Cybersecurity,  Cyberwar,  Ethics

Cyberwar and North Korea

In their article Trump Inherits a Secret Cyberwar Against North Korean Missiles David Sanger and William Broad discuss the ongoing action of the United States to derail North Korea’s development of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that is capable of delivering a nuclear payload. Since it’s inception, North Korea and it’s ruling family, the Kim family, have believed that having ICBMs with nuclear capability is the ultimate show of the country’s military might, a sort of “look, we have them too and we can use them” display. With the history and culture of violence the country embraces, many view this nuclear capability as a very real problem, the United States included. While it’s not certain that North Korea will use the weapons if or when they successfully develop them, the danger, to the world, that the possibility represents is measurable. As such, in this case analysis I will argue that, through the lens of ethics of care, the cyberwar the United States is waging against North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs is just.

The traditional definition of a just war has changed throughout the centuries of recorded history but have followed essentially the same two sets of criteria, jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Jus ad bellum describes the criteria that must be met in order to justify going to war in the first place. Jus in bello details the criteria for how the combatants should act during war. One of the key criteria in jus ad bellum is that war can only be initiated by a legitimate authority. Cyberwar can be said to be held to that same criteria, as Mariarosario Taddeo said, in her article An Analysis of Just Cyber Warfare, “Cyber Warfare is the warfare grounded on certain uses of ICTs within an offensive or defensive military strategy endorsed by a state…” As the United States is a democratic state, the authority the president holds is granted to him by the people of the United States. This ensures that the people of the United States have authorized him to do as he sees fit to ensure the safety of the American people. Ethics of care shows us that ethical actions extend past immediate relationships, meaning actions the United States take could, and arguably should, act to the benefit of other countries.

The only criteria that is not met, I believe, is the probability of success. As Sanger and Broad pointed out, the United States is not currently able to disrupt North Korea’s progress towards nuclear capable ICBMs through its current cyber warfare strategy. That’s not to say however that as time progresses and cyber warfare techniques change, and new ones are found that the success of the assault will remain unsuccessful. In this instance, I believe, that the current cost of supporting the cyber warfare against North Korea are justified given the size and credibility of the threat it presents to the United States and the world. Some are likely to argue that the funds used supporting this cyber war with North Korea could be spent on offensive tactics to minimize the threat. I believe the cost to minimize the threat of nuclear missiles far exceeds the cost of fighting North Korea via cyber warfare. Even if the cost were lower and we had a functional defense, the threat would still exist, so while peace may exist, it would be backed up against a sizable, exceedingly dangerous threat.

The Infosphere consists of all physical, non-physical, virtual and non-virtual entities. Each of these entities is due respect and has rights merely for existing. All persons, ideas, and knowledge have the rights to continue to exist and expand. These rights are however given up when an entity infringes on the rights of others. As information ethics describe, it is the duty of each entity to remove an entity that disrupts or endangers the rights of other entities. North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs fall into that disruption role. North Korea’s history of, and continued show of, violence toward those outside their country gives the perception that the missiles will be used as they deem necessary. This perception represents a danger to the United States and the world as a whole. The looming threat of nuclear attack strikes fear into the heart of millions of people worldwide. If North Korea were left alone and allowed to develop nuclear capable missiles, that fear would grow sizably. This would increase tensions between not only the United States and North Korea, but also both sides’ allies. Along with this fear of nuclear attack comes a stigma concerning anything “nuclear”. This presents an obstacle for other nuclear technologies, including nuclear power generation and nuclear medicine.

With these threats to other informational entities, the attempts to stop North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs can be deemed ethical and just based on the fact that disrupting North Korea’s programs removes the threat of violence and death to not only planetary citizens but also the knowledge they possess or could possess in the future. Care of ethics tells us that ensuring the continued life of countless people and the growth of the knowledge that comes along with it is the ethical thing to do.

To date, there has been no collateral damage to, that I have been able to ascertain, anyone or anything as a result of the United States waging cyber warfare against North Korea. I believe this is due to the United States ensuring that any attacks against North Korea are directed solely at their missile and nuclear program assets. This, I believe, ensures that the in bello of not harming civilians is met. I will however admit that just because there have been no reports of civilian harm or disruption, it does not mean there has not been as North Korea is known for not always publicizing things that detract from their superiority view of their country.

The last ad bellum requirement for traditional warfare is last resort, or necessity. To me, this is the most highly debatable of the requirements, as there is likely always another way of doing things. However, in this instance North Korea has proven unwilling to acquiesce to other world leader’s requests to stop their nuclear arms development. Ethics of care would have the United Stated and her allies find another way to subvert their progress so that the threat of nuclear armed North Korea would not be present in the world. The cyber warfare that is being waged against North Korea currently is another means of attempting to hinder North Korea’s progress. As cyber warfare involves minimal interaction with physical violence and destruction, I believe, this to be a more just cause than traditional warfare. If the United States were to wage traditional war against North Korea, it would likely cause a significant loss of life and property for both sides. Allies for both the United States and North Korea would likely be involved, and as some believe, would be akin to a third world war. This fact in and of itself, to me, justifies this cyber warfare.

While I remain confident that the cyber warfare the United States is currently waging against North Korea is just, I am aware that this could change quickly. The likelihood, I believe, that North Korea will retaliate disproportionately, is small but not zero. I believe both sides understand that all-out war is not best for either side. The attacks could also inadvertently cause disruption or physical harm to civilians which would test the justness of this warfare. I also believe North Korea will eventually reach their goal of a nuclear capable ICBM and my only hope is that when that time comes, both the United States and North Korea are able to prevent escalation on both sides.

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