Cyber Offense and a Changing Strategic Paradigm

May 19, 2022
Leonard Spector

CNS Distinguished Fellow Leonard Spector has published a new article in The Washington Quarterly that examines the implications of offensive cyber capabilities on nuclear escalation dynamics. In this article, Spector asks: how will strategic relations among the United States, Russia, and China be impacted as these states work to implant stealthy malware to compromise each other’s nuclear weapon systems and critical infrastructures?

While such cyber intrusions undeniably carry the risk of inadvertent nuclear escalation, much more is at issue. This article argues that counter-nuclear-weapon-system cyber operations cast a certain shadow over a number of nuclear-use options, including preemptive first strikes. At the same time, the potential of wholesale infrastructure attacks to cause grave damage has led Washington, Moscow, and Beijing to see such attacks as providing additional pre-nuclear rungs on the escalation ladder – possibly making resort to nuclear arms more remote. Given official reluctance to discuss clandestine cyber operations, the article urges parties outside of government to help shape understanding of this new cyber-infused environment in ways that strengthen strategic stability.

Access the full article.

Cyber Offense and a Changing Strategic Paradigm
Leonard S. Spector
Washington Quarterly, 45:1, 38-56,

vertical text over world map

Comments Are Closed