From: Breaking Defense


CAPITOL HILL: On the day that China’s president took personal charge of his country’s new cyber body, pledging to make the People’s Republic of China a “cyber power,” the outgoing head of America’s Cyber Command laid out a clear red line that, if crossed, could lead to war.

“If it destroys government or other networks, I think it would cross that line,” Army Gen. Keith Alexander, head of both Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee today when asked what level of cyber “attack” would potentially cause America to go to war.

The question of what might spark a war in the event of cyber intrusions is extremely sensitive. For most of the last 15 years the United States denied it even possessed offensive cyber capabilities to respond to an attack, although we have had them for at least most of the last decade. Drawing red lines is always a highly sensitive exercise for the military. On the one hand, deterrence requires that potential enemies know we will not tolerate certain behaviors and have a reasonably clear idea of what will happen to them should they cross those lines. On the other hand, strategic ambiguity is often extremely useful in that it increases the uncertainties a potential enemy faces and must consider before acting. Alexander’s comment eliminates some of that ambiguity and appears to be a sign of just how important he and other military leaders believe the threat is and how important imparting a clear message is to those we would deter.

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