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Swaggering in Cyberspace: Busting the Conventional Wisdom on Cyber Coercion


Analysis & Opinions - War on the Rocks

Swaggering in Cyberspace: Busting the Conventional Wisdom on Cyber Coercion

| June 28, 2016

Given increases in the ability and willingness of various actors to target a nation's critical infrastructure, David Gompert and Hans Binnendijk have argued that the United States should use cyber operations to "amp up the power to coerce." This is a reasonable objective, but it ignores the conventional wisdom about cyber coercion that says it doesn't work. A major component of successful coercion is detailing the pain your enemy may endure. Communicating that capability in the cyber realm is likely to induce your enemy to "patch" the vulnerability you were hoping to exploit. How can actors ever coerce targets with cyber weapons if threatening them effectively neutralizes their utility?

- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Center Fellows Share Insights

Several fellows from different Belfer Center programs and projects described insights they’ve gained or lessons they’ve learned during their fellowships at the Center.

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Journal Article - International Studies Quarterly

Ballots and Blackmail: Coercive Diplomacy and the Democratic Peace

| December 2016

Does the restraint that prevents pairs of democracies from fighting large-scale wars also prevent them from coercing one another? While scholars have long drawn a bright line between using force and threatening it, the literature on democratic-peace theory overwhelmingly emphasizes the former. Using a dataset uniquely suited for the study of militarized compellent threats, the authors find that pairs of democracies are significantly less likely to engage in coercive diplomacy than are other types of regimes.

Analysis & Opinions - War on the Rocks

Attribution and Secrecy in Cyberspace

| March 8, 2016

"A key component of our framework entails distinguishing between two qualitatively different types of secrecy in the cyber domain. The first — the use of secrecy at the planning and execution stages of an attack — is often a technical prerequisite for success. The second type of secrecy — whether to claim credit for an attack privately or publicly — is a political decision. While many factors plausibly drive credit-claiming or credit-shirking behavior, two in particular stand out as significant: (1) whether target compliance is the objective; and (2) whether the perpetrator is a state or a non-state actor."