Journal Article - Quarterly Journal: International Security

The Subversive Trilemma: Why Cyber Operations Fall Short of Expectations

  • Lennart Maschmeyer
| Fall 2021


Although cyber conflict has existed for thirty years, the strategic utility of cyber operations remains unclear. A growing body of research explains why cyber operations tend to fall short of their promise in both warfare and low-intensity competition. The mismatch between promise and practice is the consequence of the subversive trilemma theory, which finds that cyber operations’ speed, intensity, and control are negatively correlated. A case study of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict reveals that the trilemma’s constraining effects result in cyber operations delivering limited utility.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Lennart Maschmeyer, "The Subversive Trilemma: Why Cyber Operations Fall Short of Expectations," International Security, Vol. 46, No. 2 (Fall 2021), pp. 51–90,

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