Chago Zapata | Army University Public Affairs

Cyberwar and deterrence, two of the most serious national security challenges facing the U.S. today, were the subject of discussion by Dr. Michael H. Hoeflich, the John H. and John M. Kane distinguished professor of law at the University of Kansas, during a lecture Nov. 14 at the Lewis and Clark Center as part of the Interagency Brown-Bag Lecture Series.

Hoeflich, an expert in cyber law and policy and their integration in the public and private sector, contrasted today’s cyber domain threats to the challenges the U.S. faced during the Cold War and beyond in the context of nuclear war. Today’s rising capabilities of state and non-state actors to use malicious actions to disrupt and destroy infrastructure across the globe through virtual attacks now raises the question of whether deterrents or international law, which managed to prevent a nuclear war for the past 70 years, can be adapted to this new virtual battlespace to achieve a similar result.

According to Hoeflich, cyber intrusions in the election process and other activities U.S. citizens collectively and individually engage in over the Internet and digitally, constitute an act of armed aggression under the United Nations charter and other international law.

The 2018 Department of Defense Cyber Strategy Summary states, “The United States’ strategic competitors are conducting cyber-enabled campaigns to erode U.S. military advantages, threaten our infrastructure, and reduce our economic prosperity. The department must respond to these activities by exposing, disrupting, and degrading cyber activity threatening U.S. interests, strengthening the cybersecurity and resilience of key potential targets, and working closely with other departments and agencies, as well as with our allies and partners.”

Hoeflich said a primary reason the world has not witnessed a nuclear conflict is because of a realization between nuclear powers that if a nation were to launch a nuclear attack against another nuclear nation, it would bring on an immediate and devastating nuclear response.

The combination of international law, multilateral and bilateral treaties and conventions and the various nuclear nonproliferation treaties serve as effective controls on nuclear conflict in almost all situations, Hoeflich explained.

“Today, however, we live in a rapidly changing political and technological time, and therefore military environment,” Hoeflich said. “In the space of a half century, we have moved from having three battle domains, land, air and sea, into a fourth domain, space, and now we have entered into a new fifth battle domain, the virtual universe of cyber operations.”

According to Hoeflich, if the virtual universe created by the World Wide Web and the Internet is a battle space, a new domain for conflict, then the combination of international institutions and deterrents will not limit conflict there as it effectively limits nuclear exchanges on land, sea, air and space.

“Neither deterrents, as we understand them today, nor international institutions, both legal and political, can, acting alone or in concert, be able to eliminate or even limit bad actors from continuing to operate offensively in the virtual dimension,” Hoeflich said.

According to Hoeflich, the DoD Cyber Strategy Summary proactively makes it harder for bad actors to use digital domains to conduct malicious actions. The U.S. is taking steps to ensure its security in this new cyber battle space.

The Interagency Brown-Bag Lecture Series is co-hosted by the CGSC Foundation and the Simons Center for Interagency Cooperation. All lectures are free and open to the public. They are designed to enhance the CGSC academic curriculum and to educate and inform the greater Kansas City area community.

The next lecture in the interagency series is on the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army Program, at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 12 in Arnold Conference Room of the Lewis and Clark Center.