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Anti-war and the cyber triangle : strategic implications of cyber operations and cyber security for the state

Herpig, Sven


Sven Herpig


David J. Lonsdale


[From the introduction:]

The main driver for this choice of research was the growing influence of Internet-related issues in contemporary politics in various fields. 2009 saw an intensification of this link between information and communication technologies and international relations, particularly in the field of intelligence and military, with the revelation of notorious cyber operations such as AURORA, Ghostnet and Night Dragon (see chapter II). While those events started to attract the broader attention of academics, it was not until the discovery of the Stuxnet malware in 2010 (see chapter IV) that the issue gained momentum in other fields as well. A computer malware targeting a nuclear enrichment facility in a foreign country amidst a latent conflict certainly raised a lot of questions that demanded answers. Its sophisticated design and potential implications for international relations as well as strategic studies was one of the main inspirations for this research.

While the emergence of literature on espionage and sabotage in conjunction with the Internet can be traced back to the 1990's, Kello recognises that even in 2013 it remains a weakly developed area, stating that '[t]he range of conceivable cyber conflict is poorly understood by scholars and decision-makers, and it is unclear how conventional security mechanisms, such as deterrence and collective defence apply to this phenomenon' (Kello, 2013: 7). Thus, the aim of this research is to contribute to the literature in this way '[…] in addition to elucidating empirical cyber events, scholars can guide the design of policies to affect them' (Kello, 2013: 38-39). Undertaking research in a field which is state-of-the-art and therefore, highly volatile, presents a particular academic challenge. It does also however enable a researcher to make a potentially crucial contribution, a dent, in the current debate. In areas of research in a vacuum exists, it is imperative for scholars to contribute to filling up that academic lacuna. The main outcome therefore is supposed to be a contribution to the academic debate on the strategic relevance and conduct of cyber operations and the state’s response to it. The intellectual tools developed as part of this research may be of future use for policy-makers. The underlying question for the research is: What are the strategic implications of cyber operations for the state?

The Economist recently saw 'intensifying cyber threats' as one of the top challenges for 2014 (The Economist, 2014). The revelations of the past years, starting with Stuxnet, Operation AURORA, APT-1, Red October and activities derived from the NSA Documents revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden indicate that this threat will not abate soon. More and more states are readying themselves for future conflicts by developing defensive as well offensive cyber operations capabilities (Lewis, 2013b: 9-55). The latest domain for conflict resolution is currently being explored and exploited too by a growing number of different stakeholders. Based on the increased number of stakeholders and the intensity and number of occurrences of said events (see section 3.5 and appendix), its contemporary relevance is high and has been increasing for several years and looks set to continue. Guiding principles in the field of strategy is an important part of this development. Though the debate on strategic implications of cyber operations started in the early 1990's, and promoted under the auspices of the RAND Corporation, '[i]ntellectually, we are in a position not unlike that faced 65 years ago as we began to develop our thinking about nuclear weapons' (Kramer, 2012: I). Nye agrees, stating that 'in comparison to the nuclear revolution in military affairs, strategic studies of the cyber domain are chronologically equivalent to 1960 but conceptually more equivalent to 1950. Analysts are still not clear about the lessons of offense, defense, deterrence, escalation, norms, arms control, or how they fit together into a national strategy' (Nye, 2011: 19). Thus, an intensive academic analysis of this field is pivotal, especially within the framework of strategic studies, in order to enable strategic adaptation and decision-making (Kello, 2013: 14). The timeliness of events, paired with the lack of a properly developed strategic framework, signify the increased contemporary relevance for research of the strategic implications of cyber operations for the state.

Definitions are very important in political science, and only more so for research in the field of cyber operations. In the absence of commonly agreed upon definitions for cyber operations, and a multitude of other terms such as cyber warfare, digital warfare, information warfare, electronic warfare (see sub-sections 3.1 and 3.2 as well as section 4) which are at once related and disparate, mean that clarity in definitions is centrally important. While definitions might normally differ slightly, all elements included in the definition of cyber operations might vary. This includes the stakeholders (and their representation as entity in the cyber domain), the means to conduct cyber operations, the platform where it is conducted (for example all digital devices, Internet only, electromagnetic spectrum) and the operations through which it is conducted (for example, if cyber espionage is included or not).

Therefore, the coherent and comprehensive definition is of vital importance for the understanding of the research and more so for its outcomes. The terminology of this research applies for the state in the cyber domain, cyber operations and cyber strategy. Thus, the three key definitions which are developed in this research can be found below.

The state and its representation in the cyber domain is defined in chapter I: The state’s representation of the cyber domain is the Critical National Information Infrastructure (CNII). The CNII is composed of a particular part of the information infrastructure which is vital to the function of the state according to the state-teachings of Jellinek: territory, people and legitimate use of violence.

The definition of cyber operations as developed in chapter II: A cyber operation is the targeted use and hack of digital code by any individual, group, organization or state using digital networks, systems and connected devices, which is directed against CNII in order to steal, alter, destroy information or disrupt and deny functionality with the ultimate aim to weaken and/ or harm a targeted political unit.

Subsequently, the definition of a cyber strategy in chapter IV: The development and employment of cyber operations, potentially integrated and coordinated with other operational domains and forms of information operations, to achieve or support the achievement of political objectives.


Herpig, S. (2015). Anti-war and the cyber triangle : strategic implications of cyber operations and cyber security for the state. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 22, 2019
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Politics
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Politics and International Studies, The University of Hull
Award Date Apr 1, 2015


Thesis (2.9 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2015 Herpig, Sven. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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