Last week the New America Foundation hosted its launch for an interdisciplinary cybersecurity initiative. I was fortunate enough to be asked to attend and speak, but the real benefit was that I was afforded an opportunity to listen to some really remarkable people in the cyber community discuss cybersecurity, law, and war. I listened to a few very interesting comments. For instance, Assistant Attorney General, John Carlin, claimed that “we” (i.e. the United States) have “solved the attribution problem, and the National Security Agency Director & Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) Commander, Admiral Mike Rogers, say that he will never act outside of the bounds of law in his two roles. These statements got me to thinking about war, cyberspace and international relations (IR).
In particular, IR scholars have tended to argue over the definitions of “cyberwar,” and whether and to what extent we ought to view this new technology as a “game-changer” (Clarke and Knake 2010; Rid 2011; Stone 2011; Gartzke 2013; Kello 2013; Valeriano and Maness 2015). Liff (2012), for instance, argues that cyber power is not a “new absolute weapon,” and it is instead beholden to the same rationale of the bargaining model of war. Of course, the problem for Liff is that the “absolute weapon” he utilizes as a foil for cyber weapons/war is not equivalent in any sense, as the “absolute weapon,” according to Brodie, is the nuclear weapon and so has a different and unique bargaining logic unto itself (Schelling 1977). Conventional weapons follow a different logic (George and Smoke 1974).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s looming address to the United States Congress has me thinking about the nature of authority in security. I think this is an issue that often gets overlooked, especially in security studies where the materiality of power (i.e. the ability o blow things up) takes up most of our collective attention. Certainly, Netanyahu seeks to make a security claim in his argument against the possibility of a deal between the United States and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. But in so doing Netanyahu is on relatively thin ground. In most domestic contexts there are speakers with institutionally-sedimented security authority, individuals whose ability to make security claims is much greater than others. In democracies, these are typically elected politicians and bureaucratic leaders of the elements of the national security apparatus. We often overlook these lines of security authority unless something occurs that imperils them, as was the case in the second George W. Bush administration in the wake of the disastrous invasion of Iraq.
But when a foreign leader visits an alien domestic political context, the importance of authority to speak security claims becomes obvious. This is certainly the case with Netanyahu and his speech before Congress. On what basis will Americans and their elected representatives, one assumes his target audiences, accept Netanyahu’s claims that a deal with Iran poses an existential threat to Israel and possibly the United States? On the Israel claim, Netanyahu’s security authority is stronger as the leader of that state. But on the claim of an existential threat to the United States, Netanyahu’s ability to speak security is much weaker—which draws our attention to the political conditions that facilitate security claims. Certainly shared democratic identity between Israel and the United States supports Netanyahu’s security authority, as does a long alliance between the two countries that helps generate shared beliefs about security. Continue reading