The Evolution of Cyber Warfare: International Norms for Emerging Technology Weapons

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The Evolution of Cyber War: International Norms for Emerging-Technology Weapons by Brian M. Mazanec. University of Nebraska Press, 2014, 329 pp.

In The Evolution of Cyber War: International Norms for Emerging-Technology Weapons, Brian Mazanec takes a different approach to examine cyber warfare strategies and potential constraint. Through historical case studies including chemical and biological weapons, strategic bombardment, nuclear weapons, and emerging technologies, he examines how norms develop in conjunction with national strategies from a technical aspect. These studies are then applied to potential, future cyber warfare standards. The work is an excellent read and a solid grounding for all cyber practitioners regarding governance practices. Additionally, the appendix provides a thorough background and useful reference on historical cyber-warfare practices.

Mazanec’s proposition, based on a strong social science background, suggests all weapons usage norms appear through emergence, cascade, and internalization. Emergence describes how norms initially develop, cascade suggests where tipping points move norms into the general population, and internalization codifies norms as they reach near-universal acceptance. The work addresses primarily those regulatory norms which order or constrain behavior. Norms, as either constraining or permissive standards, structure how individuals view conflict restrictions on weapon usage. The various weapons norms apply to four areas: development or possession, weapons testing, use, and proliferation. Mazanec develops these norms through his historical case studies.

The three historical cases in this work are chemical and biological weapons (CBW), strategic bombardment, and nuclear weapons. Each study builds from initial weapon development and subsequent use before considering how government and international actions impact norm use and adoption. The CBW study is the only one to follow a traditional norm pattern with emergence, cascade, and internationalization. Emergence appeared in the late 1800s and further developed with the Hague conventions on armed conflict, reaching cascade during World War I and World War II campaigns. The success of CBW restraining norms during World War II contributes to their internalization during the postwar period. Strategic bombardment follows a slightly different pattern, since aircraft are primarily dual-use. Many nations viewed aircraft as indispensable to their own national interests and felt strongly about using strategic bombardment to support these ends, regardless of societal norms. Successful strategic bombardment campaigns, and the later transition to precision weapons, meant no norm cascade ever occurred to result in widespread adoption of any constraining norm. Limited internalization appears from other societal norms tying to most nations’ overall desire to limit civilian casualties during any conflict. The nuclear study shows a strong case for restraining norms emergence based on nonuse and nonproliferation while still recognizing a national interest in developing nuclear weapons for self-protection reasons. Most nuclear norms were codified through treaties including bilateral arms-control agreements like SALT I, SALT II, and the INF, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. All three cases show how norm evolution theory applied to historical models.

The remaining two examples expand the theory to emerging-weapons technology and applied specific examples to recent cyber warfare history. The emerging-technology section examines 14 hypotheses for application when new technologies reach the battlefield. Only one hypothesis is considered primary and addressed how national self-interest plays a key part in constraining hypothesis emergence. All hypotheses are applied against recent cyber events, beginning with the Trans-Siberian Gas pipeline explosion in 1982 and working through five other examples before concluding with Operation Ababil, the Iranian Qassam Cyber Fighter’s denial of service attacks against US banks in 2012. Mazanec addresses three potential candidates for constraining cyber warfare norm emergence: prohibiting all cyber weapons, prohibiting first-use, and a state obligation to prevent non-state actors from initiating attacks from their territories. Three potential game-changing developments are built through potential scenarios involving Russia, China, and the United States. The critical developments could be revolutionary cyber technology implementation, a rise in non-state-actor cyber dominance, or a major cyber attack against civilian targets with high casualties. He characterizes these events against the previous 14 hypotheses to conclude that only four, and all secondary, have implications for future cyber norms: the idea of cyber being indefensible, technology improving, cyber weapon’s status being declared as unconventional, or norms only applying to weapon usage. All norms which are noted as positive directly relate to the game-changing development theories.

Mazanec’s work is excellent and addresses a view not seen in other international cyber governance works, such as those produced by Nazli Choucri, Cyberpolitics in International Relations (2012), or Milton Mueller, Networks and States (2013). He concludes with four potential US places to advance norm emergence. His first suggests pursuing limited norms while still allowing US offensive weapon development as a field leader, following his primary hypothesis on national interest. The second offers advanced capabilities to US allies as an extended deterrent to manage weapon proliferation. The third pursued limited norm cultivation based only on cyber weapon use rather than development. The fourth addressed cyber attribution challenges by working to manage miscalculation through increased state actor transparency across the cyber global commons. The fourth does relate back to Libicki’s concepts from Cyber Deterrence and Cyber War (2009), which identified actor miscalculation as key deterrence factor. Overall, Mazanec’s book has two central strengths: (1) the lists attached to every historical case addressing factors in norm development, and (2) his appendix providing a detailed cyber war background. I thoroughly recommend The Evolution of Cyber War for all cyber policy planners. Understanding how various actors use cyber and how their national interests constrain international policy is critical to developing our own way ahead, and subsequent Air Force policy, in developing a comprehensive cyber warfare doctrine.

Lt Col Mark Peters, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."