As you might guess, I think about war often — the natural result of the fact that I wrote a dissertation about it AND the fact that we, as people, keep waging war.
Recently it’s come to light that the US has been committing acts of cyber-war. It seems that the actions fall into defensive and offensive actions. The justification given by the administration is that such attacks can prevent attacks on US networks and impact on-the-ground kinds of wars by attacking networks of all kinds, including telecommunications and electric grids.
The fact of the matter is that we live in a modern world, with modern conveniences we rely on to continue our way of life — and so do others around the world. Offensive and defensive cyber attacks can prevent threats from becoming real — all without risk to soldiers.
The problem with cyber-war is that it can — has — and probably will — impact non-combatants. If the power goes out, a population that relies on electricity will find that their life is significantly disrupted. The inability to use telecommunications disrupts life on a pretty basic level etc.. The implications are clear. The question is whether those impacts rise to the level of a violation of non-combatant immunity?
Taking cyber-war a step further, what if the impacts of an offensive cyber war crashed a local or national economy? It’s hard to argue that persons who lose jobs and homes as a result aren’t harmed — but, do those harms rise to the level of violations of non-combatant immunity?
The thing about cyber-war is that it seems sexy and no-risk — at least to the individual persons launching the attacks. They live in comfortable places not impacted by the results of those attacks. The cyber-war seems clean, but since the goal of any war is to impact persons, the question isn’t whether or not someone is at risk, but simply where will the persons at risk reside?