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The discourse in strategic culture can be traced back to over four decades ago where it incited a renewed thinking of both the origins of the concept of strategy and the strategic choices in politics. This theoretical framework can be described in the simplest terms as the application of cultural concepts to politics and international relations. Additionally, it offers an analytical lens through which major international incidents and the underlying government actions can be examined. Each government, it is expected, makes decisions aimed at cementing its sovereignty and serving the interests of the country. According to Al-Rodhan (2015), therefore, strategic culture tends to leave legacies in a country’s thinking that endure for decades. In a changing global political environment, the actions of governments and states become clearer when explained from this lens.
The changes in the global political environment are manifested in the dynamics of globalization and growing interdependence across countries. Discourse in strategic culture under these circumstances would, therefore, be interested in examining how nations relate with each other and how the policies they enact for purposes of safeguarding the national interests influence their relationships. However, such studies do not deviate completely from traditional international relations, especially at a time when inter-state conflicts still loom. Antagonizing countries, including East versus West or United States versus China, offer a pathway to understanding the modern applications of the theory of strategic culture. According to Márta (2015), Asian societies have built both economic and military capabilities resulting in a realignment of security concerns. Other examples of modern confrontations include the fight against Islamic terrorism and global pandemics that shape and reshape relations across states. The questions that need to be asked and answered in examining such scenarios include how and why such conflicts occur and how the national cultures affect the course and outcomes of such disputes.
Today, strategic culture offers a framework for understanding a nation’s policies that go beyond the military spheres. It has adopted a political definition and, in the process, becoming a measurement for effective security politics. According to Márta (2015), the world faces new security challenges and threats, as well as cooperative needs. One of the key areas in modern international relations is the cyber conflict where the application the strategic cultures differ from the traditional uses. However, the basic tenet of international relations and conflicts remains intact with the traditional rivalries spilling over to the digital platforms. Policy actions for governments currently include safeguarding the national interests in the cyberspace and fighting cyber terrorism. Countries such as Russia, the United States, and China are constantly fighting in the digital spheres in what can only be seen as a continuation of traditional rivalries. For example, the United States created a federal plan in 2016 to focus on research and development in the field of cybersecurity (Austin, 2016). Therefore, the strategic culture is the best framework with which to derive meaning and understanding of the countries’ approaches to cybersecurity.
Cyber conflicts are becoming increasingly common and so are the government responses and policies. The new political environment is massively influenced by the actions of governments and other bodies in the cyberspace. This essay, therefore, seeks to address the question of how the strategic cultures manifest in cyber conflict. To address this question, the essay will define the concept of strategic cultures and offer several examples of countries’ strategic cultures. Secondly, the essay will present an overview of cyber conflict by describing aspects such as cyberspace, cybercrime and cyberterrorism, and cybersecurity and related themes. The last and the major section will be dedicated to examining how different strategic cultures reflect in cyber conflicts. The section will pay attention to some of the modern rivalries and how they are carried out in the cyberspace.
Overview of Strategic Cultures
One of the greatest concerns for states and government in the national interest is the provision of security. Any nation has a quintessential function of defending its domestic monopoly on the legitimate use of force to safeguard against both external and internal challenges. The government, therefore, reserves the power to authorize the use of force in such situations and how it uses that power has remained is the oldest questions in the academic debate on international relations (Mirow, 2016). Strategic culture is used by scholars as a comprehensive theoretical model that offers improved explanations on the behavior of a state regarding the use of force. According to Mirow (2016), strategic culture is a constructivist concept that helps to explain the differences in the government actions. As can be seen herein, the concept of strategic culture was formulated at a time when the government’s primary responses was through the use of military power.
Precise definitions of the term strategic culture are rare as many publications tend to focus on how the theory emerged and how it has been used ever since. In other words, there is no scholarly consensus on how to define strategic culture (Doeser, 2018). According to Al-Rodhan (2015), the concept entails incorporating cultural considerations and other elements such as cumulative historical memory and their influences in examining the security policies of a country in the context of international relations. Additionally, the cultural elements are reflected in the historical tendencies to preserve their spheres of influence. As a theoretical framework, strategic culture offers an analytical lens that can be used to study the international crises, events, and the motivations behind various actions taken by countries. Strategic culture, as described by Slater (2020a), is an intuitive concept that was introduced to academia by Jack Snyder. It brings together two distinct constructs: strategy and culture, which when used together tend to develop a more specific meaning. Understanding strategic culture, therefore, could begin with understanding the two words when used in the national security context.
