Consider Nitro Zeus. In the late 2000s, as The Times reported, the US government developed a blueprint for cyberattacks aimed at disabling parts of air defenses, communications and Iran’s power grid. The plan provided President Barack Obama with a non-lethal means to neutralize Iran’s military assets in the event that negotiations to stop the country’s nuclear enrichment program fail and Tehran fails. seek revenge.
The Nitro Zeus contingency plan remains operational until the completion of the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, ready to introduce phased escalation measures in the event of total war if diplomatic and economic pressures proved ineffective.
Since Nitro Zeus was eventually unloaded, it is difficult to assess the extent and likelihood of collateral damage it could cause. The integration of cyberweapons into a national security strategy leads to a certain reluctance to default to the conventional – and more lethal – choice. But whether it is a drone attack or a telecommunications cyberattack, a cyberattack will always have harmful consequences for civilians and private businesses.
Conversely, however, cyberweapons can also increase geopolitical stability.
Vipin Narang, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology specializing in nuclear strategy, said cyberattacks have helped countries achieve their goal of nuclear non-proliferation in a way that previously required force. and increased risk to personnel.
In 2007, Israeli warplanes armed with 500-pound bombs attacked a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria. The facility was demolished and Israel was internationally criticized for violating the sovereignty of another country. Ten North Korean scientists are believed to have been killed in the attack.
The US-Israeli cyber campaign known as Stuxnet, launched around the same time, achieved a similar goal – thwarting a rogue nation’s efforts to get rich – but remotely, inexpensively. People. The program destroyed nearly a fifth of Iran’s working centrifuges and may have slowed the country’s nuclear program by up to two years. No one was reported to have been physically harmed or killed during the years-long operation. It may even have prevented Israel from launching a conventional attack on Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment site.
What will the responsible use of cyber weapons look like in the future?
If cyberwarfare has the potential to transform conflict into a non-lethal form, now is the time – before it is fully tested on the battlefield – to develop both the treaty and the unwritten customary law governing it. its employment.