Cyber attack capabilities are making nuclear deterrence even trickier than it has been throughout the previous decades:
Cyber penetrations of critical infrastructure amount to what the military calls “Preparation of the battlespace.” Russian cyber implants in the United States and other NATO countries provide potential leverage in a crisis, and – if push comes to shove – the ability to impose significant pain through non-kinetic, non-lethal cyber attacks.
Russia undertook cyber attacks on Estonia more than a decade ago, and it employed cyber weapons in support of its invasion of Georgia in 2008.
Cyber weapons are not, of course, the sole preserve of Russia.
Would the United States or Russia respond with, say, missile strikes or a bombing campaign in response to some fried computers or dead robots in outer space? Given the doubt that they would, large-scale cyber and space attacks – before a kinetic conflict even starts – are likely to be seen as a low-risk, high-payoff move for both sides.
Attack the right satellites, or attack the right computers, and one side may disrupt the other’s ability to use nuclear weapons – or at least place doubt in the minds of its commanders.
As a result, a major cyber and space attack could put nuclear “Use-or-lose” in play early in a crisis.
The first one is understanding the interplay between advances in cyber and counter-space weapons and bilateral nuclear stability.