Strategy can be viewed as the glue that holds together a state’s purposeful activities. It can also be perceived as a system that facilitates functional cooperation between several categorically different behaviours in the pursuit of common purposes (Slater, 2020a). On the other hand, culture brings in the conditions or environment that determine the resiliency of strength of the glue. In other words, a country, even in such cooperative environments, will make strategic decisions that differ from other countries due to that nation having a different culture from the rest. If cultures collide or bring to the surface inherently irreconcilable differences, then the cooperation can easily be replaced by conflict, especially where one state’s strategies hurt those of the other. One of the most important things to notice is that strategic culture takes into account both logical and (seemingly) illogical aspects of a country’s decision-making. Without a precise definition of the term strategic culture, a better understanding can be achieved by examining its historical background, including its origin and how it has evolved.
The origins of strategic culture can be traced back to the 1960s when Sidney Verba and Gabriel Almond coined the term ‘political culture’ in the 1960s. The defined the term as “a subset of beliefs and values of a society, which relate to the political system” (Kari, 2019, p. 534). The application of political culture in the security studies was first done by Jack Snyder who published The Soviet Strategic Culture. In his work, Snyder identified the historical, political, and institutional factors influencing the Soviet strategic thought. He called these factors “strategic culture” where he inferred that to understand a country’s reactions one has to identify the factors affecting its culture. The theory of strategic culture has since been developed through various generations of scholars. The first generation included scholars such as Professor Colin Gray who studied the rational-actor theories focusing on the US’s defeat in Vietnam and the proxy wars in the Middle East (Kari, 2019). The second generation examined the relationships between strategic culture and behaviour, while the third generation dwelled on constructivism. This can explain why the theory has persisted for all those decades.
Besides the three generations of scholars described above, there are three waves of studies on strategic culture: World War II, the Cold War, and the post-Cold War. An important point to emphasize here is that these three waves of studies focused on military behaviours in the conflicts (Rosa, 2016). The first wave of studies emerged during the Second World War to link the concepts of culture and national character. The Axis powers comprising Germany and Japan were the epicentre of these studies where the scholars hoped to understand their combat manners. A perfect example of such studies is Ruth Benedict’s 2005 publication titled The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture that examined the nature of the enemy (in this case, Japan) (Rosa, 2016). The research work by Benedict sought to present an understanding of how Japan conducted the war and to justify that the war was a cultural problem as opposed to a military problem.
The second and third waves of the studies on strategic culture have focused on the dynamics of the relationships between East and West. During the Cold War, it was Russia against the United States and European allies in what can be described as a race to global supremacy. In other words, the two countries and their allies raced against the opponents to spread their ideologies and spheres of influence to make them superpowers. Expanded military budgets and excessed, nuclear arms and nuclear arms agreements, and involvement in the internal affairs of Western countries are examples of activities that depicted Russia’s strategic culture during the Cold War (Kanet, 2018). As will be explained in the following section, Russia is among those countries that have been studied extensively using the theory of strategic culture. In the post-Cold War era, however, the focus may have broadened to cover emerging global powers, especially in Asia, and their increasing role in global security.
With the description of the term strategic culture from a historical perspective, it is important to identify a general description that will be used in the context of this essay. The definition offered by Doeser (2018) suits the purpose of the discussion regarding cyber conflict where the relations and behaviours sometimes shift from states and governments to individuals. Doeser’s (2018) definition, it is important to clarify, is obtained by summarizing the ideas of the third generation of scholars such as Colins Gray. From their perspective, strategic culture is seen as “an interpretive prism through which decision-makers view the strategic landscape” (Doeser, 2018 p. 456). Additionally, strategic culture is seen as the ideational context that surrounds the decision-makers of a country at a particular time and that shapes the actions of that country concerning participation in military operations. From this definition, the manifestation of strategic culture can be observed through the inter-state confrontations, specifically, the actions and responses involving the military.
To effectively examine the strategic cultures in cyber conflicts, it is important to understand the state of relationships across the world and to highlight the traditional depictions of these cultures. In other words, it can be argued that conflicts in the cyberspace are a spill-overs from the physical disputes that existed before the modern technological advances. An example is the relations between Russia and the United States and other European powers where strained relations during the Cold War are manifesting in cybercrimes. Several case studies of strategic cultures have been provided by Slater (2020b), each of which serves to explain a country’s strategic culture from a historical perspective. The strategic culture of China, for example, is defined by its long history that spans almost four millennia. Their history involved foreign invasions and multiple cultural influences such as legalism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism (Yung, 2018). The military actions of China throughout this history also explain the country’s culture. However, examining the strategic culture of a country with such a huge and diverse historical background poses challenges in narrowing down multiple cultural factors to just a few common ones.
