The quest for strategic stability was a leitmotif of Cold War thinking. Worry over whether the Soviet Union could disable U.S. nuclear deterrence with a first strike shaped U.S. nuclear posture in the late 1950s, and gave impetus to concerns over a “window of vulnerability” in the late 1970s. Arguments for and against the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and strategic arms limitations often cited their putative effects on strategic stability in the early 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Fears of unstable reactions pervaded planning for nuclear command and control as well as indication and warning systems.
Although nuclear arms are still with us, issues associated with strategic stability have spilled over from the nuclear arena to the new arena of cyberspace. Cyberwar—a campaign of non-kinetic attacks on information systems to disrupt and corrupt their operations—is said to present similar stability problems. Although cyberdefenses do exist, unlike nuclear defense, offense in cyberspace is cheap; defenses are expensive; and attackers are constantly getting through. In the first three months of 2011 alone, news reports were punctuated with multiple network penetrations: Australia’s government, France’s government, large oil companies, the NASDAQ, Sony’s PlayStation network, and even RSA, a major security firm. Elite hackers claim that, given the time, they can penetrate any system and wreak mischief. Not for nothing did last July’s cover story inThe Economist picture cyberwar as the digital equivalent of the nuclear bomb, a threat to civilization that necessitated international negotiations and arms control.1
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