There is great debate on the possibility, existence, inevitability and reality of Cyber War.  Some say we are in the midst of one everyday. Others say that this is just technologically enabled espionage, nowhere near a “war.”

The stand up of U.S. Cyber Command and the confirmation of its new commander, Gen. Keith Alexander, is read by many people in many ways. It is either the panacea through which America’s networks will be protected (Just military networks? All government networks? Everything?) or a harbinger of the cyber conflagration its very existence will provoke.  Frankly, many countries see the United States as the biggest cyber threat because we do OPENLY have a cyber command.

Those that think this is all a tempest in a teapot were dealt a blow recently when it was revealed that a special NATO Commission led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is warning that the next aggression against a NATO member country will probably come via the cyber realm. Further, the commission believes that in such a scenario, NATO can invoke Article 5 (collective defense), without any modifications to existing treaties.

This is a victory for one of NATO’s newest members, Estonia. That small country was hit by a cyber attack in 2007 and called for help under Article 5. NATO could not come to agreement at that time. Since then, NATO opened a Cyber Defense Center in Estonia, and the Estonians have led the calls for NATO to define a policy on cyber. The Albright Commission is the result of their efforts, along with the growing concern that cyber will be used in war because of the economy of it and the anonymity/deniability of such a method.

The NATO position will also put pressure on the Obama Administration to more definitively lay out the U.S. position on cyber offense, defense and the large, grey area between them.

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More