The case of China is depicted here as among the most complicated of national culture. Besides the cultural diversity described by Yung (2018), the country also has great experiences with communism. The communist ideology is considered to have radically different from previous experiences of the Chinese civilization. Therefore, it can be argued that the military strategies and thinking witnessed during the Chinese Civil wars of 1927 to 1937 and 1945 to 1949 are the new foundation of China’s strategic culture. Other conflicts such as the Anti-Japanese wars of 1937 to 1945, and the Cold War also had the communist influence in them. They further support the idea that the modern strategic culture of China is based on communism. The modern Chinese developments and emergence as a global power have taken place at a time when imperialism and hostilities of colonialism were ruling. Observers, according to Yung (2018) argue that if the strategic culture before communism was realist, then it certainly became hyperrealist in the post-communist era.
Another major country that features predominantly in international politics is Russia. Studies on strategic culture have tried to examine the political conflicts, interactions, and conflicts between Russia and the United States and Europe. The strategic culture of Russia can be examined both from a historical perspective and from the current state actions. The example of the Cold War studies as a second wave of scholarly work on strategic culture shows how Russia is keen on pursuing supremacy even if it means meddling with the internal affairs of other countries. Such activities persist even today as evidenced by Russia’s military and intelligence activities. According to Kanet (2018), the Russian president announced in 2018 that the country has new and superior nuclear weapons. A few days later, the British Government led by Prime Minister May expelled about 23 diplomats from Russia in response to claims that Russia attempted to assassinate a former Russian spy on British territory.
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The action was soon followed by the United States government charging Russia with a series of cyber-attacks targeted at European and American nuclear power plants, electric, and water systems. The United States claimed that Russia could shut or sabotage the power plants ant will. Lastly, Russia was accused of interfering with the 2016 presidential elections in the United States. The incident has resulted in the political news in the country being dominated by the claims of Russia’s influence on the internal affairs of the US government. An important point to note is that these modern actions of the Russian government have taken place at a time when the Western powers have placed economic sanctions on Russia for its occupation in Crimea and its role in the civil war taking place in Eastern Ukraine (Kanet, 2018). While these activities do not define Russia’s strategic culture, they serve as examples of how the Russian national culture guides its actions in the global political arena.
Other countries have strategic cultures that are less controversial and based on certain solid national beliefs and norms. In other countries, the strategic cultures have been shaped by historical events. After World War II, for example, the strategic culture in Germany changed to one that embraces civilian power. The same event led to a change in France’s strategic culture to one that favours military resources as a means to defend the national interests (Doeser, 2018). Other countries experienced World War II differently and their attitudes towards other nations changed as seen in the preferences towards cooperation with NATO and the United States. For example, Denmark and Norway became oriented towards the USA and NATO while Finland and Sweden prefer military non-alignment. With these examples, each nation’s strategic cultures are reflected in its attitudes and behaviour towards another. As will be discussed in a later section, the same dynamics are visible in the cyberspace and present the primary in which the strategic cultures are manifested in cyber conflict.
Overview of Cyber Conflict
The concept of cyber conflict in international relations can be described as the conduct of political confrontations on the digital platform. To better understand cyber conflict, it is important to debunk various themes, constructs, and frameworks involving cyberspace. Cyber technology offers new and affordable tools which actors can use to pursue their interests. The key aspects of cyber technology are systems architecture, malware, military commands, networking, and cyber defence among others. In national security, the concept of cyber power has been developed to describe the use of cyber technology to pursue a political end. In other words, cyber power entails the decisions and actions of a state to leverage the means to mould and/or operate in a man-made cyber substrate (Tabansky, 2016). In the Western world, cybersecurity increasingly becoming a critical matter of national security, especially when countries enter the race to become more powerful and influential in cyberspace and digital politics. Most importantly, the vulnerabilities of the cyber infrastructure raise the stakes for all actors.
