Thomas Rid on cyber-security and deterrence theory

Nous continuons notre présentation de quelques-uns des chercheurs basés dans le monde anglo-saxon. Thomas Rid est reader au sein département des War Studies, King’s College London. Il nous parle ici de ses dernières recherches.

You have been working on media operations, cyber-security, counterinsurgency… Are you a phenomenologist of contemporary warfare?

This question goes right to a problem that I think all young security/international relations researchers face. If you are not focusing on very theoretical issues but, instead, work on more concrete things, you face a potentially important problem: these topics have a short life-span. Right now, cyber-security is trendy and, when a subject is trendy, the quality of the contributions is very heterogeneous. I felt that in the COIN debate, as well as the cyber-security debate, I could make a contribution.

If we look at cyber-security for example, do you think that cyber-capabilities will change warfare?

There is no question that cyber-operations will be used whenever makes sense. It certainly makes a lot of sense when we talk about espionage, for example. Yes, cyber-operations will be used. Will they fundamentally change the conduct of war? I’m not so sure. They will have an impact, but the impact will be far more nuanced than many people think.
If we look at weapons as an instrument of war, we have three ways to engage in political violence. The first is force itself: physical force like a bullet, or a blade, that hurts and kills human bodies. The second is energy, like in an explosion, and the third is chemical or biological agents. How does computer code come into the picture? Code does not have its own ways to express violence. A violent computer attack has to weaponize a target system. As you are sitting here in front of me, you cannot be physically attacked by code. If you are in a train, somebody could hack the train, but the train would have then been weaponized. Then, when we talk about war and violence, cyber-capabilities have to weaponize other systems. That’s actually more difficult to do in practice than it sounds. Right now, no expert who is worth his or her money could envision a scenario where a cyber-attack would cause a level of pain that would be comparable to even the level of pain that a moderately well-executed airstrike would cause.

You are also researching deterrence in the specific context of Israel. Is the Israeli conception of deterrence different from the traditional western understanding?

Deterrence in Israel is understood in three different contexts: sub-conventional irregular warfare, conventional capabilities and, more reluctantly, nuclear capabilities. What is the major difference between the Israeli understanding of deterrence and our Cold War-inspired understanding? When the Israeli say the want to deter somebody, say Hamas, they assume that it is not going to be perfect. It does not work all the time. There would be violence, even if deterrence works. That applies to the experience with Hamas, terrorism since the second Intifada, but also to Israel’s conventional forces. So, deterrence becomes a tool to manage violence, to keep levels of violence down. It is a communication strategy. This understanding of deterrence is not about killing your enemy, it is about changing your enemy’s behaviour, mainly to de-escalate. So it is less existential than our understanding. Moreover, it is clear that to achieve deterrence, you occasionally have to use violence. Unlike during the Cold War, the use of force is not a failure of deterrence: it is part of it.

4 réflexions sur “Thomas Rid on cyber-security and deterrence theory

  1. Pingback: Cyber Fail: The Obama Administration’s Lousy Record on Cybersecurity | War Studies Publications

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