What War Games Tell Us About the Use of Cyber Weapons in a Crisis

Last week, Jason Healey argued that “there is now a well-documented instance of cyber deterrence,” pointing to a report of conversations within the Obama administration. Some White House officials argued against a cyberattack, citing asymmetric vulnerabilities in tit for tat engagements within the cyber domain. Healey highlights a powerful example of cyber restraint within the Obama administration, but is it deterrence? The United States has also exercised restraint in the nuclear domain, but it is unclear even now whether that restraint is a result of adversary deterrence efforts or a normative nuclear taboo. So what is driving the cyber restraint Healey identified?

In order to understand the motivations behind cyber behaviors, I performed a longitudinal analysis of strategic war games conducted at the Naval War College from 2011-2016. These free-play games, which feature 150-200 U.S. government experts and senior leader players, situate players within crisis scenarios and then allow them to play all instruments of national power to resolve the crisis. Over the years that I analyzed, these war games varied the adversary, the intensity of the crisis, and the players. ..Read More..

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