Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Quotable: James Van de Velde on cyber forms of warfare

Donald M. Bishop, "Quotable: James Van de Velde on cyber forms of Warfare,"

image (not from entry) from

Tuesday, September 13th 2016
This must-read article discussed new shapes of warfare and international competition that avoid kinetic “war” as Americans usually conceive it.   The author reviewed Russia’s “hybrid warfare strategy,” China’s “salami slicing,” and the “iTerrorism” strategy by ISIS.  He described “cyber,” narratives, information operations, “unconventional war, guerilla war, irregular war, hybrid war, non-linear war, next-generation war, ambiguous war, asymmetric war, limited war, shadow war, indirect war, small war, the gray zone, low-intensity conflict, and even ‘Military Operations Other Than War’ (MOOTW).

Headline:     War in Peace

Subhead:      Cyberspace has brought about an era of persistent confrontation.

Author:         James Van de Velde, adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, and the National Intelligence University.

Source:         The American Interest

Date:             September 6, 2016

Key Quotes:

  • Warfare today is a combination of low-intensity (military) conflict and a fight over information via cyberspace—especially over “narratives” that sway public opinion.

  • . . . warfare has always consisted of competing narratives and had periods of low intensity. What is new is that our adversaries now specifically stay in the early stage of cyberspace operations, information operations, and very limited or no kinetic conflict, careful never to escalate to state-on-state conventional war.

  • . . . our adversaries and competitors have embraced cyber warfare precisely to avoid kinetic hostilities with the United States, but in so doing they can at least from time to time still achieve their political objectives.

  • Traditionally, the United States sees itself as either at peace or at war. Today, this divide is at best blurred and perhaps forever outdated. Today, we seem always in some sort of confrontation. “Steady state” operations imply a status quo—when little needs to be done . . . . This may be an unhelpful legacy of the great wars in Europe and the Pacific.

  • It is precisely because the United States enjoys dominance in many military domains that its adversaries plan and struggle against U.S. interests short of declared mass kinetic warfare, especially in the cyberspace domain.

  • Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and the Islamic State/al-Qaeda maneuver forces, conduct cyberspace operations, influence media, and pay for information all to shape a new environment without resorting to direct kinetic conflict with the world’s sole superpower.

  • [Footnote] Activity in the early phases of warfare has been described as unconventional war, guerilla war, irregular war, hybrid war, non-linear war, next-generation war, ambiguous war, asymmetric war, limited war, shadow war, indirect war, small war, the gray zone, low-intensity conflict, and even “Military Operations Other Than War” (MOOTW). U.S. adversaries today see the world in a constant state of conflict and competition; the U.S. political elite sees the world in a state of peace, with “war” a deviation to be quickly corrected.

  • Cyber warfare is the delivery of effects via cyberspace and can be as un-invasive as collecting intelligence or delivering propaganda, or as invasive as disrupting government websites or . . . any hostile act using a computer or network system intended to disrupt or destroy an adversary’s critical cyber systems, assets, or functions.

  • The United States is engaged in almost continuous contact with adversaries in cyberspace, with often-ambiguous legal implications that frequently hamstring our ability to respond. The media has occasionally called it “virtual warfare,” but a better term for the situation may be “cyberspace confrontation,” or “warfare during peacetime.”

  • Although since World War II we have had a succession of limited wars (a sine wave of conflict), cyberspace may have invited, in Army Chief of Staff George Casey’s phrase, an “era of persistent confrontation.”

  • . . . the United States needs to shape this new international environment or our adversaries will do it for us.

  • Since World War II, the Department of Defense has concentrated far more on preventing wars through strength than on shaping environments to advance U.S. interests during periods of calm.

  • . . . the U.S. military views risk in terms of the possibility of losing a kinetic conflict, but fails to recognize how we can “lose” during peacetime through a gradual and methodical “salami slicing” of U.S. interests (for example, incremental violations of sovereignty; theft of U.S. technology, proprietary information, and wealth; the use of social media to advance conspiracy to commit murder and terrorist planning).

  • Being good at high-end warfare does not ensure success in nonviolent confrontations. The United States needs to introduce the concepts of dominating and winning into Phase 0—that is, to start thinking about “winning in peacetime.”

Russia’s Hybrid Warfare Strategy

  • Russia today achieves its military objectives through a socially savvy, subtle, and ambiguous form of warfare (with antecedents in the Soviet period): hybrid warfare, with its principal weapon being the control of information. There are three broad elements to its strategy.

