Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Arquilla's "Cool War" is Fiction

In this article for Foreign Policy, John Arquilla poses the question "Could the age of cyberwarfare lead us to a brighter future?". Arquilla proposes that it will but his article utterly fails to make the case.

He builds his case for pure cyber war as an alternative to kinetic war by using Stuxnet as an example claiming that it achieved "a serious disruption of Tehran's nuclear enrichment capabilities -- and possibly of a secret proliferation program." The fact is that Stuxnet caused limited disruption (by design) and it failed to halt Iran's nuclear enrichment program. It's also important to note that Stuxnet was only discovered because the malware design was flawed, which underscores the fundamental problem with Arquilla's imaginings of the efficacy of a pure cyber war. The effects of malware are often unpredictable and unpredictability is the enemy of military planners.

Later, he suggests that Flame, the cyber espionage tool which apparently infected Iran's network years before the Stuxnet worm was created, demonstrates how cyber espionage can replace old school tradecraft - "The code that comprises it seems to make the point that we no longer need physical agents in place if we can now rely on artificially intelligent agents to dredge up the deepest secrets." This is as ridiculous a notion as the one that Arquilla offers about cyberwarfare replacing boots on the ground. Both Chinese and Russian intelligence services continue to recruit human assets for acts of espionage even as they utilize cyber espionage as a force multiplier. HUMINT isn't going away - ever.

Arquilla writes that "On balance, it seems that cyberwar capabilities have real potential to deal with some of the world's more pernicious problems, from crime and terrorism to nuclear proliferation. In stark contrast to pitched battles that would regularly claim thousands of young soldiers' lives..." I challenge Professor Arquilla to present even a shred of evidence that supports his fantasy that this future could ever come to pass. I don't know what John Arquilla's motivations are behind this embarrasingly weak article but I wouldn't accept this from a student let alone a professor of his standing.

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