By Shivali Bhatt
Over the past couple of decades, the world has witnessed an unstoppable and almost inevitable rise in cyber-attacks and acts of digital warfare. Just over ten years ago, the Israeli government successfully disarmed the Syrian air defence system near a nuclear facility, allowing it to destroy the base without having to deal with the Syrians putting up a fight. This event marked a critical turning point for state warfare, as it exemplified the way in which cyberspace and digital technology can become an accessory to broader military strategy. A few years later, a joint built American/Israeli cyberweapon, also known as Stuxnet, unleashed havoc in Iran and a few other countries. This highly sophisticated attack not only managed to infiltrate a significant portion of cyberspace and thousands of computers but is believed to be an explanatory factor behind the rate at which states have been investing in, and advancing, their cyber capabilities.
Today, over two hundred thousand samples of malware get launched daily, and states are participating in a ‘cyber arms race’ or ‘technology arms race’. States, especially like the United States and China, are competing to acquire military edge by investing and developing skills in innovative technology, like artificial intelligence . One of the main reasons behind the significant interest in technological superiority is because the rules to the global politics and warfare are changing. The instrument of cyberwarfare has and continues to become one of the most highly regarded domains for political strategy, yet each state has a different perspective and reality in this evolving context.
Therefore, the purpose of this series is to shed light on the perspectives of states, all of which possess varying cultural, geopolitical and economic contexts. A significant narrative today is how cyberwarfare and generally cyberspace are changing the balance of power in the international system. However, these arguments present themselves in the absence of critical analysis, which helps contextualise the reality and trajectory of modern cyberwarfare. The states examined in this series engage with cyberspace in different ways; at times, can be conceptualised by a set of underlying factors. They offer the reader a compelling contrast, and hopefully shall help them understand the scope for further discussion and research on the extent to which cyberwarfare is strategically effective.
In the first article, PhD researcher Andreas Haggman analyses the cyber capabilities of two ‘medium’ powers, Australia and Sweden. He identifies how they enhance their existing traditional military strategies, placing greater emphasis on the relevance of geopolitical context.
In the second article, PhD researcher Amy Ertan examines the strategic value of ‘false flags’ in a context of state-led cyberwarfare, using Russia as a critical case study. She analyses how geopolitics can act as a catalyst for those states faced with the problem of attribution.
In the final piece, Shivali Bhatt approaches the domain of cyberwarfare through the lens worn by American policymakers and critiques current narratives circulating in popular media and also specific academic communities today. Her lines of argument emphasise the underlying factors that in the case of the United States, increase strategic leverage.
We hope this series offers readers a greater insight into state perspectives on cyberwarfare and critical understanding of the domain’s strategic effectiveness.
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Shivali is currently pursuing her MA Intelligence and International Security at Department of War Studies, King’s College London. She is also a Series Editor at Strife, as well as a Creative Writer at cybersecurity startup PixelPin, where she contributes articles on ‘Thought Leadership’, encouraging readers to approach security issues through innovative means. Prior to that, she spent some time in Hong Kong under the InvestHK and EntrepreneurHK organisations, engaging with the cybersecurity and tech scene on the East Coast. Her core research interests include modern warfare and contemporary challenges, cybersecurity, and strategic policy analysis. You can follow her on @shivalixb