Cyber War Has Already Taken Place

I am currently reading a book by Thomas Rid entitled ‘Cyber war will not take place’, it is an interesting book albeit one I disagree with on a fundamental basis, cyber war has already taken place. Throughout the book Dr Rid refers to Carl Von Clausewitz, an expert in the field of war who wrote numerous pieces ‘On War’ (which oddly enough was a title of one of his books). I will be the first to admit I have not sat down and read the full works of the Persian but I do have a lecturer who is fond of citing him – and this is perhaps where my own analysis falls short – and because of this I am aware of some of his more famous quotes and perhaps his most famous quote “war is politics by another means” (Clausewitz cited in Rid, T. 2013. p2). Extrapolating from this war can be carried out in cyber space, in a new digital battlefield where political battles can be carried out. Russia apparently launched a cyber attack against Estonia which culminated in NATO locating their Cyber Defensive headquarters  in Tallinn Estonia (NATO).

While, with most cyber attacks, there is no verification that Russia launched the attacks on Estonia, there is a firm belief that Russia carried out the attacks due to the removal of Russian military memorials (BBC). The removal of Russian memorial’s dedicated to those who fought the Nazis was political and this alone supports the definition given by Clausewitz that ‘war is politics by another means’. In this case the means was Cyber Space and the war was fought by a technological blockade of Estonia either by the Russian state or rogue ‘terrorists’ who declared war on Estonia due to the political removal of Russian war memorials. This means a cyber war either by a nation state or a terrorist organisation has already taken place. None the less, after reading Dr Rids book (and his accounts on espionage etc) I am surprised by his continuous assertation that war is direct and violent while citing Clausewitz in his opening page “war is an act of force to compel the enemy to do our will” (Rid, T. 2013 p1). In the example provided Russia used force to try and compel Estonia to do its will yet failed, but this can be expected as in any war there is a victor and a loser and in this instance Estonia was the victor

I feel to hold Clausewitz to his original points as Rid does is flawed. The art of war has changed drastically since Clausewitz’ time, that is to say while some of what he writes remains relevant, war has evolved and became more “humanitarian” (I use this term loosely) a correlation will be created between the instruments of war and how these instruments are deployed. The Geneva convention refers to not harming non-combatants and cyber war is a means to fulfilling that convention. Russia (or politically motivated terrorists (as all terrorists are)) could have rolled in to Estonia with tanks and guns but they did not thus saving civilian lives, they carried out their politics by attacking through cyber space and ultimately failed. That does not mean CyberWarfare is a failure;every war must have a victor and a loser and in this instance Russia lost.

I must fundamentally disagree with the nature of this book. Cyber war has already been carried out, yet it is primitive relative to the technology being used. This act of war will continue to advance just as humans advanced from fists to a sword, from a sword to a gun, from a gun to a tank and from a tank to nuclear weapons, cyber weapons and their destructive power will continue to increase.

I must end this with a disclaimer. Thomas Rid is a highly respected academic in his field and I am only a Masters student. He has most likely read more books on this topic than I can only imagine and drew conclusions that a man of his expertise can rightly assert. I would not have bothered reading his book if I did not respect his work, though critiquing and challenging work is how academia progresses and I feel the critiques and questions I have raised are more than justifiable.


Rid, T. 2013 ‘Cyber War Will Not Take Place’, C Hurst and Co. London

NATO. 2013. Nato News

BBC. 2007. BBC News


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