To determine where cyber operations are beneficial or harmful, we must first know what they are. According to James E. Cartwright, General of the United States Marine Corps, cyber operations are defined as “the employment of cyber capabilities where the primary purpose is to achieve objectives in or through cyberspace. Such operations include computer network operations and activities to operate and defend the global information grid.” Now that we have a definition, we must determine what we are weighing as most beneficial or most important. I offer the following framework to determine the benefits or harms of cyber operations, lives. If cyber operations have saved more lives than hurt, then they are beneficial. If the opposite is true, then cyber operations would be harmful. We will first look at arguments promoting cyber operations, then those against. Finally, we will weigh the benefits and harms and determine whether cyber operations are good or not.
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The first argument presented will be limiting terrorism and promoting peace within the middle east. The United States use of offensive cyber operations within the region have reduced physical boots on the ground. The cyber operations do this by trading off physical military attacks and defense with cyber-attacks. Battles of the future will be waged online. Reducing boots on the ground is key to stopping anti-American sentiment as “military intervention and nation building efforts, even at current "light footprint" levels, cause more problems than they solve, including spawning more anti-American sentiment and creating, rather than diminishing, the conditions that lead to terrorism.” (CATO) Once we reduce the military personal in the middle east, then this sentiment that leads to terrorism will be diminished. Without the anti-American sentiment, even current terrorist groups no longer have that specific reason to go after the us, and terrorist recruitment in those areas would be down. Secondly, cyber operations limit online terrorist recruitment. Over the past few years, thousands of individuals from the west have become indoctrinated, and continuously radicalized until they physically go and join these groups. Cyber operations are key to solving this, as recent cyber operations have had monumental success in shutting down the infrastructure of ISIS. Shutting down the infrastructure stops ISIS and other terrorist groups from putting up websites. If instead cyber operations were to just attack the websites, then ISIS could put a new one up within minutes, and nothing would change. However, by shutting down infrastructure, ISIS is no longer able to put up websites for the time that the computers and servers are down, which stops foreign recruitment for that month that its down.
Russia is currently expanding at the fastest rate of any country. This is bad for a multitude of reasons. Russia is known for violating human rights and not promoting democracy. Cyber operations deter Russia in a couple key ways. The first of which is deterrence. Offensive cyber operations could instill a fear of retaliation into Russia. The United States has begun to attack Russia’s power grid, and if need arises, shut it down. Shutting down Russia’s power grid is a bold move on the United States part, resulting in costing Russia millions of dollars as well as killing civilians. Russia would then be so afraid of doing something wrong, and the United States shutting it down again, that they would stop their imperialistic tendencies.
United states cyber operations result in a unified NATO, that checks Russian aggression. NATO currently does not have a cyber command force. This means that NATO relies heavily on the United States cyber operations for protection. The United States defense department has announced a new plan, that says that the United States is not only willing to become NATO’s crutch and protector but has committed to becoming more offensive and defensive on behalf of NATO allies. If NATO becomes a unified front, then NATO can check Russian aggression towards Ukraine, and other countries where Russia is becoming imperialistic.
Look to Iran, where cyber operations are being effectively used to prevent a war between the United States and Iran. President trump has decided to pull back from a retaliatory strike against Iran for the downing of a surveillance drone. Instead of using the classic missiles and guns, trump has decided that cyber operations are the war of the future, and instead approved a cyber strike that disabled computer systems used by Iran’s Islamic revolutionary guard corps to control rocket and missile launches. Not only did these cyber operations result in the stoppage of Iran’s ability to launch missiles against us and prevent United States death, these cyber operations also prevented Iranian civilian death, as missile strikes, and guns are bound to have collateral damage.
In Iran, Offensive cyber operations are key to continuing trade through the strait of Hormoz. The strait of Hormoz is a narrow passage in the Persian Gulf between Omani and Iranian territory, it facilitates the movement of 30 to 35 percent of the world’s maritime oil trade. Close to 17 million barrels of oil travel through the strait each day, and all Persian Gulf shipping must travel through it. Recently, Iranian leadership is threatening to close the strait. Not just close the strait to the United states but to the world. This would stop the trade of 35 percent of the world’s oil, just like that. If this goes through and the strait is closed, then “oil could surge to $250 a barrel” from the current price of 57.24 dollars. This would result in the prices of gas shooting up and being extremely detrimental to many world economies. According to CNBC, “oil gained more than 20 percent in the first half of 2018, and odds have been rising that higher crude oil prices will spark the next economic downturn. This should not come as a surprise for any investor who is a student of market history: The last five U.S. recessions were preceded by a rise in oil prices.” Offensive cyber operations can prevent Iran from closing the strait as a report form the Fifth domain finds that “more recently, in June, the United States carried out cyberattacks against Iran in response to Iranian disruptions of shipping through the Strait of Hormuz and the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone. At the same time, two cybersecurity companies reported a spike in Iranian cyberattacks against U.S. government and critical infrastructure targets.” They state that these cyber operations seem to have had the benefit of providing response options short of armed conflict, preventing a war and providing a precedent of deterrence against Iran closing the Strait.
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Cyber operations are key in preventing many international relations issues and may economic ones as well. The benefits of cyber operations I have laid out as my arguments are as follows: Cyber operations unify NATO and deter Russia’s imperialistic encroaches upon Eurasian countries, cyber operations are key in helping prevent the spread of terrorism, and cyber operations have been shown to stop the strait of Hormoz from being closed. Overall, cyber operations have saved thousands upon thousands of lives, and prevented the retaliation strikes that would cause millions more. For all these reasons, cyber operations are an extremely one-sided debate. Cyber operations are on the side of technology advances humanity, not hurting it.
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