The fundamental tenets of an effec...
United States National Security Strategy: A Problem and a Solution
The fundamental tenets of an effective
national security strategy include “clear and realistic objectives, coordinated
use of the various instruments of national power, appropriately equipped and
trained military forces, well-orchestrated military campaigns and effective
Moreover, the basic military functions involve the effective development,
deployment and orchestration of military forces. These basic aspects of
national security have remained the same over history, and they will remain the
same for years to come.
However, a lot has changed that has seen changes in the elements that
constitute these requirements. For example, what constitutes ‘realistic’
objectives has changed, the use of military force has changed (especially with
the rise of terrorism, which utilizes a rather unconventional type of warfare),
among others. Case in point, Leonard and Katz
write a comprehensive article on the need for a national border security
strategy. In their discussion, the two cite the likeliness of the ISIS
penetrating the US’s “porous southern border”.
They also cite several references on illegal immigration and the risks that
they pose to US’s national security. However, these two focus more on physical
borders. Yet, the rise of cyberspace means that the term ‘border’ is no longer
a clearly definite character. Reinsalu notes: “one of the hallmarks of the
modern security environment is that it encompasses much more than traditional
‘hard’ security and defense, which put emphasis on military strength and
The cyberspace has become a defining aspect
of modern life. By its very nature, the fact that it links nearly- if not
entirely- everybody to a central point, cyberspace exposes all the linked to
risks of unauthorized invasion.
Examples include the US’s disruption of Iran’s nuclear plans
and North Korea’s attack on Sony.
Previously, the US’s security departments have also been attacked.
Indeed, the biggest threats facing US’s
national security plays out in the cyberspace. In fact, current reports show
that cyber-attacks are becoming an even bigger problem than terrorism.
Although terrorists may still utilize the cyber-attacks, another major terror
attack on US’s soil (like the 9/11) is more unlikely. In other words,
cyber-attacks are becoming an increasingly major threat to US’s national
security than terror.
In a nutshell, with the digitization of
all US documentation, the likely exposure of US’s security plans makes it
possible for unauthorized persons (both within and without the US) to counter
these strategies. In other words, cybersecurity becomes a central factor in
US’s national security strategies.
This paper is a review of the role of
cyberspace in US’s national security strategies, focusing on the problems, and
Cyberspace and US’s National Security Strategies: Problems and Solutions
With skill and perseverance, foreign
opponents have been able to penetrate US computer networks (which are
poorly-protected) and collect valuable and sensitive information. So far, USs
most sensitive military communications have remains safe. However, economic
competitors, as well as potential military opponents (such as North Korea) still
have relatively easy access to intellectual property of US’s leading companies,
military technology and government data.
Cyber-attack is a relatively novel threat
to US’s national security, as well as that of its allies. The immediate risk
has to do with the economy.
The business plans of most US companies
involve using cyberspace to interact with their customers, deliver services, and
manage supplychains. Moreover, intellectual property is now stored in digital
forms. This is increasingly true in this age of cloud technology. Drew
notes that more and more information is getting stored in what he calls ‘cloud
storage networks’. Confirming this observation, a survey by Elastica showed
that cloud storage is today very high, and that every employee today
storesabout 2,000 documents (on average) in the clouds. Moreover, these employees
also ‘broadly share’ with others about 185 documents (also on average) through
the cloud. But there are many risks associated with cloud technology. The Elastica
survey showed that 20 percent of the documents that employees ‘broadly share’
contain sensitive information. Yet, it is worth noting that 13 percent of these
stored and ‘broadly shared’ documents had no controls or limitations against
breach.Unfortunately, “weak cybersecurity dilutes our investment in innovation
while subsidizing the research and development efforts of foreign competitors”.Indeed,
in the new global competition, economic strength and technological leadership
are as key to national security as military force. Failures of the US to secure
its cyberspace puts it at a disadvantage.
For about three decades, the US has
struggled unsuccessfully to find counter a response to the threats in the ‘new’
world. One of the biggest reasons why the US has faced this challenge has to do
with the fact that the direction and pace of change in the international
environment far-exceeded expectations as well as the ability of the US to
predict new change directions. In other words, for a long time the US could not
easily discern the potential threats they would face, what would be the key
tools of influence and which new opponents would arise. As a result, for a long
time the US found itself in a sort-of trance, a strategic indecision that put
it at risk.
Thankfully, these elements have become
increasingly discernible over the last decade. This environment is highly
competitive. However, this competition does not take the traditional superpower-confrontation
form. Cooperation and completion, as well as conflict, to a certain level, have
become routine elements in the new international environments, which has also
influenced the US’s interactions with other nations. Also, in this ‘new’
environments, particularly in the cyberspace, fleets, armies and military
alliances have become- and are increasingly becoming- irrelevant, or at least
less important in nations’ pursuit or technological progress and economic
growth, creation of new ideas and products, and the protection of their
informational advantages. Gaining an upper hand in these respects is more
important than the accumulation of conventional forces.
