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The Threat of Cyber Warfare: The Case of China and ASEAN



Paper presented at the 2012 International Conference on the Asia-Pacific Studies in National Sun Yat-sen University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 9-10 November 2012
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This article presents three reasons for states to use cyber warfare andshows that cyberspace is—and will continue to be—a decisive element inChina's strategy to ascend in the international system. The three reasonsare: deterrence through infiltration of critical infrastructure; militarytechnologicalespionage to gain military knowledge; and industrial espionageto gain economic advantage. China has a greater interest in usingcyberspace offensively than other actors, such as the United States, sinceit has more to gain from spying on and deterring the United States thanthe other way around. The article also documents China's progress incyber warfare and shows how it works as an extension of its traditionalstrategic thinking and the current debate within the country. Severalexamples of cyber attacks traceable to China are also presented. Thisincludes cyber intrusions on a nuclear arms laboratory, attacks on defenseministries (including the Joint Strike Fighter and an airbase) and the U.S.electric grid, as well as the current Google affair, which has proved to be asmall part of a broader attack that also targeted the U.S. Government.There are, however, certain constraints that qualify the image of China asan aggressive actor in cyberspace. Some believe that China itself is the victimof just as many attacks from other states. Furthermore, certain actorsin the United States and the West have an interest in overestimatingChina's capabilities in cyberspace in order to maintain their budgets.
Our current and potential adversaries clearly understand the military potential of cyberspace and the expansive power of the medium. Terrorists employ the Internet for recruiting, training, motivating, and synchronizing their followers. They can operate essentially unrestrained and are free to innovate, unbound by law, policy, or precedent. Nations such as China and Russia are developing their own ?cyberspace warriors.? China, for instance, has formed cyberspace battalions and regiments, the primary purpose of which is to identify and exploit weaknesses in our military, government, and commercial networks. In November 1999, the PLA Daily stated, "Internet warfare is of equal significance to land, sea, and air power and requires its own military branch," and that "it is essential to have an all-conquering offensive technology and to develop software and technology for net offensives . . . able to launch attacks and countermeasures." The threat from these forces is credible and real. While the time-tested principles of war will ultimately apply in cyberspace, its characteristics are so radically different that they demand significant innovation and changes to the way we organize and conduct military operations and tactics in this domain. Many within the U.S. Government and private sector are beginning to recognize the importance of cyberspace (and operations within it) to national security. The March 2005 National Defense Strategy identified cyberspace as a new theater of operations and assessed cyberspace operations as a potentially disruptive challenge, concluding that in "rare instances, revolutionary technology and associated military innovation can fundamentally alter long-established concepts of warfare."
Chinese strategists have avidly consumed U. S. Department of Defense (DoD) writings over the past 10 years and have keenly observed changes in U.S. national strategy and military transformation. Commentary by People's Liberation Army (PLA) experts on Operation Iraqi Freedom suggest that Beijing believes the Pentagon's efforts at achieving a Revolution in Military Affairs are not just succeeding, but accelerating. Yet the concomitant acceleration of the pace of Chinese military modernization also suggests that the Chinese are not dissuaded by U.S. military motivations to continue their efforts apace. This report examines the constraints, facilitators, and potential options for Chinese responses to U.S. transformation efforts and offers possible U.S. counterresponses.
For almost two decades, experts and defense establishments the world over have been predicting that cyber war is coming. But is it? This article argues in three steps that cyber war has never happened in the past, that cyber war does not take place in the present, and that it is unlikely that cyber war will occur in the future. It first outlines what would constitute cyber war: a potentially lethal, instrumental, and political act of force conducted through malicious code. The second part shows what cyber war is not, case-by-case. Not one single cyber offense on record constitutes an act of war on its own. The final part offers a more nuanced terminology to come to terms with cyber attacks. All politically motivated cyber attacks are merely sophisticated versions of three activities that are as old as warfare itself: sabotage, espionage, and subversion.