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American Doctrine in Cyber Space

Two of my favorite characters from the Muppets are called Waldorf and Statler. Named after two New York City hotels, they sat in the balcony during the show and grumbled in their crusty, old states about the silly goings on below them. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Statler, and what the United States government is doing in cyber space is ridiculous.

One of the defining principles of policy is doctrine. And by doctrine, I mean the definition of what we are doing in a given area and why. Foreign policy expert George Kennan encapsulated the doctrine of the Cold War for America in the late 1940s – it was “Containment.” In this case, it meant that United States resources would be placed against its enemy the Soviet Union in a way to stop them from gaining further ground in the world. It also implied that we would engage in an effort to “roll” them back and eventually isolate and overwhelm them. It took fifty years, and a lot of fits and starts, but the doctrine finally worked.

The doctrine of the Cold War was a comprehensive one. Based on the premise of containment, we grounded our national security strategy. From that, we arranged our policies for use and development of the military, use of foreign policy, use of intelligence support and even our law enforcement support. It was an all-encompassing policy with all the fits and starts of strategies and tactics that can and have filled volumes of historical texts.

What we lack right now in cyber space is a doctrine from which comprehensive and sensible tactics and strategies can flow. Let me suggest that the doctrine we need to guide American policy is Internet Power. Internet Power is defined as maintaining the peaceful and positive use of cyber space.

I make no apologies for stealing from the founder of Sea Power, Alfred Thayer Mahan. He lived in a time when sea power became the dominant new domain for nation states to exercise their interests around the world. His work influenced our subsequent doctrines of air power and space power. The power of the United States is to exert influence directly through its military, diplomatic and industrial power. That basic fact simply has not changed.

Internet Power is the logical extension of our doctrine that has contributed to American dominance for the past 100 years. Some will argue that cyber space is different. Non-nation state players dominate – true…for now. But, nation states like us will continue to be the primary force in the world for the foreseeable future, like it or not. And we remain the biggest and most powerful of the lot.

As for the United States, we have yet to exercise anywhere near our full power in cyber space. In part, we have been caught off guard. This dimension of power has developed extraordinarily fast, and it is unique in terms of the depth of private sector and individual involvement. So we have been left scrambling to plug the perceived leaks and change old laws in a willy-nilly fashion.

In the final analysis, Internet Power means the United States steps forward and sets the rules of the game both internationally and domestically. We join with other nations to set out standards of behavior we find acceptable. We direct the private sector to enact sufficient security measures to deal with miscreants and protect themselves. We empower our military to protect itself and engage in kinetic action against an enemy that violates our peace.

We will sometimes have problems with tactics and strategies – that is the nature of political action. But, it up to us to assert our Internet Power for the good of America and for the good of the world.

Ronald Marks blogs on national security, domestic intelligence and national intelligence issues. Read More