Call for cyberwar rules as US attacks Russia

Threat: “We will impose costs on you until you get the point”, says John Bolton US Security Chief.

Does the world need new rules of war? Yesterday, we learned that the US has placed malware deep in Russia’s power grid. Elsewhere, most of Argentina was mysteriously plunged into darkness.

Today, there are already calls for a new set of international rules similar to the Geneva Conventions to protect innocent people from cyberwar.

There are specific demands that no country should be allowed to cut the electrical power to another country, plunging citizens into darkness and threatening hospitals, transport, schools and the frail and elderly.

“The world needs norms to govern cyber conflict, and one should be not to turn off the lights,” said one leading US commentator.

But US military officials argue that it is the new reality, a new Cold War. Enemies must demonstrate their superior powers to each other, otherwise they lose. And it is far better than real war, “hot” war.

This follows an article in The New York Times revealing that the US has deployed American computer code into Russian systems operating the nation’s power grid, as part of its strategy to deploy cybertools more aggressively.

This means that it can now switch off Russian power, an especially deadly threat in a country famed for its cold climate.

High stakes?

“Idiotic,” say the doves. This is war by other means, and every bit as dangerous and immoral as the nuclear race that led to the Cold War. For one nation to plant codes in another nation, and then threaten to switch off its energy is the sort of aggression that can only lead to a similar response. Where does that get us?

“Face the facts,” say the hawks. Russia has been engaged in cyberwar against the US for years. Interference in the 2016 presidential elections. Well-recorded attempts to hack into the nuclear power station in Nebraksa. Other examples, too many to cite. The only way to guarantee peace is to make sure the power stays with the good guys, and that means the USA – at least when compared to any other superpower.

You Decide

  1. Is electricity now the most important weapon?

Activities

  1. Imagine you had to live without power for 24 hours. List the worst things about it.

Some People Say...

“We worried for decades about WMDs – Weapons of Mass Destruction. Now it is time to worry about a new kind of WMDs – Weapons of Mass Disruption.”

John Mariotti, US business writer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The head of US Cyber Command, Gen. Paul M Nakasone, has been outspoken about the need to “defend forward”, deep in an opponent’s networks to show that the US will respond to online attacks aimed at it. Donald Trump issued new powers to Cyber Command last summer to conduct offensive online operations without needing his presidential approval.
What do we not know?
How Putin’s government is reacting. Russia has been very quiet so far.

Word Watch

Geneva Conventions
Launched in 1863, a series of international meetings that produced a number of agreements, in particular the Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflicts, a group of international laws for the humane treatment of wounded or captured military personnel.
Cold War.
A long period of tension between western democracies and Russia and its allies from1945 to around 1990.
Doves
People who try to resolve international conflicts without the threat of force.
Hawks
People who want an aggressive foreign policy based on strong military power.

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