The US’s national security strategy,
even years into the new millennium and after the 9/11 attacks, remains largely
shaped by the past, and wedded to old threats alliances and strategies. For
example, in designing a cybersecurity framework in 1998, a presidential
commission under-interpreted the problem. The commission expected that the
cyber-attack related damages would be physical (such as the crashing of
airplanes and opening of floodgates) and ignored the informational aspect,
which has ultimately become the central problem.
Coming to power, one of the top
national security priorities for the Obama administration was to enact a
cybersecurity bill. However, in 2012, the bill was blocked by a Republican filibuster.
This divided the house further, with many proponents arguing that the move had
stalled a key national security matter and for which the country was least
prepared. But it is worth noting that the bill still seemed to take a more
physical-impacts approach. For instance, according to Scmidt, the bill was
supposed to establish “optional standards for the computer standards that run
the country’s critical infrastructure, like power grids, dams and transportation”.The
US has, for a long time, relied on what CSIS refers to as “industrial-age
government and industrial-age defense”.
Despite the politics at the national
level, various departments and organizations have taken their own initiatives
to curb the problem of cybersecurity- although even these moves were in
accordance with National Security Strategy. The Department of Defense (DoD), in
collaboration with its interagency and international partners drew its own
cybersecurity framework with the aim of mitigating the potential risks that the
country and its allies faced, as well as focusing on respecting and protecting
the privacy, civil liberty and free expression principles.
In this respect, the DoD framework aimed to promote five key strategic
initiatives. First,treating the cyberspace as an operational platform for
organizing, training, and equipping the DoD. In this respect, the DoD aimed to
focus on organizing the cyberspace into a manageable domain that DoD can use to
its advantage towards strengthening national security. By the direction of the National
Security Strategy, the DoD sought to increase the synchronization and
coordination of service components inside each military branch.
Second, the employment of new concepts
of defense operating to protect the networks and systems of the DoD. This
initiative would focus more on implementing constantly evolving operating
defense concepts. This was to involve the DoD’s enhancement of the best
practices of cyber hygiene; deterrence and mitigation of insider threats; computing
architectures, among others.
Third, partnering with other US governmentagencies
and departments, as well as the private sectors to strengthen collective
security. This was aimed to enable as whole-of-government approach.
Fourth (which is an expansion of the
partnering aspect), building of robust relationships with other allies of the
US on the international stage to also strengthen collective security. Like the initiative
above, this was also aimed at improving a collective approach to dealing with
Without doubt, this is a very critical
ingredient in cybersecurity. Besides, cyberspace spans the entire globe, and
because of such as wide scope, no single nation can successfully secure it
alone. Moreover, strategies focusing more on domestic goals and actions will
always prove inadequate in addressing this problem. The US has for a long time
not recognized or given enough attention to the international aspect of
cybersecurity. Therefore, by bringing in the international aspect to this issue
is very important.
However, this international involvement
is easier said than done. In other words, the question is how to involve the
international partners.In the past, the US has used its big-brother power over
its allies and partners. Over the last decade, China’s presence in Africa has
grown as the popularityand influence of the US in the continent dwindles- what
has come to be referred to as Africa ‘looking East’.
To explain this trend, many have cited what is seen as the differences in
approach between what has for long been termed as the ‘Washington Consensus’
(that is, the US’s way of doing things in relation to its foreign policy) and the
relatively novel ‘Beijing Consensus’ (that is, China’s behavior in its foreign
policy pursuits). The
Washington Consensus has largely been seen as heavy-handed, using its power and
force to impose on the weaker players (countries).
The largely failed Structural Adjustment Plans, which was forced on many
developing countries, is a case in point.
Far from this heavy-handedness, the Beijing Consensus has been seen as
respectful; that China approaches the developing countries as a partner and on
the basis mutual-respect and benefit.
Of course, it is doubtful that Africa is benefiting equally as China is. In
fact, it may be that this relationship is in reality too one-sided and China is
reaping benefits at the expense of the African countries.
But this is debatable. However, what remains clear is that Beijing Consensus
seems to be doing what the Washington Protocol has failed at for many years,
drawing allies closer- not pushing them away.
Against this backdrop, therefore, the US must look to win over allies, rather
than taking a superiority stance at the expense of mutualrespect.
In this respect, this strategy calls
for a coordinated international plan that focuses on norms; that is, behavior
expectations and models. But this should be based on fairness. In other words, the
US must recognize the internal political contexts of these countries and in what
ways they differ from them. CSIS
proposes the use of sanctions against countries that harbor cyber criminals- to
reinforce the so-called international norms. However, the use of sanctions is
the same high-handedness that has sidelined the US over the US, and which (as
already noted above) has provided a hole that China has gladly exploited. Besides,
while it is true some countries may not readily cooperate with the US in this
respect, sanctions have also proved largely ineffective.
Therefore, the US should recognize the internal legal constraints that may make
it hard for countries to take action against cyber criminals. Accordingly, CSIS
notes: “no nation can be an effective partner in fighting international
cybercrime unless it has in place both the domestic laws and operational
expertise to do so”.Moreover,
by its very nature, cybercrimes can be hard to detect, and many countries may
lack the means to identify the criminals. The US may be one of the key targets
of cybercrime. But it is also probably one of the countries that harbor the
highest number of cybercriminals- at least in numbers if not in percentages. Simply,
this strategy should be based on mutual-respect, and sanctions should not
apply. Instead, the US could help these countries establish the right legal
framework to fight cybercrime. The problem is that the US itself is also
struggling with such a legal framework. As the saying goes, Charity begins at home, and the US should
lead by example.