Cyber conflicts, it can be argued, arise out of cybersecurity concerns and infringements. The internet is a platform often governed by freedoms and happiness with the users emphasizing on the openness, sharing, and connection. The computer scientists who first built it, according to Kukkola et al. (2017), envisioned it that way. However, the cyberspace has become a platform full of vulnerabilities and where malicious activity can hurt both individuals and entities. Cybersecurity is part of the broader domain of security and the policymakers and analysts need to gain an understanding of these vulnerabilities to make vital operational, tactical, and strategic decisions (Mittal et al., 2018). The internet and social media are interactive meaning that people can exchange personal and private information. Corporations that use these technologies also engage in similar activities, whether in interactions with other organizations or with their employees and customers. The confidential nature of such information and the need to protect confidentiality is an example of cybersecurity concern.
The emergence of cyber threats meant that the governments and policymakers became key actors in the cyberspace. Today, cybersecurity is a matter of public health and national security. The digital advances have led to several transformations in the social and economic context that pose a serious danger if left unchecked. With e-commerce, for example, a proliferation of illicit products, including essential ones such as pharmaceuticals, threaten the wellbeing of the consumer (Mackey & Nayyar, 2016). In the healthcare industry, the dangers extend to the loss and/or leakage of patent data. Other concerns such as leakage of personal data and identity theft are extremely sensitive issues. Additionally, with businesses and other bodies increasingly depending on digital platforms to operate, other malicious activities such as denial of service (DOS) attacks and malware require huge investments in cybersecurity efforts. The digital tools have become critical infrastructure and their disruption could cause massive damages or even financial losses. With this background to cybersecurity, it can be seen that even international politics respond the same way to the threats in cyberspace.
In the context of international relations, the topic of cybersecurity translates into cyber conflict where nations find issues with each other regarding the use and infringement of a country’s cyberinfrastructure. Such an argument is presented by Craig and Valeriano (2018) who argue that the rise of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has made cybersecurity a major concern for policymakers. Additionally, cybersecurity has become an area of great interest to the researchers of international relations. As mentioned earlier on, the cyber threats are associated with dangers such as financial losses to business through cybercrimes. As for the government, the greatest threats are in the form of loss of or theft of classified government data. Equally critical is the targeting of a country’s critical infrastructure which makes cybersecurity a challenge for both the economy and security of a state. The idea here is that cyber conflict entails handling international cybersecurity threats. This is because only enemies of a country would be interested in classified data or sabotaging a nation’s critical infrastructure. Countries in conflict, therefore, will find themselves engaging each other in the cyberspace.
The implications of cybersecurity on international relations include the fact that cyberspace has emerged as the fifth domain of warfare alongside sea, land, air, and space. According to Craig and Valeriano (2018), an understanding of the traditional conflicts can illuminate the nature of the cyber conflict which is still a relatively new form of conflict. The same approach will be used in the examination of strategic cultures and their manifestation in cyber conflicts where an argument is made that the actions of states are the result of their strategic cultures. Focusing on the topic of disputes, the cyberspace represents a platform for warring nations to continue with their battles, even though remotely. one of the key characteristics of a warfare domain is the presence of the military. Therefore, cyber conflicts have massively revolutionized military affairs and transformed how they engage with the enemy (Maness and Valeriano, 2015). The foreign policy relationships have, therefore, integrated the threats and other issues in cyberspace.
Current literature has established that cyber conflicts can be as dangerous as traditional conflicts. Scholars, therefore, have emphasized that policymakers should approach the matters with caution and that the governments should make significant investments in cybersecurity infrastructure. According to Maness and Valeriano (2015), for example, the former US President Obama insisted that “cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation” (p. 2). The president also expressed concerns that the next Pearl Harbour attack on the country will be a cyber-attack. Additionally, Maness and Valeriano (2015) recall arguments by some researchers that cyber conflicts have the potential to alter the world’s military balance hence fundamentally changing the economic and political relations across the planet. To reiterate, the cyberspace is seen as having presented the countries with a different platform on which to extend their traditional disputes and to establish new rivalries in the pursuit of cyber power.
In any conflict situation, the armed forces tend to build their capacities to surpass those of the enemy to guarantee victory. In cyber conflict, the armed forces have been known to build cyber capabilities, efforts that can be traced back to the 1990s. However, the attainment of full-fledged cyber command took place a few decades later. For example, the United States achieved the initial operational capability of US Cyber Command in 2010 and full operational capability in 2018. The efforts to build such infrastructure have seen the media hype about a cyber arms race. Today, at least eight NATO allies have developed stand-alone cyber commands or related services within their armed forces. Examples include France, Estonia, United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands (Pernik, 2018). The United States has not been left out as the country has offered to contribute cyberspace forces to NATO operations and missions. Such efforts, it can be argued, do not differ from the period preceding the world wars where countries embarked on an arms race in search of superiority.
