Nuking Cyberattackers

January 30, 2018  |  By Holly Dragoo

The Pentagon has revised the Nuclear Posture Review, a doctrinal document that outlines what conditions the U.S. is prepared to use nuclear weapons, to encompass cyberattacks. In the event of “devastating cyberattacks” (not specified what might meet that threshold) the U.S. is officially allowing for nuclear weapons to be included in the options available for responding to such an attack. This is an unprecedented move and has yet to secure final approval from senior officials.

IISP Analyst Holly Dragoo: "This is a substantive move away from traditional kinetic warfare focus towards 21st century fears. It’s upsetting to hear that cyberattacks could trigger a nuclear holocaust, but it shouldn’t be viewed in such extreme terms. Existing cyber norms and the Law of Armed Conflict (LoAC) inhibit disproportionate retaliatory attacks, making actual nuclear use in response to a cyberattack highly unlikely if not improbable. I think this is an attempt to provide options for unimaginable scenarios and, however misguided, strategically deter state-sponsored cyberattacks."



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