Whoever wins the 2016 presidential election will undoubtedly face a daunting set of international challenges to core national interests. Come January, freshly occupied offices at the White House and at the Pentagon will remain lit through the night as analysts and policymakers triage problems from North Korean nuclear proliferation to war in the Middle East. The common delineating feature of most of these national security threats is that they are long-established old ones that twentieth-century realist thinker Hans Morgenthau himself would have recognized.
It has been 63 years since the signing of the armistice with North Korea, whose nuclear ambitions have plagued several US administrations. Similarly, US entanglement in the Middle East began long before September 11, 2001 and will continue into the foreseeable future, despite the best intentions of President Obama’s administration to “end” America’s wars in the region. To help ameliorate these old problems, there will be a vast knowledge base of established opinions from nuclear strategists and area studies specialists, many of whom have advised US Presidents since the days of the Soviet Union. The same cannot be said about the relatively new dilemma of cyber-security. Despite rhetoric acknowledging the threat of cyber attacks, the pressures of budgets and traditional “high” defense priorities often leave cybersecurity to be dealt with by either IT professionals in the private sector, or federal officials with neither the budget nor the sufficient mandate to truly impact international affairs.
Members of the incoming administration would be well-advised to read Adam Segal’s The Hacked World Order to acquire a deeper and more nuanced understanding of burgeoning cyber threats to the national security of the United States. Adam Segal, the Director of the Digital and Cyberspace Program at the [End Page 113] Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), is an American scholar of China, speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, and spent thirteen years as the CFR’s Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow in China Studies. Perhaps as a result of his expertise in US-China relations (a complex bi-lateral relationship where nuance and national interests matter), Segal’s approach is well-balanced, evidence-based, and pragmatic; delivering its message without being unnecessarily alarmist or technical. Segal injects just the right amount of background material to make The Hacked World Order an easy-to-read book for experts and non-experts alike.
Segal’s fundamental argument is that traditional nation-states “have not given way as the most powerful actors” in the new digitally defined world order.1 Segal boldly declares the year 2012 as “Year Zero” of the new cyber era – an epochal rewind in the counting of time no different than how the advent of a new emperor or deity would mark the start of a new calendar in periods past. Segal depicts 2012 as “Year Zero in the battle over cyberspace” between nation-states in order to draw a clear chronological line between our current era and times past when there were still competing versions of what the internet-enabled future would mean for international affairs. This is an important distinction given how observers had for years predicted the death of the nation-state by mixing utopian dreams with the language of hardware technology, programming, and communications protocols.
Boldly, Segal cuts through the noise and contends that 2012 was the year when it became clear that the internet era would continue to be marked by competition between traditional Westphalian nation-states. By doing so, Segal puts to bed earlier globalist visions of the internet where the power of the traditional nation-state would be eroded by factors both positive (like increased openness and transparency) and negative (such as the ascension of nefarious non-state actors, including hackers and cybercriminal syndicates).
The events of “Year Zero” between June 2012 and June 2013 are persuasive enough to demonstrate that nation-states are still preeminent in the cyber era. On June 1, 2012, The New York Times announced to the world the “first publicly admitted cyberattack by a nation-state” in...