This blog is about a theory of War in the Cyber Domain.  Carl von Clausewitz wrote in On War that, “Wars in every period have independent forms and independent conditions, and, therefore, every period must have its independent theory of war.”[1]  With the advent of the information age, we have created cyberspace as a domain of war and need a theoretical framework in which to understand it.  Mindful of the sin of hubris, this blog is devoted to discussing war in cyberspace from a theoretical perspective.

As technologies create new modes, or domains, of war, existing theories of war are, of necessity, reevaluated to adapt them to new capabilities of war fighting.   The most obvious example of this was the development of theories of war after the introduction of heavier-than-air aircraft in the early 20th Century.  Cyberspace, as a domain of war, is both new and pervasive.  This blog addresses a theory of war in cyberspace and describes how it has become necessary to change currently understood theories to make them applicable to the unique characteristics of cyberspace.  It is about war both from and within the cyber domain.  War from cyberspace is distinctly Western while war within cyberspace is distinctly not so.

In 1998, Admiral Arthur Cebrowski proposed the concept of Network-Centric Warfare as the basis for a theory of war from cyberspace.[2]  That is, Cebrowski formulated a theory for using the capabilities of cyberspace to fight wars in the other domains.  Once the capability exists to project force from the new domain into other domains, capabilities to wage war within the new domain soon follow.  With the establishment of USCYBERCOM, we are now exploring how to wage war within the cyber domain.

The theory of war presented herein rests on eight tenets.  They are detailed in other posts of this site, but here summarized as:

  1. Cyberspace is a domain of war created by computers and communications.  Computers and telecommunications systems have created the cyber domain.  It is a global common through which travel the requisites of armies and the essential trade and commerce of nations.  States and non-states actively contest both its sovereignty and freedom of use.
  2. Technology creates domains of war.  A new technology is introduced that radically changes how society, commerce, and government operate.  At some point the technology radically changes warfare as well by creating a “sphere of influence and control,” allowing force to be projected from the nascent domain onto other domains.[3]  Over time, war is fought both with and for the technology in the nascent domain.
  3. The characteristics of the technology define the character of war.  Domain specific features lead to domain specific attacks.  It is the domain’s unique, peculiar characteristics, which are the consequences of the technology that created the domain, which define how war is fought in the domain.
  4. The unique characteristics of cyberspace have created a domain of war with two distinct personalities.  Cyberspace is the first domain of war where fighting from the domain has radically different tools, techniques, and procedures than fighting within the domain.  Fighting from cyberspace acts against another, physical domain whereas fighting within cyberspace acts within a virtual world.
  5. War from cyberspace is Western warfare.  War from cyberspace is not a radical departure from modern military thought.  It is network-centric warfare – an extension of Western war through another domain.[4]
  6. War within cyberspace is guerrilla warfare.  War within cyberspace is not traditional Western warfare.  It is anonymous war based on surprise, deception and mobility rather than decisive engagements.  It is petite guerre that focuses on a large number of small battles rather than a small number of large battles.
  7. The nature of war in cyberspace has implications for both offense and defense.  The cyber domain compresses both time and space.  Actions in cyberspace are near instantaneous without regard to geography.  One can attack anywhere from anywhere.  The cyber domain creates omnipotent mobility and omnipotent mobility creates an asymmetry between offense and defense – fundamentally changing the nature of both.
  8. The nature of offense and defense in cyberspace has implications for strategic policy.  War from cyberspace is an extension of Western war in a new domain – with new capabilities and new risks.  War within cyberspace is completely new and allows the extension of non-Western war into the very heart of Western societies – war against both the ability to fight and the will to continue.

The value of Carl von Clausewitz’s On War is that it provides a timeless framework for reasoning about war rather than a time- or technology-dependent set of principles.  He said that he “intended to provide a thinking man with a frame of reference . . . rather than to serve as a guide, which at the moment of action lays down precisely the path he must take.”[5]  Thus, this theory of war in the cyber domain attempts to be a guide – independent of specific technology or timeframe by arguing each tenet, in detail, in their respective sections.

[1] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 1St Edition ed., trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 593.

[2] Arthur K. Cebrowski, Vice Admiral, USN and John H. Garstka, “Network-Centric Warfare – Its Origin and Future,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 124, no. 1 (Jan 1998).

[3] Patrick D. Allen and Dennis P. Gilbert, “The Information Sphere Domain Increasing Understanding and Cooperation,” NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence Tallinn, Estonia, (accessed January 9, 2012).

[4] Department of Defense, Office of Force Transformation, The Implementation of Network-Centric Warfare (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2005).

[5] Clausewitz, 141.

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