Information Warfare and Deterrence

By Hayes, Richard E.; Wheatley, Gary | Strategic Forum, October 1996 | Go to article overview

Information Warfare and Deterrence


Hayes, Richard E., Wheatley, Gary, Strategic Forum


Summary

* On one level, Information Warfare (IW) and deterrence are well matched, but on other levels the two topics can be seen as orders of magnitude apart. IW covers a huge domain while deterrence is a narrow topic. Their relationship is spotty-highly relevant on some topics, marginally so on others, and not at all relevant in many areas.

* The term "information warfare" typically focuses on the military or cyber-war domains dominated by computers. This narrow definition is inconsistent with the broad policy questions relevant to IW, its impact from cooperation to competition and conflict, and the key role of information media.

* Deterrence is part of IW only when the attacker is known (or can be discovered), the defender has a credible capability to threaten important interests of the attacker, and the attacker cannot defend those interests.

* Participants argued that a visible set of defenses is the beginning point for deterring attacks on important computer systems. Attacks are essentially instrumental acts that will not occur if the attacking party perceives little opportunity for success.

* Media warfare (i.e., countering an adversary's propaganda) can put enormous time pressure on decisionmakers, particularly when an authoritarian state adversary, with little or no necessity for consultation, targets unsuspecting, easily manipulated publics.

* Information warfare attacks on the United States are presently deterred by the same policy that deters other types of attack. Acting under its rights as a sovereign state, the United States stands ready to respond to any attack on its interests with all appropriate means, including law enforcement as well as military capacity.

Background

At a recent Information Warfare (IW) and Deterrence workshop, participants focused on three principal issues:

* What do the terms "Information Warfare" and "Deterrence" mean and how are they related?

* How might IW attacks on the United States be deterred, if at all? For practical analysis, this issue was broken into "cyber-war attacks" on computers and infrastructure, and "media warfare" attacks.

* Can the United States use IW to deter attacks on itself, its allies, or its interests? Can U.S. actions be deterred by IW?

Key Concepts and Implications

On one level, information warfare (IW) and deterrence are well matched. Both belong to the world of robust ideas and have broad implications. Both are highly relevant to the post-Cold War era, in which conflict has been transformed from bipolar global competition to multi-sided, local and regional contests in which the military element is a crucial part of, but not the driving force for, competition and conflict. On other levels, the two topics can be seen as orders of magnitude apart. IW is a huge domain, ranging from media wars to electronic combat and from economic competition to strategic conflict waged against civilian populations. Deterrence actually is a narrow topic that only applies when a set of quite restrictive assumptions are met. (Deterrence was defined as "prevention or discouragement, by fear or doubt, from acting.") The relationship between the two concepts is spotty-highly relevant on some topics, marginally so on others, and not at all relevant in many areas.

The Domain of Information and Information Warfare

The term "information warfare" is used to mean many things, but is often focused on the military or cyber-war domains dominated by computers and communications infrastructure. This narrow definition is inconsistent with the broad policy questions relevant to competition and conflict using information media.

* Because information warfare is really a broad and diverse arena, its analysis must be focused on selected elements, which must be clearly defined in each application. The field is so broad that virtually no meaningful generalizations can be drawn about it. …

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