Why Strategic Cyber Warfare Shouldn't Be a Military Priority
Published October 14, 2009
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    Interview with Martin Libicki of the RAND Corp.

    Martin Libicki spends a lot of time studying and thinking about the intersection of national security and information technology as a senior management scientist at the think tank RAND Corp. And in a just-released report he authored, Cyberdeterrence and Cyberwar, Libicki argues that strategic cyber warfare shouldn't be a priority for America's armed services.

    The key word here is strategic. Cyber warfare, as a strategy, would unlikely cause the enemy to disarm as does conventional warfare. Zap an adversary's PC, and it can be replaced for $300. Cyber assault the enemy, and the opponent more likely than not will figure out how to defend itself against similar, future attacks. Besides, who knows how well cyber works as a weapon? "One of the differences between cyber and other forms of warfare is that cyber is largely untested. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't," Libicki said in an interview with GovInfoSecurity.com.

    Yet, he said, cyber should be considered as an ancillary weapon by the military during tactical military operations. For instance, the military could disable the enemy's computer systems used to launch missiles. "In many ways, it's not very expensive to generate an offensive cyberwar capability, and though the odds of success aren't guaranteed, there may be circumstances in which the odds are fairly high enough that it's worthwhile in taking the chance and carrying out a cyber attack in conjunction with physical warfare," Libicki said.

    In the interview, with GovInfoSecurity.com managing editor Eric Chabrow, Libicki explains why:

    Cyber warfare as an offensive strategy isn't advisable;
    Creating a separate service branch on par with the Army, Navy and Air Force that's dedicated to cyber warfare is a bad idea; and
    Industry should take the lead in defending the nation's critical IT infrastructure, with help and possibly regulations from government.

    Libicki joined RAND in 1998. His research focuses on the relationship of IT to national security and other public policy goals. He previously worked for the Navy on industrial preparedness and what is now the Government Accountability Office's energy and minerals division. Libicki received his Ph.D. in industrial economics and master degree in city planning from the University of California at Berkeley and bachelor degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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