Lastly, it is important to highlight that just like in armed conflicts, cyber conflicts have resulted in nations trying to resolve issues diplomatically through various agreements. During the Cold War’s arms race, the governments tried to reach agreements that would see them halt the production of new nuclear weapons and even destroy the current stocks of nuclear weapons. Similar approaches are observed when the concerns that the cyber conflict has gone too far and calls for demilitarisation of cyber conflict emerge. According to Boeke and Broeders (2018), there are speculations that cyber war has gone beyond the initial poles of dismissal and doomsday. Additionally, there are worries that a digital Pearl Harbour or ‘cybergeddon’ is looming. In that case, demilitarisation is considered the best solution to prevent devastation, especially if deterrence is considered impossible in cyberspace. The major actors in cyber conflict are the military who dominate the roles of foreign intelligence and security agencies.
Additionally, the military uses proxies such as non-state actors or private contractors meaning that cyber conflict tends to take place largely outside the parameters of international humanitarian law. In such cases, the actions of the proxies render them potentially illegal and deniable (Boeke and Broeders, 2018). Examining the state behaviour in cyber conflict, therefore, becomes harder unless there is enough evidence linking these proxies and the particular states that hire them. In the section that follows, the data available on various publications regarding the behaviour of states in the cyber conflict will be used to examine the manifestation of strategic cultures. Deniability has been a key part of conflicts and, where it is possible to link state actors to actions of certain groups then it will be inferred that such behaviours are a reflection of the state’s strategic culture.
Manifestation of Strategic Cultures in Cyber Conflict
The background to the concepts of strategic culture and cyber conflict have laid the foundation on which to examine the manifestation of strategic cultures in cyber conflict. With the definitions provided, it is argued here that the actions of state actors in the cyberspace are a reflection of their strategic culture. With such an argument, however, it would be important to first understand a country’s strategic culture and then examine how that culture influences their behaviours in cyber conflict. Where information is not available regarding a strategic culture, then the reverse argument is that the actions of nations in cyber conflict define their strategic cultures. As mentioned earlier on, the strategic cultures of countries such as China have been defined or shaped by historic events such as the civil wars and Anti-Japan war among others (Yung, 2018). If the behaviours are used to define their strategic cultures during these occasions, then the same can be done with cyber conflict. To better understand the manifestation of strategic culture in cyber conflict, specific examples from various countries will be used.
It has been previously mentioned that the cyberspace has only presented countries with a new platform on which to continue with their disputes and aggression towards other countries. It has also been explained that understanding the traditional conflicts will also help examine the cyber conflict (Craig and Valeriano, 2018). In this case, therefore, an ideal place to start examining the manifestation of strategic cultures in cyber conflict is the oldest rivalries. Russia and its relations with the West emerge as the best case study not only because of the traditional rivalries but also because there is a massive pool of information explaining Russia’s strategic cyber culture. During and post-Cold War, Russia has always sought to emerge as the most powerful nation in the world and its government has tried all measures, including interfering with the domestic affairs of other countries. The question herein is whether Russia still does the same in the cyber conflict. Aggression and competitiveness can be used herein as the two major indicators of Russia’s strategic culture.
Cybersecurity concerns between Russia and the West are as common as any other security issues such as nuclear weapons. Russia is taking advantage of the fact that cyberspace is becoming more fragmented; for example, it is becoming divided across various languages. Evidence of this include the fact that Russia has approved a new information security doctrine intended to install a national system for handling Russian Internet. RuNet 2020, the proposed Russian internet, will be safe, closed, and fully controlled by the government (Ristolainen, 2017). As a formerly communist state, the Russian government is used to operating by asserting control of all affair, internal and external. Unlike the democratic West, Russia does not necessarily subscribe to the idea of human freedoms and privacy. In cyber conflict, the concerns are that a closed internet inaccessible to the outside world is a strategy to hide Russia’s covert actions against rival states. It is argued here that the government acknowledges that by hiding internal affairs of the country; the regime can carry on with its aggressive foreign policy without facing much criticism from the West.
