restricted access Strategic Warfare in Cyberspace (review)
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Technology and Culture 44.1 (2003) 190-191

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Strategic Warfare in Cyberspace. By Gregory J. Rattray. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001. Pp. ix+517. $49.95.

According to Lt. Col. Gregory Rattray, commander of the United States Air Force's 23rd Information Operations Squadron, strategic operations in cyberspace will be a major part of twenty-first-century warfare. Rattray offers this book to help us understand the challenges involved in waging "cyberwar"—military operations in cyberspace directed at attacking an adversary and protecting friendly centers of gravity (the points upon which Carl von Clausewitz said all military effort should be directed). Rattray's goal is to provide historical context and detailed analysis upon which the U.S. military can ground policy, reorganizations, and investment in the realm of cyberspace. Unfortunately, he misses his mark.

Both the author and his readers face a daunting task in trying to make sense of what "strategic information warfare" entails. Warfare in cyberspace should not focus, Rattray suggests, on the use of "information in warfare" (that is, traditional tasks like intelligence gathering and communications), but rather on "information warfare as a means for state and nonstate actors to achieve objectives through digital attacks on an adversary's centers of gravity" (p. 14). In that context, he focuses on the organizational structures and means necessary for computer attacks that can disrupt and destroy information infrastructures. In the most useful sections of the book, he makes a compelling argument that information warfare at the strategic level offers both an opportunity and a threat. Capitalizing on their mastery of complex information-systems technologies, "digital warriors" both within and outside formal state and military structures will be able to wreak havoc on the information infrastructure upon which the modern world depends.

Rattray suggests that a useful model for developing a robust strategic information warfare capability can be found in the development of strategic airpower between the world wars. In his discussion of the Combined Bomber Offensive (CBO), however, he has missed both "a lesson of the past" and "a point of analysis." He clearly states in his first chapter that he will not discuss the use of cyberwar to attack adversary economies and "target audience perceptions." Yet the Allies' use of strategic airpower in the CBO focused almost entirely on the economic capabilities and popular will of Nazi Germany. The planners of the CBO grasped the "Clausewitzian Trinity" of "State, Army, and People" fully. They focused nearly all their efforts through the spring of 1944—until General Dwight Eisenhower ordered his airmen to direct their operations on the "Transportation Plan" to interdict the Normandy battlefield—on Germany's two most vulnerable strategic targets: its economy and its morale.

Thus, if strategic air warfare during World War II is to offer a model for strategic cyberwarfare in the twenty-first century, the focus of digital warriors, [End Page 190] both attackers and defenders, will remain economic capabilities and popular will. Indeed, as Rattray convincingly argues, targeting and technological challenges may preclude taking down the "hard target" of a state's information infrastructure. In that respect, the most likely threat emanates from nonstate actors who will strike at the "soft targets" of commerce and public opinion.

The fliers of the World War II generation sought to justify the creation of a separate air service. Although Strategic Warfare in Cyberspace stops short of calling for a separate information service, it nonetheless seeks to posit a new kind of war. But if we accept that the Clausewitzian Trinity remains relevant, there is something to be learned from the history of the development of airpower in the interwar period. Digital warriors will not revolutionize war making. Instead, they will engage the same centers of gravity that have defined strategic warfare since World War II. The question that Rattray fails to answer, then, is: What is fundamentally new about strategic warfare in cyberspace?


John Grenier

Major Grenier is assistant professor of history at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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