The 2010s was the era of the development of new actors in world politics. China, India, and Russia strengthened their position and began challenging the American hegemony. This process also created alternative areas for new technologies to develop, and different countries started to have comparative advantages on different technologies. The leading sector in this area was the development of the cyber world. In the last ten years, the number of anonymous attacks increased rapidly, and militaries began to use this domain as a combat tool.
One of the most striking attacks was to Iranian nuclear facilities with the virus named Stuxnet. In the Stuxnet case, the attack was going to be successful if the Russian company, Kaspersky had not identified where the virus was targeted by which states. Also, we saw that if the anonymity time increases before getting caught, the respond of the receiving end becomes more aggressive as it happened in the Iranian case. Instead of eliminating an enemy, if the attack does not succeed, in the long run, the strength of the opponent increases. After they realized the attack, they heavily invested in the cyber domain, and become a significant actor. Therefore, in the cyber domain, the actors that can improve the anonymity of the products, they will have a tremendous influence on the global agenda. Their actions can change our understanding of stability forever.
For instance, the United States declared that they reserve the right to respond to cyber-attacks using all means at their disposal, including the military operation. It means that, by creating a fake attack, they might get a chance to involve in other countries through their military power. On the other hand, some other state or non-state actors can attack the US, and it may show it as some other country did. These types of actions can harm the peace in the whole world, and every day, more actors are capable of conducting such policies.
Theoretically, one can even assume that, by using this technique, the states can damage other countries’ alliances and make them go into the conflicts. Furthermore, instead of directly attacking infrastructure, the states can manipulate other countries through surveillance and disinformation. They can hack their data systems, change the numbers, and control the policies of the enemy while the opponent was thinking they are following the right policy for their benefit.
In 2013, Snowden leaked the pieces of evidence that show how the American government is watching the ally countries through the internet network and social media and NSA’s control over the electricity system of Japan and Germany. Combined with the Stuxnet attack, these events lead to other countries to invest in the cyberweapons.
In 2016, the Russians were accused of intervening in the American Elections. However, the pieces of evidence were not enough to prove the Russian involvement. On the other hand, even though since there is insufficient evidence, we can never be sure that no one will generate false evidence to create necessary conditions for military intervention.
Up to know, according to our reasoning, combined with the evidence from the cases, state actors will have difficulty responding to the cyber-attacks openly, but they will continue to invest in technology and weapons. However, they are highly likely to conduct attacks through non-state actors. Since there is not enough evidence for them to respond officially, they will do it with the help of the companies, private soldiers, and secretly state-funded organizations. The main concern for these actors will be maintaining anonymity; therefore, we expect them to locate in different regions and with different purposes. Of course, this structure will completely change the understanding of the concepts we use in traditional international relations. War, alliances, engagements, transnational actors, and many other features will need new definitions.
As the number of cyber-attacks increased in the last years, the necessity of regulations in the area started being discussed by the different parties. Our experiences showed that in this type of war, the difficulty of identifying actors and their capabilities limits our cooperation. Furthermore, different countries have different technologies in cyber domains. Therefore, the regulation requires extensive effort to gather every actor under one set of rules.