.
One academic noted that in some cases cyberattack may be perceived as a non-escalatory tactic that could be used when kinetic means may not be desirable, but cautioned that cyber has not yet been escalatory. In this vein, the academic offered the example of the US drone shot down in June 2019 by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The expert explained that this incident likely involved some calculus by the government of Iran; shooting down the drone would send a message without the provocative impact of causing US casualties. The expert, noting press reports of an alleged US cyber response, suggested that this tactic offered an “escalation-controlled” response because no Iranians would die. However, the expert cautioned that the alleged cyber response could risk unintended consequences or a “tit-for-tat” cyber dynamic, both of which could have escalatory consequences.
An actor not governed by rules could underestimate the potential destruction a cyber capability has, overestimate their ability to maintain control of a capability, or simply act recklessly. This was observed in NotPetya and Stuxnet, where these capabilities propagated beyond their initial intended victims.

Those tit-for-tat attacks go nuclear



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