It can also be argued that the strained relations with the West make Russia wary of external attacks, in which case RuNet 2020 is a strategy to disconnect Russia’s cyberspace from the rest of the world to avoid such attacks. According to Nikkarila and Ristolainen (2017), the development of RuNet 2020 could be a means of deploying the traditional combat power elements in cyberspace. RuNet 2020 allows the country to facilitate operational competences separate from common internet. Argument by scholars such as Nikkarila and Ristolainen (2017) include that such a move is intended to increase the relative firepower and improve the relative manoeuvrability of Russia. Within the context of strategic culture, Russia’s military activities in the cyberspace reflect what has been referred to by authors such as Ristolainen (2017) as the ‘Russian thinking.’ This concept of Russian thinking is simply the strategic culture of Russia. In other words, the Russian armed forces and the political offices pursue Russian ideologies in the cyberspace. The militarisation of cyberspace by Russia is seen as a continuation of the arms race with the West where the Russian Federation is emerging superior.
Examining the strategic culture of Russia reveals that the country has historically sought to be a superpower. The pursuit of cyber power is seen as an effort to make Russia an independent cyber superpower (Kukkola, 2019). In strategic culture, the military actions have included creating capabilities that surpass those of the rivals. Russia, through the so-called ‘digital sovereignty,’ intends to create symmetric advantages in the cyberspace. In other words, the structural cyber asymmetry is seen as both an offensive and defensive resource of Russia’s national cyber power.
Besides RuNet 2020, Russia’s actions on the cyberspace have been similar to the country’s traditional offensive tactics against other states. As explained earlier, Russia has been charged with actions such as cyber-attacks targeted at European and American nuclear power plants, electric, and water systems. Russia was also accused of interfering with the 2016 presidential elections in the United States through hacking and other cyber activities (Kanet, 2018). Other activities reflecting Russia’s military behaviour as explained by strategic culture include a pro-Russian group called ‘Cyberberkut’ that was responsible for multiple attacks against the Ukrainian government. The same group also attacked the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and various missions undertaken by the United Nations (UN) (Dean, 2017). Further interventions in a foreign country’s elections by the Russian government include Montenegro where the intention was to change the pro-Western course pursued by Montenegro.
With these examples, Russia has militarised cyberspace and uses it as a weapon to attack its enemies in the name of Russia’s interest. Such interests have included preserving its spheres of influence against the Western encroachment. The concept of the spheres of influence has been described by Al-Rodhan (2015) who argues that countries have a cultural tendency towards preserving their spheres of influence. The interference in the governments of formerly Soviet countries is considered here as Russia’s way of achieving these objectives, whether through the cyberspace or other traditional combat tactics.
The theory of cyber power as explained by Tabansky (2016) best explains Russia’s aggressions from a strategic culture perspective. The author argues that power can be both a tool and a goal in both peace and war. Russia’s strategic culture is depicted as one where the country is continually seeking to achieve power over Western rivals. During and after the Cold War, the two contestants for global power were the USSR and the US with the US emerging the more powerful. That victory, it is argued here, did not stop Russia from persisting in the quest for power. Therefore, RuNet 2020 and interference in internal affairs of the United States and its allies can be interpreted as the search for power. In this case, cyber power is a goal which Russia hopes to achieve. While dealing with lesser powerful nations, however, the cyber power can no longer be perceived as a goal. Rather, the country understands it already has power over the nations and thus the power can be used to achieve certain national interests. Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Montenegro are examples of cyber power being used as a tool.
Additionally, cyber power is also used as a tool with which to disrupt the internal processes of the more powerful rivals. The interference in the US elections and the UN and OSCE missions is a perfect example. In that case, Russia intends to use its cyber power to sabotage or shut down the US’s critical infrastructure such as water and nuclear power plants (Kanet, 2018). Such actions can be seen as efforts to make sure that Russia does not lose another war with the United States. In short, Russia’s strategic culture has dictated its actions in the cyber conflict. The country attacks others in the cyberspace the same way it has historically attacked them using combat tactics. The cyberspace is, therefore, just another platform to persist its strategic culture.
While Russia has been the focus of many studies examining strategic cyberculture, other country’s behave in ways that can also be best explained from a strategic culture perspective. The theory of cyber power developed by Tabansky (2016) was indeed intended to explain Israel’s activities in the cyberspace. Israel’s strategic culture has been shaped by the historical events experienced by the Jews. Currently, it can be argued that the primary national interest of the Israeli state is defending its territory from aggressive opponents from the Middle East. Israel is constantly at war with Palestine and other neighbours majorly because of land and resources, in addition to Israel’s occupation on land claimed by her neighbours. The Zionist political ideology, according to Tabansky (2016) is keen on establishing a lasting Jewish democratic state on the land currently occupied by Israel. With the volatile geopolitical environment, Israel’s aggressiveness in defending its borders is a manifestation of their strategic culture.
