Warfare and national security issues used to be solely based on physical proximity; however, those days are over. As technology becomes more advanced and the world more reliant on technology, individuals now more than ever are vulnerable to attacks taking place outside of the physical realm. Now, national security transcends the physical, tangible world and includes cyberspace, an ever-changing, non-tangible environment. Nicknamed the final frontier, cyberspace is unlike any other form of terrain.
Cyberspace is not as exclusive as physical battlefields (air, naval, ground, and space), resulting in more ‘players’ in the cyber arena. As such, cyberspace offers nations and non-state actors the low-cost ability to counter more powerful nations without escalating direct conflict. Most importantly, the combination of cyberspace and physical military strength will be the future of national security, as well as warfare. For this reason, cyber supremacy is sought after by many nations. This begs the questions of whether cyber supremacy can be obtained and if so, what consequences may follow from an escalation in cyberspace.
Despite the opportunities that lie within cyberspace, its existence is a puzzle the international community must solve to ensure stability. Many obstacles regarding cyberspace stem from the lack of internationally accepted definitions of terms like ‘cyberwarfare’ and ‘cyberpower’, and the need for international cooperation in establishing boundaries in the cyber domain. Legislation from individual governments and international organizations rely on concrete definitions of cyberspace and other cyber activity. Without these conceptual definitions, there is no practical way to deem actions within the cyber domain acceptable or unacceptable. Using ambiguity and obscurity as a defense for their actions, nations and non-state actors could conduct cyberwarfare, cyberespionage, or similar offensive actions without repercussions. Furthermore, current alliances created to mitigate conflicts in cyberspace tend to have contradictory goals, further muddying the international expectations for cyberspace.
Cyberspace’s further integration into society is inevitable. Although the world cannot control cyberspace, at least not right now, nations can collectively take proactive steps to decrease the uncertainty within cyberspace. Traditional multilateral diplomatic methods such as the creation of international coalitions and multilateral treaties may not answer all the questions regarding cyberspace, but they can contribute to the much-needed development of appropriate conduct and expectations within cyberspace.
About the Author
Jaleah Cullors is a junior at the University of Kansas, where she is pursuing a double major in Political Science and Global and International Studies with minors in Spanish and Intelligence and National Security Studies. Her primary areas of interests are terrorism and international security.