The Concept of Deterrence and its Applicability in the Cyber Domain

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Connections: The Quarterly Journal, Volume 17, Issue 4 (2018)


This work is the product of a research, conducted in the course of the Master’s Program in International Security Studies and seeks to give cyber deterrence its deserved (non-technical) attention in the academia. It will focus in a first article on the concept of deterrence and its applicability in the cyber domain in general. The second part, in a later article, will scrutinize ways for Germany, as an important player in an ever more digitized international system, to approach a cyber deterrence strategy in order to bolster its national security interests.

Cyber space as the fifth domain is omnipresent and all developed states increasingly realize that international relations and typical domains of statehood change in the face of a global digitization. With the advent of game-changing technologies, traditional tools of statecraft, such as deterrence, seem disregarded as outdated in the national security strategy building process. Advanced states in particular depend heavily on an open and safe cyber domain but at the same time suffer from manifold vulnerabilities. The recent past showed that sophisticated cyber attacks have the potential to disrupt governments, economies and societies significantly and therefore pose a threat to core security interests. Deterrence, as classical tool in international relations, can help to bolster national security interests, even if the cyber domain requires some special considerations.

Therefore, the article explains basic mechanisms of deterrence in the nuclear age and in contemporary international relations, the legal framework of cyber space and possible ways to apply deterrence in the cyber domain. It aims to urge global leaders to thoroughly consider deterrence in the cyber domain as a powerful asset and to provide policymakers with options for action

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