Finally, leveraging of the country’s
ingenuity through a strategic cyber workforce and fast technological
innovation. This was to focus more on the cyber workforce, with the aim of
utilizing the country’s talent and expertise towards dealing with this problem.
Indeed, information security is not
just about technology, but also about the knowledge and skills, awareness and
intentions of employees as well as customers (and other stakeholders) who use
the information-based systems and networks.
In this respect, the development of IT takes into consideration not just the
needs, but also the people who will use them. However, humans are more prone to
mistakes and misunderstandings; are more susceptible to various motivations,
good and bad; and can be affected by stress (internal and external). All of
this can potentially affect the actions of the humans who use these IT tools.
Above this IT is changing human behavior (individual and social) in many ways,
which are likely to have serious impacts on information security. Social
networking sites, for example, can help users develop trust and establish
communities based on shared interests. But criminals and terrorists can
manipulate such groups (on the basis of fake trust) for the wrong reasons. Besides,
users in support sites are more likely to open up and expose many private
Generally, according to Wybourne et al.,
security interventions based purely on training programs have not been
inadequate in dealing with the problem of cybersecurity. Sometimes employees
cannot comply with security policies and processes even when they want to. Cognitive
psychologists find that even well-intentioned users often forget, ignore or
misinterpret important information. This may have to do with the fact (based on
evidence) that humans tend to focus more on what they believe is important. But
in the process, an individual may ignore what they think is irrelevant, and end
up missing important things that should influence their response. There are
also the influences of social norms at the workplace.
The Senate has since made a big move
towards expanding the scope of these initiatives. For example, despite
president Obama threatening a veto after the failed effort in 2012, in the end
the House passed a bill that would encourage intelligence agencies to share
information with the private sector (businesses) regarding threats on computer
systems, including the attacks by Chinese hackers on American Websites.
Indeed, this move to involve the private sector is an important one. Besides,
the private sector runs a huge chunk of the country’s infrastructures. For
instance, Department of Homeland Securitystatistics
show that the private sector owns and manages an estimated 85 percent of the
country’s critical infrastructure. Corporations, for example, critically depend
on IT systems on majority of the business processes, as well as the tracking of
their corporate data. In other words, by involving the private sector, the
government increases its tracking abilities. Therefore, the government is in a
better position to deal with the problem.
In all these discussions, these initiatives
seem to focus more on external threats. The ongoing conflict between the US and
North Korea on cyberspace is a good example. The debate is divided over whether
it is already a cyber-war or not with the George Pataki (a former US Governor)
asserting that the US should declare a ‘cyber war’ on North Korea.
The debate aside, though, the situation has still raised alarm in the US, and
therefore demonstrates how external forces plays a key role on cyberspace and
However, even though external forces remain
real, there is a genera shift that in which internal threat is increasingly
becoming bigger. This has to do with hitherto too much focus on
counterterrorism. In fact, counterterrorism has been the main theme when discussing
national security for more than the last decade. This tendency implies a
general assumption that counterterrorism policies are in and of themselves
national security policy and/or strategy. However, counterterrorism is only a
small matter in the broader discussion of national security. In other words,
cybersecurity must fit within the wider context of national security strategy.
This essay has reviewed United State’s
cyber-security efforts, with the aim of citing problems, and finding solutions.
Indeed, as this essay shows, the US has increasingly paid attention to
cybersecurity. Collaboration with other partners (locally and internationally),
for example, is a clever move that utilizes human capital and other resources
towards this endeavor.However, the government has not been able to launch a
successful answer to the risks in cyberspace. This may be attributable to
politics, but also- most importantly to the lack of understanding of the real
nature and scope of this threat. For example, there seems to be too much focus
on the physical impacts of cybercrime. In the process, the informational aspect
has largely been ignored. This is an under-definition of the problem.
To provide a real answer to the problem
starts with acknowledging that the informational aspect is the biggest problem
(and everything else, including physical impacts, only stem from it). Secondly,
the initiatives toward cybersecurity have focused more on counterterrorism than
on national security. Counterterrorism, as Colucci
argues, is only a small part of national security. This is another case of
under-definition and/or under-conceptualization. Besides, while cyber-attacks
happen every day, it is highly unlikely that another major terror attack like
the 9/11 attacks will happen again.This emphasis on counter-terrorism means the
government focus more on external forces than internal forces (such as fun ‘hacktivists’),
which may be a big help to to other security risk factors.
Unlike in the past decade, the US
should not be caught by surprise, but be able to anticipate future changes.In
other words, the first step toward an effective cyber-security rests on a proper
understanding of the problem, its nature, scope and evolution. Besides the
matter of definition and conceptualization, there are also certain general
challenges that US’s cyber-security interventions are likely to face as a
consequence of the nature of the internet, such as infrastructural and
human-factor problems, which may not be easy to deal with because they do not
have easy answers.