World War No Longer an Option...Enter Cyber Warfare
by Dan Ehrlich

Bombs being shipped from Yemen to the US and Iran's probable nuclear ambitions are examples of a growing archaic style of conflict, one where you either blow the hell out of your enemy or simply make a political point. Thankfully these will probably be limited to future Afghan style wars.

In a global economy of producer nations and consumer nations, where we are all mutually dependent on one another, the wars of annihilation scenario is no longer a viable option. Even limited all-out war, forget about world war, could create global economic chaos, panic and deprivation. And in the end, we would all wind-up losers.

This is much the same as our cold war strategy of mutually assured destruction (MAD); the idea that any nuclear attack on the USA would be answered by an equally destructive attack on Russia (or China) is now a completely unthinkable option. The fact we still have Strategic Air Command bombers flying around all the time can now we seen as a pointless waste of taxpayer money. Who are they prepared to attack?
Former adversaries now business partners
The USA, EU, Russia, China, all once adversaries, are now through capitalism, business partners. They can’t afford to lay waste to each other. For example, what would happen if China and America stopped trading? China needs us, arguably more than we need China. They are on the way up, with our economic help. However, we appear to be on the way down, by virtue of their economic fruits.

Many in America, and even other parts of Asia, would welcome a trade embargo against China. But, it would mean a regression for America and for China, which has built up possibly the world’s biggest industrial base from its peasantry.

For example what would Wal-Mart do if it couldn’t get Chinese goods? We have become addicted to cheap Chinese products. And, we haven’t the industrial base anymore to make them at home. Even if we could, our overheads are too high to sell things cheaply. In the end, we have to get along with each other for the mutual good.

But, this doesn’t mean geopolitical differences and potential conflicts will disappear. What it means is how wars of the future may be fought…clean, bloodless wars… in a world growing dependent on one industry…computers.

The other day I was visiting my doctor who tried to pull up my files on his computer. But, it wasn’t working. He couldn’t get my files. I had to arrange for another visit. More to the point, recently Iran’s new nuclear facility, nearing completion, was disabled by a mystery computer virus...from Israel, perhaps? During past years computer viruses from abroad have attacked and disabled many US and European computer systems.
Computers run our lives
Virtually everything we do now is connected in some way to a computer, from running our cars, airliners, military weapons, corporate administration to sensory controlled automatic changing toilet seat covers at some US airport restrooms. We can’t live without computers something that’s scary because what happens if they are turned off or disabled?

What would happen to America or any other nation if computers in key cities and industries stopped working or just stopped working properly? I have long felt if there ever were another world war, one that would lay waste to much of the planet, people with low-tech skills would be best able to survive. They would know how to live without Iphones and laptops.

But now, thankfully the possibility of such a war is receding in the era of clean and bloodless cyber warfare.

First it was the individual hacker who would maliciously, yet almost playfully, show us what damage could be caused to IT sytems. As the rapid advancement of IT technology continues systems and counter systems will be developed to disable and destroy computer centers and grids controlling everything from national defense to national banks. Right now there are governments and terrorists groups trying to develop software and hardware that can attack and defend against such attacks.

What this might mean is any nation, even a small one, could blackmail a larger nation by threatening to destroy its high tech infrastructure. And it would convince the larger country with a warning shot that could be devastating. What about traditional military retaliation? Ah, what about if the upstart country or even a terrorist group knocks out the country’s military command computers and various weapons systems?

This, of course, is still science fiction. But every year, every month it gets closer to reality. China, with a population the size of the entire Islamic world, will need more and more cheap resources to feed and care for its massive workforce that produces the cheap goods that have become dominant in much of the developed nations.

The Chinese will covet America, the world’s breadbasket, with its natural and chemically enriched farmland. But, if a future trade war ensues between them and us, the US may threaten to stop produce shipments. China could respond by cyber attacks on key high tech installations. And then blackmail us to get what they want.
In a bind over China
We would be in a bind. If we took military action we would wind up cutting off the supply of all the consumer goods that has made us dependent on China in the first place. But even more worrisome would be China’s response to any direct military attack. As I said earlier, with all developed nations in the same boat, when one suffers we all suffer. Attacking China could cause worldwide chaos.

The Chinese realize the strong hand they have. That’s probably why recently, even with the close economic ties it has with the US, it developed and is deploying so called carrier- busting missiles on its China Sea navy. Their presumed goal would be to blow America out of Asian waters, which China, as with Japan before WW2, considers its home field. Yet this is more than likely just for show.

Our mutual economic dependence means maintaining a delicate balancing act between long-time points of conflict such as America’s support for Taiwan and the new reality of our economic support for the seat of international Communism.

But as I said at the outset, there may always be Afghanistans since there probably will be terrorist groups or revolutionary movements somewhere working to develop better ways of making their points. And, right now, that way could be clean, civilized and hard to stop cyber warfare.

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