Note: I was going to post my reply to Arherring and Rick Wilmes in the comments on my last post. But, it grew into the length of an actual post and has enough substance to warrant a new post, methinks.

After WWI and continuing through WWII, there was a significant effort to remove civilian populations from war–the Geneva Conventions. However, in works like Unrestricted Warfare and in tactics called terrorism civilians are directly targeted and ‘everyday items’ are used as weapons of war. Continuing in this is what we call cyber-warfare. In that, what we’ve become dependent on in everyday life to pay our bills, coordinate our civil infrastructure and make use of in everyday life is now squarely in the crosshairs of our potential and actual enemies. The importance of the internet is on par with the all the other critical infrastructure of a nation.

In cyber-warfare we are growing our capacity to both wage and defend against this type of warfare. But, we have not even started to get close to being able to define where it is that a kinetic, or real world, response is warranted. If a Nation-state purposefully destroyed the Hoover Dam, it would be unequivocal that we would have to respond in kind. However, in a cyber-attack, if the NYSE was taken offline we would 1) struggle to say who was guilty of the attack and 2) struggle to prove the efficacy of a kinetic/real world response to the attack—does utter economic devastation demand a nuclear response? Is a way of life shattered the same no matter if the cause is nuclear or electronic?

We have this ‘gray area’ in our use of force continuum because of the novelty of ‘warfare’ in a completely synthetic domain (online). We do not have thousands of years of experience to fall back on, or to show a precedence to warrant our course of action, or to make the decisions readily understood by the guy on the street. However, to both effectively protect our infrastructure and project force in this domain we have to have a clear ethical and philosophical foundation from which to act. For us to develop this foundation we have to look to outside the DoD and defense industry. We are held to the orders of the National Command Authority and the laws of the United States, it is from there we must understand how to proceed. Yet, all I hear is static on the line from the NCA and our jurisprudence.

The same ambiguity enjoyed online in cyber-warfare is being mimicked in the real world. The sinking of the Cheonan is as ambiguous as many cyber attacks. Terrorist attacks from extra-state actors do not fit neatly into our experience in justifying reasons to go to war. Many commentators online are noticing this, and are justifiably looking for new conceptual constructs through which to understand what we are defending against today. However, I do not agree with creating a new genus of ‘generation’ in defining these threats; in that the end goal of each attack is not novel in the taxonomy war. There are the same end goals (strategy) with only quasi-novel means and domain (tactics and field of battle), not enough to justify a new genus in my mind.

As I said earlier, it is our lack of philosophical and ethical understanding of warfare that is limiting strategic thought. A system cannot be completely proven within itself (Gödel). You must look outside the system to completely verify and understand it. Because of this, the understanding and clarity we need to defend the Nation must come from outside the military. Though to get this understanding we seem to need to ask for it, as no one is rushing to offer us an explanation (I hear McChrystal is headed to Yale…). The need for this understanding is an idea larger than a single Nation-state can decide on its own and demands rigorous philosophical and ethical debate, beyond what we do here online. It will take another effort on par with the Geneva Convention to define what is, and is not a reason to go to war and what warrants a kinetic response from a cyber-attack, as well as the legality of affecting civilians directly or collaterally in cyber-attacks.

Or, should we wait for events on par with the Somme, Pearl Harbor, Dresden and Hiroshima to make us realize that a common understanding of, and limitations to warfare is needed?

Posted by CTR1(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in Foreign Policy, Homeland Security, Soft Power

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  • Derrick

    I know there are laws within countries governing cyber-crime such as hacking and DoS attacks, but what about international law? Any pages in the international law-book regarding a nation’s use of the internet?

    At the least, I would hope that the US could go to the United Nations security council and come up with some basic treaty where each nation would agree to not use the internet or wide area networks to deliberately cause an effect of any kind on any other nations’ computers or networks.

    Any nation refusing to agree would hopefully lose face on the world stage.

  • RADM (Ret) Ben Wachendorf


    Excellent post. Lots of issues here. I certainly do not have all the answers, but a few observations:

    1. Clearly a better understanding of important issues you raise is needed.

    2. In my opinion, rules of engagement for the use of military force are very important. Those rules need to consider, but not at the expense of everything else, collateral damage and risk to civilian populations. Note that there are many examples of our enemies in the GWOT using religious and hospital facilities for offensive military action, dressing as civilians or even allied forces to execute armed attacks against us, and deliberate manipulation of the press and scenes of very appropriate US/coalition attacks to promulgate lies and falsehoods designed to make us look like the bad guys. Note that there are also examples of this behavior in the recent Russian invasion of Georgia and the Israel military action in Lebanon.

    3. International law is woefully lacking in the area of international cyber crime and cyber attacks on national sovereignty as was exemplified about three years ago in the Baltics.

    4. Also in my opinion, better understanding of rules of engagement and the use of military resources is needed within the United States. I point out as an example that several years ago as directed by the President of the United States at the request of the Governor of California, U-2 flights were flown in support of fighting wild fires in Southern California. In the course of these missions many illegal drugs labs (with unique sensor signatures) were identified in remote wooded areas. Those flights were terminated because government lawyers could not agree on what to do with that information of illegal activity. I am all for upholding the Constitution including the Bill of Rights, but that does not make any sense to me. Ditto, Customs and Border Patrol Predator flying off the coast of Galveston after Hurricane Ike not being allowed to image humans in the middle of the aftermath of a natural disaster.

