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05 Jun 13. Experts debate the meaning and inevitability of cyber warfare
‘Cyber War Will Take Place!’ and other research from the digital battlefield in the Journal of Strategic Studies. In 2012 the Journal of Strategic Studies published several ground-breaking articles on the emerging threat of cyber warfare. These articles, and indeed the concept of cyber warfare per se, proved controversial. Twelve months on, a recent issue of the Journal of Strategic Studies presents a “cyber roundtable” where experts respond to criticisms and further expand the debate to develop a clearer definition of “cyber warfare” and to explore whether or not it is a significant threat. Not so long ago, cyber warfare was the stuff of science fiction; but there is growing evidence of the potential risk posed by deliberate militaristic attacks on computer systems and networks. Writing in the current issue of the Journal of Strategic Studies, John Stone, Senior Lecturer in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, is in little doubt that cyber attacks could constitute acts of war – as the title of his article “Cyber war will take place!” clearly suggests. However, he raises the very pertinent point that the new threat of cyber attack should make academics – and indeed all citizens – question current perceptions of “war”: “Efforts to determine whether cyber attacks should be considered acts of war, or whether they are better understood as criminality, espionage, or sabotage etc., are hampered by our loose understanding of what war itself amounts to. More specifically the means of war, whether construed as force or violence, remain under-explored and under-specified by strategic theorists. As a result, these terms are typically used both loosely and interchangeably, undermining their value as conceptual tools in the process.” Without a clear definition of this new phenomenon there is a real risk that the media and politicians, and therefore also the general public, will label any malicious act involving a computer and a network “cyber warfare”. That could result in an apparent escalation in attacks, whereas in reality the risk of cyber warfare is considerably smaller.
In “The Proliferation of Cyberwarfare Capabilities and Interstate War, Redux: Liff Responds to Junio”, a response to critics of a previous article, Adam Liff maintains that cyber warfare is
“… computer network attacks with direct political and/or military objectives … distinct from cyber espionage, hacking, and crime”. The Journal’s “cyber roundtable” also includes:
* “Cyber War is Inevitable (Unless We Build Security In)”, by Gary McGraw (pp. 109–119)
* “Offensive Cyber Weapons: Construction, Development, and Employment”, by Dale Peterson (pp. 120–124)
* “How Probable is Cyber War? Bringing IR Theory Back In to the Cyber Conflict Debate”, by Timothy J. Junio (pp. 125–133)
* “More Attacks, Less Violence”, by Thomas Rid (pp. 139–142)
These, together with the articles by Stone and Liff, represent an excellent example of the Journal’s groundbreaking and influential approach to the subject. As Liff writes:
“I hope that future writings on cyber warfare within and outside the academy will be explicit about their definitions and employ similar conceptual bounds in their discussions of cyber warfare.”
The peer-reviewed Journal of Strategic Studies, launched in 1978, has a reputation for taking the lead in promoting fresh thinking in the field of strategic studies among practitioners and academics alike, in particular taking a multi-disciplinary approach to topics such as contemporary security, modern warfare, defence policy and modern strategy.

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