As a long-time fan of former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoya panel on Cyber Weapons and Strategic Stability at the 2017 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference. Not only would a woman I admire be moderating, but the discussion would be directly relevant to a project I work on at NTI—our Cyber-Nuclear Weapons Study Group. This group of former senior military and government officials is working to determine the implication of cyber threats to nuclear command and control systems for U.S. nuclear policies and force postures.
Flournoy guided three panelists—Dr. Emily Goldman, of the U.S. Cyber Command/National Security Agency Combined Action Group; Sir David Omand of King’s College London (and, importantly, former Director of the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) from 1996-1997); and Captain Xu Manshu of the National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army—through a wide-ranging discussion of some of the most salient questions in this space.
Three key takeaways emerged:
First, the increasing prevalence of cyber can have a serious and escalatory effect in a crisis situation. Finding malware on a sensitive system in peacetime would be unsettling enough—but making that discovery in wartime could have significant, potentially unintended consequences. That makes efforts to re-evaluate nuclear policy and force posture in light of the cyber threat all the more important.