Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Workshop Trends 'Cybered Conflict'

May 26, 2011

Major evolutions in the global community’s use of cyberspace over the last ten years now pose complex and serious surprise challenges to the security of the US, its allies, modern maritime-land-air forces and national security institutions, and the wider international system’s relative distribution of power. National leaders have moved cyberspace’s threats to the top tier of national security concerns. Yet the rise of cybered threats has failed to produce consensus on definitions and preferences in strategies and institutional responses. In the interim, the initial framing of the problems and the national actions now being pursued are changing the problem itself and the likely future paths of conflict in a fully cybered globe.

This week, a two-day workshop on “Cybered Conflict, Threat Perceptions, and Institutional Responses: A Comparative Analysis” has been hosted by the Strategic Research Department of the US Naval War College (NWC) and the Watson Institute, with support from the NWC’s National Security Decision Making Department.

Participating has been a select group of thinkers, practitioners, and scholars from the US and key allies to consider this issue from their academic, cultural, national, and institutional sets of expertise. Included have been key representatives of the US and key allies’ military services and national security community involved in the design and implementation of each nation’s institutional response to the potential threats of cyberspace.

The workshop was designed to advance these experts’ discussion beyond basics by comparing options across their frames and nations. The intent: to reveal more or less likely, and more or less preferred, future paths for national security in a digitized international system. By bringing together those who know cyber security at its institutional frontlines with big picture thinkers, the gathering should uncover otherwise unexamined variations in presumptions and designs and then collectively outline the implications of current trends for future paths of globally significant cybered conflict. 

Key questions have included:
• What strategically relevant approaches to framing the emerging combination of cyberspace and interstate conflict as part of an internationally integrated system have emerged, based on what key presumptions, over the past few years?
• What alternative responses to the rise of cybered conflict have emerged so far across states and national security institutions and what key presumptions are embedded in these responses?
• How do these differences in framing, in presumptions, and in adapting national institutions connect or conflict, and in turn change the nature of future interstate conflict in a heavily cybered world?
• What emerging trends across the wider global system from populations to economics to technology and cultural change will influence the likelihood that either or both the strategic frames and the national institutional response will be successful in ensuring national security in this emerging age?
• What are the likely future scenarios involving cybered conflict that will need to be accommodated by states’ strategies and institutions – what presumptions are sensible on which to build options, and what international regimes might be developed to address emergent disruptive challenges to progress towards a civil and prosperous globally cybered community?

The workshop has been organized by NWC Associate Professor Chris Demchak and Watson Institute Senior Fellow Sue E. Eckert