  • RickWilmes

    “As I said earlier, it is our lack of philosophical and ethical understanding of warfare that is limiting strategic thought.”

    I agree so let’s take a look at one of the books that is recommended from the link in my original comment.

    I think the following quote from Peter Schwartz’ “The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America” gets to the essence of the issue.


    “Philosophically, this jihad is a war against reason, science, individualism, progress, happiness-the values of Western civilization.  Politically, it is a war against America.  To win, we need to translate the danger from an abstraction to a particular.  That is, we need to identify the pre-eminent source of Islamic totalitarianism today-which is: the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    There are many parties eager to take up arms against us in this battle, but Iran is their impetus. It is the wellspring of modern Islamic totalitarianism.”

    In order to properly fight a war the enemy must be properly identified.

  • Matt Yankee

    I see warfare as a very loose term. What weapons do we use now that go back 400 yrs. much less 1000? During the entire Roman Empire guns were never used. Red Coats thought warfare had rules too but were then proved wrong. In fact mysterious, unknown weapons are stongly desirable. The only thing that matters is whether or not the tool is successful in changing something so that the enemy is vulnerable to further attack or maybe the surprise weapon is so devastating you win with it alone. The US should make clear we will not tolerat ANY attack with any weapon whether known or unknown…and prove it. Just because the enemy may use a computer we shouldn’t act like it’s a whole new world. The larger problem is when you have all kinds of weapons but have LAWYERS who attempt to educate the warfighters as to how to use weapons. The US military has NO BUSINESS allowing lawyers into the military. Lawyers are the most effective weapon for our enemies on a daily basis.

  • Derrick

    It’s up to Congress and the Executive to decide what constitutes an act of war…Part of the joys of democracy. 🙂

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    @Rick, I’m buying that work. From looking at the link, he gives me the impression of thinking like V. D. Hanson (carnage and culture), though slightly less conservative. I look forward to reading it.

    @RDML. Sir, I can’t think of another analogy to describe the internet than how ADM Stavridis does in comparing it to the Sea. It is a global commons which cannot truly be held by one nation (at least in its current incarnation… If net neutrality and the WWW evolves as it looks it may, this fact could change). By disabling our connectivity in the US, the world’s ability to move money and conduct business will be greatly affected, similar to what mining the Strait of Hormuz would do to the World’s economy.

    Understanding how we can ethically defend this connectivity and what sovereignty means online is crucial. Though, it took a few hundred years and nearly countless wars to bring the Seas to the relative peace it is at now, so it may be a while before the internet is in a similar state.

    I am convinced though, that all our understanding of all this as a military cannot happen until the understanding is there at the highest levels of Government and in the international community.

  • RickWilmes


    If you are referring to Dr. Lewis’ book than you should know that Victor Davis Hanson is featured on the back cover and quoted several times in the book.


    “John David Lewis offers a superb appraisal of how ancient and modern wars start and finish. This chronicle of some 2,500 years of Western history is replete with a philosophical analysis of why nations fight, win–and lose. His insights and conclusions are original and fearless–as well as timely and welcome in the confused war-making of the present age.”–Victor Davis Hanson, author of Carnage and Culture

    Here is a quote that references Hanson and is directly related to how you show the enemy what war really is.

    Nothing Less Than Victory (p. 161)

    Sherman was following a policy, and pursuing a goal, developed after Grant witnessed the determination of the southern armies at Shiloh.  Grant, in his memoirs, records his conclusion that the rebellion would not soon collapse.  “I gave up,” he wrote, “all idea of saving the Union except by complete conquest.”

    To rip out the source of the rebellion, Sherman set out on what was, in effect, an educational mission.  His actions served to connect the abstraction “war” to its concrete referent in reality: immediate, personal destruction.  No longer would “war” float in the minds of southerners as an elixir, calling up notions of social superiority, bereft of its real meaning.  The smell of smoke would haunt southern civilians as it had haunted the people of Sparta and Carthage-the smell of failure caused by their own willingness to wage war on others.  War now meant loss, poverty, shame, and death.  Now, knowing its nature, they could reject it.

    The meaning of the burning of Atlanta was a demonstration, through the destruction of property, of the very meaning of war, and the consequences of continuing the rebellion.  Sherman’s optical demonstration united force and resolve in a way that left no doubt of the outcome, should southerners not accept the Union.  Sherman burned property in order to collapse the will to fight and save lives.  He wondered, later in life, why he was so harshly blamed for destroying property while other generals killed their men by the thousands.  This is a matter of values: who should be blamed, the general who establishes an effective peace at the price of material destruction, or the one who drags a war out for years under piles of corpses?  As military historian Victor Davis Hanson has observed, if we count the bodies, we may change our conclusions about who in history has been the true protector of life and of peace. (46)

    (46) Victor David Hanson “The Dilemmas of the Contemporary Military Historian,” in Reconstructing History: The Emergence of a New Historical Society.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III


    I knew there was something about Dr. Lewis that reminded me of Dr. Hanson!

    Yeah, that book is going to be awesome!