The recent U.S. presidential elections brought to the fore the grim reality of cyber attack. Even the merest hint of potential cyber-attacks on existing infrastructure or administrative avenues could be enough to trigger an alarming response from the military and government.
Many experts now believe that this alarming response could include the use of nuclear weapons to dissimilate or annihilate the opponent’s capabilities. Many nuclear armed nations have wondered about the possibility of including cyber attack nuclear response in their doctrine. However, the use of weapons of mass destruction has unnerved many people and caused growing concerns about maintaining peaceful relations among powerful adversaries.
What Should We Expect In The Near Future?
Recent reports from Pentagon have given hints about relaxing limitations on things that could warrant a nuclear response with an additional change to include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks on a country’s infrastructure, which might refer to a cyber attack.
The growing influence of the internet has not been ignored and state agencies now understand how easy it could be to disrupt government functionalities and network communication with use of viruses. Cyberattacks can also be directed towards economic institutions like banks or federal reserves which has the potential to severely harm the nation’s economy.
Most of the infrastructure today are connected to the national grid via internet connectivity which also makes them prone to hackers. For example, in case of Iranian nuclear program, Stuxnet virus was distributed through a USB device which infected computers controlling centrifuges that produced enriched uranium.
This malware remained undetected for a long period of time and caused grave damages to the nuclear plants. One thing to note is that it is incredibly difficult to trace the origin of such a malware which makes targeted and precise attacks on such facilities nearly impossible to protect.
Therefore, in case of cyber attack nuclear response, the military would aim to completely destroy the network infrastructure of the opponents, thus rendering them unable to carry on further with their attacks. This would save them precious time which they would now spend on locating the exact position of cyberattack origin.
Many defence analysts have stated that any large cyberattack against the United States should be considered as a serious foreign aggression which could justify nuclear intervention as a quick and effective defense. There are certainly more conservative options for handlingthese problems, but time remains a great factor in such types of grave situations where some kind of retaliation has to be made before it could cause unrecoverable damages to infrastructure, population and economy.
One important factor to consider is the amount of damages a weapon of mass destruction could cause. Many people might still be aware of nuclear threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War era, and especially during the Cuba Missile-Crisis, tension escalated to an all time high. Everyone was aware of the potential damages even a single nuclear warhead would cause. Therefore, it is necessary to understand how much damage would be caused when cyberattacks nuclear response is initiated. The primary purpose of these attack would be to target the communication capabilities of enemies like internet and phone connectivity, so that they would lose their ability to coordinate their attacks.
This solution does sound nice except that there would be collateral damages which, in this case, would be huge. Along with infrastructure damage, there could loss of life as well since any nuclear attack would not be based upon precision rather than its effective area of damages. Therefore, it become necessary to understand every aspect of cyberattacks nuclear responseto make sure that this decision is the only effective choice to counter a cyber threat..