The U.S. needs a real national cyber-security strategy

Joseph S. Nye

Joseph S. Nye

By Joseph S. Nye

The Pentagon recently released a new doctrine for cyberspace. It is an intelligent document that stresses defense, and reserves the right to reply to a cyber attack by the means of our choice. But for all its virtues, it is not a national strategy, because ninety percent of the internet is outside the purview of the military.

Four decades ago, the Pentagon created the internet, and today, by most accounts, the U.S.remains the leading country in both its military and societal use. However, technology is a two-edged sword. It eventually spreads, and becomes available to adversaries who may have primitive capabilities, but also are less vulnerable. At the same time, because of our greater dependence on networked computers and communication, the U.S.is more vulnerable than many other countries, and the cyber domain has become a major source of insecurity that can be utilized byAmerica’s enemies.

Political leaders and analysts are only beginning to come to terms with this transformative technology. Until now, the issue of cyber security has largely been the domain of computer experts and specialists. When the internet was created, this small community was like a virtual village of people who knew each other, and they designed a system with little attention to security. The commercial Web is two decades old, but it has exploded from a mere 10 million users in the early 1990s to nearly two billion users today. This burgeoning interdependence has created great opportunities and great vulnerabilities which we don’t fully comprehend. As Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA says, “rarely has something been so important and so talked about with less clarity and less apparent understanding….I have sat in very small group meetings in Washington….unable (along with my colleagues) to decide on a course of action because we lacked a clear picture of the long- term legal and policy implications of any decision we might make.”

In comparison to the nuclear revolution in military affairs, we are chronologically equivalent to 1960, but conceptually more equivalent to 1950. We are still not clear about the meaning of offense, defense, deterrence, escalation, norms, arms control, or how they fit together into a national strategy. The Pentagon’s new strategy is welcome, but the White House needs to move faster on a national strategy.

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About Joseph S. Nye

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is Dean Emeritus of the Kennedy School. He joined the Harvard Faculty in 1964. He developed the theory of neoliberalism, and the concepts of soft power and smart power. He served as chairman of the National Intelligence Council in 1993-94 and was assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs in the Clinton Administration. Full bio >
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