The same culture has manifested itself in Israel’s military and political actions in the cyberspace. The strategic culture is responsible for Israel’s tendencies towards seeking qualitative superiority, emphasis on early warning intelligence, and alliances with a global superpower (Tabansky, 2016). In this case, the global superpower with which Israel aligns with is the United States who have constantly supported Israel’s military actions. Seeking superior cyber power is a way for Israel to expand its scope of superiority over her rivals in the Middle East. Israel’s cyber wars with countries such as Iran and Hezbollah are perfect examples of how Israel seeks to achieve superiority on the battleground, with cyberspace being the new warfare domain. To mount the perfect defence, Israel needs to make sure vulnerabilities in all domains are eliminated in addition to developing capabilities for offensive actions and responses. It is important to acknowledge that Israel’s strategic culture is largely defensive with many of the attacks, even in the cyberspace, initiated by rivals such as Iran (Baram and Lim, 2020). The quest for cyber power for Israel, in contrast to Russia described above, is to attain defensive solidity.
To illustrate how Israel’s cyber conflict is characterized by the state’s strategic culture, the initiatives and targets set by the government can be examined. Israel’s national cyber initiative launched in 2010 was evidence that cybersecurity was at the top of the country’s policy agenda. The initiative was intended to sustain the country’s position in the world as the centre of IT development and to offer Israel superpower capabilities in cyberspace to assure its national and financial resilience. The main ideas behind the initiatives include incentivising and developing cyber technology to place Israel as a top 5 world leader by 2015 and determining which infrastructures needed to develop cyber technology (Tabansky, 2020). Most importantly, the fact that Israel’s cybersecurity initiatives are approached using the same strategies used by the military; that is, deterrence, early warning, and decisive operational victory, is evidence of strategic culture practised in cyberspace (Baram, 2017). In cybers conflict, Israel still believes and upholds the maxims of ‘an army of the people’ involving draftees on the compulsory military reserves and service. With the country’s enemies taking the fight to the digital platforms, deterrence and early warnings are necessary.
Emerging world powers like China have depended on the strategy of deterrence to allow them to pursue economic and military expansion while at the same time keeping enemies away. As seen in the case of Israel, deterrence is particularly important because it eliminates the need for actual combat. In other words, if a country can demonstrate that it has the capability and will to execute a successful attack on another, then the rival will be dissuaded from attacking. Cyber deterrence is the concept used to describe China’s actions in cyberspace. With a communist historical background, it can be expected that the Chinese thinking on matters of cybersecurity will differ from those of the Western powers same as the Russian thinking is. In cyberspace, the Chinese strategic culture is summarized by four components. These are 1) continuing the regime of the Chinese Communist Party, 2) securing China’s status as a global power, 3) sustaining economic growth, and 4) sustaining the ability to defend the national integrity and sovereignty (Gjesvik, 2018). Even in other tactical combat areas, the same interests are reflected by the Chinese military activities.
The Chinese strategic culture is manifested by the regime’s efforts to implement deterrence mechanisms that contradict those of the Western countries. In many cases, such actions are the source of conflict themselves as opposed to being a mechanism to avoid cyber conflicts. The use of the internet in China is more regulated than it is in the USA and Europe with the government monitoring much of the online activity of both its nationals and foreigners. Issues of privacy emerge and become a key conflicting area between China and other countries that believe in digital freedom and the right to privacy. Gjesvik (2018) believes that explaining the Chinese strategic culture in cyber deterrence can be achieved by explaining what it is not. The primary objective in the creation of the internet is to allow freedoms and low levels of regulation. Additionally, the internet was intended to allow the private sector to run the vast majority of the infrastructures as they see fit.
The Chinese activities in the cyberspace act in contradiction to these principles. This is because the government runs most of the infrastructure and dictates what the private sector does with the infrastructure it controls. Gjesvik (2018) reveals that the Chinese strategic objectives put a greater emphasis on control and stability as compared to the West. China seeks to eliminate the threats through this control. In international cyber conflicts, especially between China and the United States, an arms race has emerged with China realizing that it cannot effectively defend itself without matching the capabilities of the opponent. The deterrence strategies deployed by the country are similar to those used by other military operations. In other words, China’s cyber warfare is characterized by both offensive and defensive cyber capabilities. A policy analysis by Jinghua (2019) indicated that in 2015 China’s defence ministry had integrated cyber warfare into the Chinese military strategy. It can be concluded, therefore, that China’s strategic culture is guiding its behaviours in the cyber conflict.
