Can Cyber Deterrence be Pursued?


South Asian security structure is marred with hostility between two major powers of the region. Owning to this hostility both states are involved in constant arms build up to secure their own security vis-à-vis each other, which is resulting in to security dilemma. Addition of new technologies and struggle to achieve them in name of national security is turning every new sphere for development and cooperation in to war zone. One such example is cyber space.

Cyber space or information technology is the technological revolution of 21st century which facilitated the notions like globalization by making communication fast, easy and accessible. Today almost every state and it’s ever important institution have their virtual existence on the cyber space. Moreover, due to difficulty in managing manual data, states are also shifting its important data in to digital form. Thus, information technology has eased many difficulties but every coin has flipside, so does the information technology. But, if one must ponder on the reason behind the flipside, is it the technology itself to be blamed or intentions and ambitions which changes the course that how certain technology should be perceived. Unfortunately, one of the greatest technological revolutions of not only 21st century but of human history after becoming the victim of humans and states intentions cannot be credited as boon.

Though South Asia is a developing region and both nuclear powers in the region are engulfed in many socio-economic issues but unresolved disputes, mistrust and hegemonic ambitions are motivating both states for action-reaction due to prevailing security dilemma. Recently, India’s Chief of Army Staff has made statements twice on different occasions to use artificial intelligence, new technologies and in military affairs to be able to fight modern wars. India is also in final stages of setting-up its Defence Cyber Agency under the Integrated Defence Staff to deal with emerging, important and new threats in cyber space. It was also mentioned by Indian military authorities that the units of cyber agency will be spread across the country where there will be dedicated officers, units and cells at every headquarter to deal with the aspect of cyber security. From these past two years after announcing its Joint Armed Forces Doctrine of 2017 which guides India armed forces to use cyber space as medium to apply military power, vigorous attempts have been made to utilized cyber space for maximum military advantage.

Joint armed forces doctrine also says that these actions taken by India were made in an attempt to “gain the advantage over adversary and denying him the same” in cyber space. But, question arises here is that is it completely possible to gain advantage over the enemy in cyber space and denying him the same.  Cyber technology was developed in a way that it facilitates interconnectivity and open accessibility thus it is nearly impossible to denying the enemy chances of attacking one’s cyber space. Many scholars believed in the notions of cyber deterrence which is defined as an ability to contain threat of punishment if attacked and promise to withhold attack if threat is not of extreme situation. But, the question is should South Asia experience one more type of deterrence after nuclear one to avoid war? The answer to this question couldn’t simply be yes or no considering the complexity in the situation. Nuclear deterrence in South Asia is working or so far has worked between all the nuclear states because the adversaries are known, their technological developments are known. Thus, it is easy to deny enemy the option to attack due to fear of massive retaliation. In cyber space enemies can be non-state actor relying on spoofing to launch an attack on state actor. In such scenario retaliation could be highly difficult. Both India and Pakistan are already entwined in a complex security and threat matrix which cannot afford the retaliation of any cyber-attack because of the existing ambiguity in locating the source of attack. If technological advanced states like US-China can realize that there are certain boundaries in cyber sphere which should not be crossed in peace time and have reached the agreement, so does the India and Pakistan.

It would be very idealistic to say that cyber space should not be converted into war zone by South Asian rivals but at least both parties can reach to the certain understanding where cyber security issues must not ignite conventional or nuclear war.

Ahyousha Khan
Ahyousha Khan
Research Associate at Islamabad based think-tank Strategic Vision Institute


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