Will cyber war happen? Conceptualisint cyber warfare as acts of war

McKenna, Conor (2022). Will cyber war happen? Conceptualisint cyber warfare as acts of war. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

Text - Accepted Version
Available under License All rights reserved.

Download (1MB) | Preview


Cyber attacks are becoming increasingly common as a tool for conducting foreign and security policy. Despite cases of real damage inflicted on states by such attacks, however, a cyber-only attack has never triggered a conventional military response. This may lead observers to assume that a robust norm exists to the effect that a cyber-only attack cannot clear the threshold to qualify as an act of war rendering conventional military response legitimate. This thesis seeks to question the robustness of any such assumption. It proposes a framework for understanding inter-state actions that highlights the scope for divergent state interpretations regarding the parameters of legitimate response to a cyber-attack, and consequent risk of inadvertent provocation of conventional response. Using two historical cases as illustrative examples, the thesis examines the expectations of states in deploying cyber attacks, especially that of contained risk, as well as how the attack was interpreted by the state that has been acted upon. It then discusses the range of potential modes of response open to the victim government in the aftermath of the attack's discovery. In critically assessing these, the thesis judges that the factors inhibiting the response were contingent and primarily prudential. In alternate circumstances, it is quite conceivable that a state might consider conventional military action as falling within the scope of its legitimate response to a cyber attack, if the attack were of sufficient severity, and prudential calculations permitted. We should be cognisant that the threshold for judging an 'act of war' to have been committed is a construction based upon states' respective, and potentially divergent, interpretations of actions taken by and against them. As such, prevalent understandings regarding the thresholds for war and the parameters of legitimate response may be subject to change in light of advancing technology and the resulting scope for forms of aggression without precedent.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: School of Government and Society, Department of Political Science and International Studies
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/12297


Request a Correction Request a Correction
View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year