ABSTRACT

Power, rivalry and cyber conflict: an empirical analysis Conflict knows no boundaries. Over the last two decades interstate conflict has spilled over into a new domain-the cyber domain-an intangible space made up of networks, tools and amenities that millions rely upon to fulfill some of the most basic needs of society. The clashes that occur between states in cyber space are diverse in nature, purpose and impact. Cyber conflict comprises activities ranging from espionage to the strategic dismantling of websites and networks and has provided new opportunities for non-state actors to disrupt cyber systems. Moreover the dual-use nature of the tools of cyber conflict-so-called “cyber weapons”—and seemingly endless possibilities for their use is precisely what makes them such a terrifying specter to many. Cyber weapons, and the conflicts they engender, are dynamic, increasingly pervasive and difficult to control. However, the actual record of cyber conflict has been far more measured than one might imagine. What is certainly clear is that for the international community to address cyber conflict meaningfully it will be necessary to have a richer understanding of the circumstances under which states engage in it. This chapter therefore seeks to identify the dyadic characteristics that appear to make cyber conflict more likely. While there is an extensive literature available about individual cyber operations, there is relatively little systematic, quantitative analysis available evaluating the possible contributors to cyber conflict. This research seeks to address this important gap. This chapter is organized as follows. It begins by reviewing the literature relevant to cyber conflict in order to develop multiple hypotheses as to why and when rival states engage in cyber conflict. These hypotheses cover several aspects of rivalry dynamics including economic and military asymmetry, nuclear weapons possession, interconnectedness, rivalry intensity and regional and cultural factors. Building on previous research (Valeriano and Maness 2014) that has examined the scope, length and damage inflicted by cyber operations between rival states from 2001-2011, this chapter examines 97 rival dyads to understand the characteristics that predict cyber conflict, finding that nuclear weapon possession is the most significant contributor to the likelihood of cyber conflict. The remainder of this chapter explores the implications of this finding

through two cases studies, one of which focuses on a rival dyad in which one country has nuclear weapons (China-Japan) and another in which both are nuclear weapons states (China-United States).