Small Wars Journal

Cyber-States and US National Security: Learning from Covid-19

Fri, 03/20/2020 - 11:42am

Cyber-States and US National Security: Learning from Covid-19

Jonathan Lancelot

The Covid-19 disaster is a colossal international tragedy, a pandemic of epic proportions. This virus alone has challenged our way of doing business, politics, and war. Covid-19 started in Wuhan China in late 2019 and has spread exponentially around the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) statistics state as of March 18, 2020, that there are 208,987 confirmed cases, 8,246 deaths from the disease, 1,787 asymptomatic cases, and only 606 self-reported positive cases. An international shortage of Covid-19 testing kits has made tracking and getting in front of the spread near impossible. There is no vaccine, and The US government has been trying to pass economic aid bills for Americans who are under a regiment of social distancing, rendering the economy to a near standstill. In short, humanity was caught off guard. This goes beyond our nation-state borders, culture, governments, and nationalities. So does the economic order of globalization, and cyberspace.

If this is not a warning for the Westphalian state system structure, it is a complete exposure of the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of nation-states in dealing with 21st Century challenges. In a world where transnational businesses cross borders, as well as international banking institutions, private military organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals, nation-states who are self-interested, protective of their sovereignty, and seeking a dominant position within the international system have set themselves up for the decline. When nation-states decided to deregulate global markets and enter regional agreements like NAFTA and GATT, a situation solidified where international corporations determine the economic policies for weaker nation-states and benefit from the Washington Consensus. Without notice, the seed for the emergence of what I call cyber-states was planted.

Cyber-States can be borderless, composed of cyberinfrastructure and deep computer networks built into bureaucratic administrative structures and functions. Depending on the implementation of computer systems and advance mobile technology within a structure for governance, the power of administration could be in the hands of private contracting companies who innovate the technology or public officials whose jobs are made more accessible by utilizing the technology. Cyber-States would use systems like Estonia’s e-governance and in a democracy, i-voting. Conversely, Cyber-States can utilize technology within an autocratic structure of governance, like China’s social credit system, or artificial intelligence (AI) within its court system. Cryptocurrency systems coded by blockchain software create a digital currency, which could potentially be the central portion of a cyber-states power if there is public trust in the e-economy. Lastly, Cyber-States would utilize AI, automation, and machine learning in military weaponry like drones and robotics, and for a matter of circumstance, across the whole cyberinfrastructure for efficiency, and without latency. Conclusively, this would give technology companies a significant portion of distributed power within the functions of social governance, and traditional nation-state structures would be questionable at best.

What are the current implications for US national security? The first implication is our open market view of cyberspace and the sale of data by private social network companies like Facebook. Our national security is encumbered when private companies can use the data of citizens to sell to any entity who can pay, like the Cambridge Analytica case. If that data got into the wrong hands like North Korea, or terrorist organizations looking to coordinate a massive cyber or physical attack, how does that help US Cyber Command? The second implication is our bilateral relationship with China, which has a firewall surrounding its border, the opposite of our open worldwide network. The best solution going forward for the US would be for Congress to legislate a General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) bill into law, providing the Department of Defense (DoD) more room to develop a proper cyber-defense strategy. The last implication is the current trend of the merging of AI into drone weapons, which could lead to fully autonomous weapons, which would be a disaster for diplomacy, international law including the laws of war, and the international system. Failed-States, more anarchy between societies, amplified globalization, increased instances of deadly pandemics, and an escalation of small wars will lead to the emergence of cyber-states within the next decade.

About the Author(s)

Jonathan Lancelot is a cybersecurity analyst at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and principal policy analyst for the OSET Institute focused on election cybersecurity in the context of national security. Jonathan graduated from Norwich University with a Master of Diplomacy with a focus on cyber-diplomacy. He published the widely shared papers “Russia Today, Cyberterrorists Tomorrow: US Failure to Prepare Democracy for Cyberspace,” which is published in the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Journal of Digital Forensics, Security and Law, and “Cyber-Diplomacy: Cyberwarfare and the Rules of Engagement,” which is published by the Journal of Cyber Security Technology. He is a contributing writer at Small Wars Journal and is currently researching cyberpolitics, cyberphilosophy, and cyberdefense. Jonathan has an extensive technical background in computer science and is a certified Apple systems administrator. His past work has taken him through Apple, Inc., the United States Senate, and the US Department of Defense.  Twitter: @lancelotpolitic