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International Cyber War: Limits and Possibilities

Mar 21 , 2012

A recent Bloomberg report declared the China-based hacking of hundreds of US companies a ‘cyber Cold War’.

In August 2010, after Japanese firm Mitsubishi Heavy Industries became the subject of cyber attacks from China, one commentator in the Financial Times suggested that cyber threats might provide new common ground to re-energise the traditional military security alliance between the US and Japan. It appeared a reasonable suggestion when, two months later, the lower house of Japan’s Diet also fell victim to cyber attacks, reportedly from China.

This Cold War mindset is slowly leading national governments to focus on ‘cyber warfare’ and ‘cyber sovereignty’. In May 2010, for example, the US Cyber Command was formed. And when the White House released its first International Strategy for Cyberspace in May 2011, it was closely followed by the Department of Defense’s Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace. Notably, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta likened the potential consequences of an all-encompassing cyber attack to the ‘next Pearl Harbor’. Meanwhile, China confirmed for the first time in May 2011 the existence of a cyber-focused Blue Army within the People’s Liberation Army. More recently, Chinese military thinkers also called for an ‘all-society’ approach to cyber-war mobilisation, involving civilian, industrial and military networks.
Andy Yee will be joining Google as a policy analyst for Asia Pacific. He has worked at the Political Section of the EU Delegation to China in Beijing and blogs at Global Voices Online and China Geeks.
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