Strangelove has re-entered the Building

(c) FPA 2011

As a headline, this one that concludes the Time article  According to new Pentagon cyber strategy, state-of-war conditions now exist between the US and China, was too good to pass up…coupled with this SECDEF quote that Michael Yon put up on Facebook a couple of hours ago, it looks like lunacy has well and truly returned…

Just got this from Office of SecDef

“Secretary Gates believes that for the United States, once committed to a NATO operation, to unilaterally abandon that mission would have enormous and dangerous long-term consequences.

You think he might be talking about Libya? A campaign even more ill-advised than OIF? In all fairness, though, at least America had the courage and integrity to see OIF through as her allies and apparent friends slowly bailed on her…she had done the right thing in withdrawing her foot sharply from the (blood) bath of Libya as soon as it was apparent that NATO was getting the wibbles. That there will be ‘…enormous and dangerous long-term consequences…” is without a doubt but those consequences will be for NATO as it finds that it might have to ante up and see it’s own war through to a conclusion without a US safety net…yesterday I heard for the first time the phrase ‘...NATO’s Vietnam...’

I agree with the theme of the Time article that MAD actually = sanity in that it essentially rendered the irretrievable impossible – so long as we kept Peter Sellers out of the White House…As the Cold War staggered to a close in the 80s, Ronald Reagan declared a policy based on ‘you can run, but you can not hide‘ and indeed authorised and conducted a number of kinetic actions against those he perceived had crossed the line in the sand…

Those however were all kinetic actions against specific kinetic targets to send very specific messages…what targets might a kinetic strike against Chinese cyber-warriors hit…a server in downtown Shanghai or Beijing? The same fibre link that carries the world’s communications and commercial traffic? Some geeky buck-toothed nerd who needs a bath and some dress sense?

One of the biggest and most-frequently stated concerns at the Irregular Warfare Summit here last week was that the takedown of OBL and the (so far) successful drawdown from Iraq is leading to a growing sense of relief at senior levels that the aberration of COIN is over and ‘…now we can get back to real war...’  This ‘real war’ dogma seems to be set in the minds of those who just missed Vietnam and spent the larger part of their careers preparing for World War III – which, if anyone was paying attention, never happened.

Thus, possibly more by circumstance, the leaders in the ‘new war’ (which is really an old war) are those who were on the ground in Iraq when the pendulum was shoved all the way from clean surgical shock and awe to dirty messy complexity and irregularity…names like Petraeus, Mattis, Chiarelli, Casey…to name a few. It’s no accident these names are all from the land forces because this new war, at the moment, is very much land-centric (sorry, air power guys) because that is where the people are…and while I am noted as not being a uber-proponent of population-centric warfare, this war is one between beliefs which live amongst the people and not platforms which can be anywhere…

Cyberwar is much the same…there are no clearly-distinguishable platforms at which to strike: it is a game of skill and knowledge not fixed to key infrastructure or platforms,,,that guy next to you on the bus, playing with his iPhone could be a node in the attack network…the ‘enemy’ doesn’t even need to be in their own country which leads to thoughts of retaliation for spoofed cyberattacks against countries that only appeared to be guilty – how many times can a cruise missile accidentally hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade…?

Cyberwar is elusive, diffuse and evasive…it’s another facet of complexity and irregularity, warfare conducted by ‘the people’…releasing the kinetic dogs of war on it will achieve no more than ‘shock and awe’ did in Iraq…like any other operating environment, this one will only be conquered by those who get their (cyber)boots dirty and adapt to it…in the mean time we need to THINK a lot more before we commit ourselves to careless policies promising kinetic attack against cyber-strike…regardless of how many cruise missiles and JDAMs might be nearly their ‘use by’ date…

As David Hoffman concludes in The cyber arms race:

The offensive cyber battlefield promises to be far more chaotic than in the nuclear arms race, with many smaller players and non-state actors, and the risks of retaliation against the United States might be quite high. We need good defenses, no question. But should we be fighting back with cyber warheads and real missiles? Are we ready for what could follow? Is there an alternative?

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