Posts Tagged ‘Singapore’

On Cyberwar with China, and other recent publications

March 2, 2011
Cyber-attack on

There’s been a glut of military journal releases this week – the stalwart Military Review, featuring an excerpt (PDF) from Bing West‘s new book on Afghanistan; a new issue from the journal Prism, which discusses what are known as “complex operations” (basically, the messy, nation-building-type wars heavy in interagency coordination that have proliferated in the last decade) with an interesting-looking article on human security in complex operations (human security is a newer concept in security studies with the premise that without security at the human level – essentially addressing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs at the lowest level – then you aren’t going to be able to achieve any other type of security); and finally a new issue from Strategic Studies Quarterly. Regular readers will recall I examined an article from their last edition on the “new” Korean War and implications for Taiwan. (It came out just about when the NorKos were shelling Yeonpyeong Island and it seemed as if we were about to say goodbye to the 1953 armistice.) The latter contains an article called “Blown to Bits: China’s War in Cyberspace, August–September 2020“. (PDF) OK, you got me – I’m pretty interested in China’s computer network operations capabilities – let’s take a look at this one.

The author, Christopher Bronk, Fellow in Information Technology Policy at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, sets up the fictitious future cyberwar scenario by discussing the development of U.S. information warfare superiority from the 1991 Gulf War to the 1999 Kosovo War. He also mentions the other, more recent bellwethers of possible future cyber conflict, the 2007 and 2008 cyber wars on Estonia and Georgia, respectively. (The belligerent in both instances was thought to be Russia.) In the latter case (Georgia), kinetic conflict was preceded by a cyber “preparation of the battlespace” just as many analysts believe would be the case if the U.S. and China at some point come into a state of military conflict. On the prospects of such an occurrence, Bronk notes

While it is the author’s deepest and most sincere hope that no military conflict will come between China, Japan, India, the United States, or any other states of the Western Pacific and Asia, the massive interest in cyber conflict among these countries leads many to ponder such a struggle.

And so here we are. The scenario he asks us to ponder is this: it is 2020, Taiwan has completed its Finlandization, and the PRC aches for greater conquest in Asia. It sets its sites on Singapore, at the southern end of the Chinese “lake” called the South China Sea and at the eastern mouth of the Strait of Malacca, perhaps the most crucial maritime chokepoint in the Pacific Basin, if not the world. Quite plausibly, China’s actions are spurred by concerns about the security of precious seaborne fossil fuel imports coming through the Indian Ocean.

The author’s intent is not to try to present a litany of details about potential cyberwar that would be impenetrable to anyone not holding an advanced degree in theoretic mathematics or computer science, but instead to consider “how cyberwar might supplant more traditional conflict and how cyber dimensions may alter warfare.”

After laying the groundwork, the scenario begins:

Many a pundit and strategic theorist had wondered what shape unrestrained information warfare might take. The opening hours of China’s virtual war with the United States and its allies over Singapore would confirm many of the worst suspicions of that crowd. Chinese forces were quite clearly working inside the decision loop of the allied forces. Preliminary moves by the PLA in the information space indicated that it could do much damage to enemy communication and computing resources, but a series of hints would reveal that China also likely had compromised, at least to a degree, the encryption mechanisms used to secure US and allied military and diplomatic communications. At times, Beijing most probably held the capacity to have a fairly complete information picture even of very high-level, classified systems, although the reverse was also likely true.

Though the author intended to “stay out of the cyber weeds”, there is a bit of digital undergrowth to deal with, though not too much to detract from his main intent: starting a discussion about whether a forceful political goal can be achieved by cyber means alone. I think this is a lot like the shopworn, discredited thesis popular in the late 1990s that wars could be won by airpower alone that grew from the 1999 Kosovo War – it would be great if the answer was yes, but it’s not.

The scenario demonstrates ably the potential vulnerability of U.S. and allied information nets to cyber attack; the question remains if U.S. decision-makers are willing to take concrete steps now to really protect these vital information channels. Sure, the U.S. has established a formal joint command to deal with cyber issues, but in many cases the lines of responsibility have not been clearly drawn and require further clarification.

Odds and Ends

February 27, 2011
National Sun Yat-sen University

Image via Wikipedia

So the new academic semester is underway here in Taiwan – week two will begin on Tuesday after the 228 Memorial Day holiday. This will be my final semester studying in Taiwan, and should be quite different than my previous three semesters here, in that I have no classes this time around. I was able to complete all my course requirements during my first three semesters, so now I am free to focus on the final piece of the puzzle – my thesis.

I’ve been pretty satisfied with my progress on my thesis thus far. A month ago, I hadn’t even written the proposal, and now I’ve already got a pretty good first draft of the first two chapters done. My deadline is mid-May to turn the final product in to my advisor, and the defense should go in the first half of June. It’s going to be a lot of work, but already in the short time I have been working on it, I have enjoyed the fact that its production is truly my responsibility and that I can basically follow the research where it leads.

June will be our last month in Taiwan. Yes, nothing lasts forever, and I’ve already got orders to my next assignment. As luck may have it, I’m headed to Denver, Colorado to be a company commander. I am looking forward to that duty. I guess I will have to decide at some point whether or not I want to continue with exclusively Asia-Pacific focus for this blog after that, or if perhaps a transition to a more “general-purpose” military blog would be more in order (something like, I don’t know, maybe Wings Over Iraq? – by the way, I just noticed this blog made the blogroll there – thanks, Crispin!). Regardless, rest assured that Taiwan, China, and the Asia-Pacific will remain vital interests of mine and that material related to the same will appear here from time to time whether or not the overall focus shifts once I move from Taiwan.

But in the meantime, it’s nose to the grindstone for me! That, and a little traveling to indulge in a hobby, triathlons. I will head to Singapore next month for a race and then to the Beijing area in May for a final hurrah before heading back to the U.S.

Completely unrelated to all that, but of interest nonetheless, I commend your attention to a new blog written by one of my classmates at National Sun Yat-sen University. It’s only been around for a little over a month, but already Observations, Comments, and Whatnot is chock full of opinion and well, commentary on Taiwan, China, and more. Head on over and check it out: The author, Nathan Novak, is averaging greater than a post a day so far in February, and they are not short ones, either. Finally, at least one of his posts has been picked up for publication by the Taipei Times after he posted it to his blog. Take a look.

Link of Interest 02/03/2011

February 3, 2011
Garuda as national symbol of Thailand

Image via Wikipedia

  • tags: FC PACOM Thailand

    • Malaysia will for the first time take part in the annual Cobra Gold joint military exercise this year, in which nearly 10,000 soldiers of six countries will participate, a military source said.
    • A total of 9,536 soldiers of six countries will take part in the wargames — 2,996 troops from Thailand, 5,900 from the US, 38 from Singapore, 54 from Japan, 304 from South Korea, and 13 from Malaysia.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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