Besides the cases of Russia, Israel, and China, other countries, especially Western powers, are harder to examine because they have not been involved in many conflict incidences that expose their military actions. The same cannot be said, however, of the United States because the superpower has often engaged other global powers in confrontations. The China-US relations have recently deteriorated and brought to the surface what appears to be a cold war or an arms race with China. In media, the news of cyber warfare between China and the US have dominated the major new headlines and policy commentaries with some people labelling the conflict ‘Cold War 2.0’ (Valori, 2020). While Russia has been labelled as having a cultural tendency towards seeking superiority, the United States can similarly be described as having similar tendencies, only that its efforts are intended to sustain their superiority attained during the world wars and the Cold War.
The US strategic culture has entailed a suppression of other countries to eliminate the threat of being replaced as the superpower. Covert practices between Russia and the US are visible in the US’s efforts to silence China. For example, China has accused the CIA of hacking multiple Chinese companies in the past decade. The targeted companies include aviation firms, large global commercial internet networks, Chinese government agencies, and research institutions (Valori, 2020). The United States has, therefore, displayed a cultural tendency to keep tabs on potential rivals by studying their capabilities and updating its capabilities in response. Such an approach has been deployed for decades by the United States as explained by Rosa (2016) using Benedict’s 2005 publication. Studying rivals means understanding their culture and explaining their behaviours as cultural rather than military. The example given by Rosa (2016) involved Japan and its conflict with the US. However, it can be argued herein that the same is applied to China.
The hacking activities are an indication that the two countries are engaging in a cyber conflict. To justify that the CIA and other spying agencies seek to study the opponents, the question that was posed in the publication by Jinghua (2019) was what the Chinese cyber capabilities and intentions are. The keyword here is ‘intentions’ meaning that the United States needs to understand how China intends to use its cyber capabilities. As such, developing capabilities is not perceived as a threat unless they are intended to jeopardize the national security and interests of the United States.
As examined in this section, several themes emerge to describe how strategic culture manifests in cyber conflict. The concept of cyber power described by Tabansky (2016) helps support the argument that countries are keen to defend their national interests even in the cyberspace. The best way to achieve this objective is to create stronger and more powerful cyber technologies and infrastructure. The case of cyberwar between Israel and opponents such as Iran and Hezbollah are used as examples. The three triangle strategy of Israel’s cyber approach of deterrence, early warning, and decisive operational victory summarize Israel’s strategic culture in the Middle East Conflicts. The same theme explains Russia’s strategic culture, only that Russia’s main objectives include making it superpowers as opposed to defending their interests. The second theme is deterrence where cyber capabilities are used by countries such as China to keep the enemies away. Lastly, covert activities are shown to be the major strategic culture of the United State where the government hopes to gather as much knowledge of the rivals as possible and to understand their intentions. In cyber conflict, hacking is the major way in which the countries engage with each other.
This essay has presented a discussion of how strategic culture is manifested in cyber conflict. As such, a brief description of the theory of strategic culture and the concept of cyber conflict has been presented in this description used as the foundation for the determining how nations behave in the cyberspace. Strategic culture, as used in this essay, described how decision-makers in matters of national security view the strategic landscape. Strategic culture is also viewed as the ideational context that surrounds the decision-makers of a state at a particular time and that shapes the initiatives of that country regarding military operations. From this perspective, the essay has explained the manifestation of strategic culture through the inter-state confrontations, specifically, the actions and responses involving the military. In other words, the strategic cultures both define the activities pursued by the state actors.
The concept of cyber conflict has been described from the perspective of cybersecurity issues handled at the international political environment. The advances in technology have been seen to create new platforms on which people network and interact, as well as share information. The initial concerns with such platforms have been privacy and freedom of individuals. The increasing use of digital tools by corporations and governments raises the security concerns to the national and international level where government actors become increasingly involved in cybersecurity policies. The manifestation of strategic culture in this new warfare domain has been described using several countries. Russia, China, Israel, and the United States have been shown to continue their international relations in the cyberspace and actions reflecting their specific strategic cultures. In Israel, for example, the need to defend against the aggressive Middle East rivals has seen the military strategy move towards cyberwar. The relations between China and the US, as another example, have displayed Chinese deterrence efforts and the US’s covert strategies deployed in conflict. Lastly, cyber power is pursued both as a goal and a tool for meeting certain national interests.
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