  • Information confrontation (Soviet “active measures”) include disinformation and planted information. Soviet-like themes of anti-Nazism, the threat to Russian civilization, and the struggle against Western “informational aggression” and “destabilization strategy” are delivered today via television, newspapers, movies, social networks, internet trolls, “experts,” and select political cronies.

  • Information confrontation is followed by clandestine political (physical) destabilizing operations that focus on small sectors of a targeted country’s political apparatus by seizing certain public media and state communications, attacking certain facilities and smearing them as oppressive agents of an illegitimate state, and supplying weapons to separatists, the allegedly suppressed Russian minority of the targeted state (see Estonia in 2007, Georgia in 2008, and Ukraine in 2014).

  • Finally, Russian conventional forces posture along the border to intimidate the targeted country’s military, supply the separatists, and occasionally intervene directly inside its borders. Once the targeted country sees what it is facing, it agrees to a compromise that sacrifices elements of its sovereignty. Russia then pockets the political victory and repeats the process.

  • Cyberspace operations are integrated into all aspects of Russian military operations and involve three categories: 1) psychological effects: employing diplomats, “experts,” and academic elites to influence opinions and perceptions; 2) information operations: controlling the message; and 3) technical effects: offensive cyber operations against computer and communications systems.

  • Information is not used to persuade but to confuse, paralyze, and subvert. Russia maintains its power not by persuasion, but by making it clear that it can manipulate what it considers to be the truth.

China’s Salami-Slicing Strategy

  • The Chinese Government believes in internet freedom—that is, freedom from Western online influence.

  • The Chinese conduct three types of state-sponsored cyber activity: national security espionage (which all nations conduct); economic espionage to aid Chinese industry (an illegal activity, and adamantly opposed by the United States); and internal information operations designed to control and manipulate what the Chinese people can view and say online (anathema to the United States and other democracies).

  • Information operations, as in Russia, are conducted continuously against China’s own people, led by the “Golden Shield Project” (a.k.a. the Great Chinese Firewall)—a massive censorship and surveillance system operated by the Ministry of Public Security.

  • The Chinese government uses the internet to conflate nationalism and Party rule and to justify the righteousness of the Party’s existence.The Chinese government uses the internet to conflate nationalism and Party rule and to justify the righteousness of the Party’s existence. It portrays the Great Chinese Firewall as a form of paternal protection from the prurient West.

The Islamic State’s iTerrorism Strategy

  • The internet affords ISIS a means of recruitment, organization, operational direction, ideological conformity, and pride. Its slick, online propaganda gives the Islamic State a sense of identity. It uses social media to coordinate operations and conduct attack planning and has built a sophisticated online strategy involving Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and WhatsApp. Without the internet, no part of its success would have occurred.

  • The social media strategy the Islamic State employs is specifically directed at young people worldwide. Tech-savvy cyber jihadists have used the web to attract frustrated, marginalized, and vulnerable young people to its ranks and convince them of its world vision.

  • Thus, to defeat the Islamic State, we need somehow to supply an alternative identity to Muslim youth online or undermine the identity the Islamic State offers via cyberspace. That is a prerequisite for successful warfare today.

  • It is not only that Islamic State media posts numerous detailed and comprehensive do-it-yourself terrorism manuals online—inspiring violence remotely and often untraceably until it is too late. It is that mentoring—the psychological guidance that anyone searching for identity seeks—is now conducted not individually by a person in a small study group in the basement of the local mosque, but using secure social media on the internet.

  • The terrorist world—more than any other—is flat. The Islamic State now reaches into every Western country thanks to social media.

How to Fight During Peacetime

  • To protect the United States from further attacks and the erosion of sovereignty during this period of persistent confrontation, the next President ought to have the means and the legal framework to confront adversaries in cyberspace.

  • The era of persistent confrontation is not limited to the United States and its particular adversaries. This warfare is occurring worldwide—a form of low-level, continual, gray, but global conflict via cyberspace. Thus, the United States must find like-minded allies and friends to wage this conflict in a coordinated fashion and build the kind of the international customs and norms that the West built in the other four domains.

  • . . . although U.S. national security policy and confrontation via cyberspace involve the whole of government, they involve the private sector just as much. The U.S. approach to shaping norms of cyberspace, therefore, will need to involve the private sector if it is to be successful.

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