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Cyber Deterrence: The Wrong Question for the Wrong Problem

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Technical Report

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Joint Forces Staff College / NDU NORFOLK United States

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The United States has struggled with a comprehensive approach to theory, policy, and strategy in the cyber domain for more than twenty years. This has led to general misunderstanding of some of the nuances of the domain, leaving a theory of deterrence that incorporates activities in cyberspace elusive. Unfortunately, the adversaries and competitors of the United States, the so-called 41, appear to be ahead on grasping the intricacies of the domain and the implications for its use in modem warfare. Russia, in particular, has already fought the first armed conflict that incorporated an effective cyber-attack aspect during the 2008 invasion of Georgia. While a number of scholars and thinkers continue to seek a theory of specific deterrence in the cyber domain, this is the wrong way to approach the problem and the wrong idea upon which to expend time, effort, and resources. A comprehensive theory of deterrence that incorporates the cyber domain is needed, rather than a specific theory of deterrence in cyberspace, disconnected from the other domains. A unified theory of deterrence that includes cyber aspects should be agnostic of domain when it comes to the traditional deterrence modes of denial or punishment.

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