Key point: Cyber conflicts are being waged and not everyone knows about it.
There has been no formal declaration of war. No rockets landing on London or submarines sinking British ships.
But Britain’s top military commander says Britain is at “at war every day” with Russia and other nations.
The weapons aren’t explosive but digital, the battlefield cyberspace instead of mud. But to General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of Defense Staff, the distinction has come obsolete.
“The changing character of warfare has exposed the distinctions that don’t exist any longer between peace and war,” Carter said during a speech at the Cliveden Literary conference. “I feel I am now at war, but it’s not a war in the way we would have defined it in the past. And that is because great power competition and the battle of ideas with non-state actors is threatening us on a daily basis.”
How Russia and China interpret international rules governing conflict threaten “the ethical and legal basis on which we apply the rule of armed conflict,” according to Carter. “Russia is much more of a threat today than it was five years ago. The character of warfare is evolving… there’s a debate we need to have about what does the future of warfare look like.”
Carter said the traditional conception of warfare as being confined to land, sea and air is obsolete. “There is still clearly going to be human interaction – warfare is essentially a political function - but it will be a much more sophisticated and will include the new domains of space and cyber.”
“The key bit that will give you the edge you need is the way in which information connects [it all] together so we are properly integrated at every level. Information is going to be at the core of so much that we do. Future warfare is going to be very much information-centric.”
Significantly, Carter also “described the difficulty in maintaining a credible military deterrence such as currently in the Baltic states, whilst also transforming the armed forces to the future battlefield that will likely be dominated by cyber warfare,” according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
There are two issues that worry Britain – and the United States and NATO. The first is a riddle wrapped inside a cyberattack and delivered by “little green men:” when is war not a war? Is a cyberattack rise to the level of an act of war? What about Russian interference in foreign elections? Or special forces soldiers in unmarked uniforms, such as those that spearheaded the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014?
Most recently, Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities were attacked by drones and cruise missile, ostensibly fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen, but quite possibly fired by Iran, which at the least is supplying the Houthis with arms and advice. This gives Iran a degree of deniability.
The second problem afflicts middleweight powers like Britain: when you are already struggling to design and fund a conventional military of expensive tanks, jets and aircraft carriers, does the situation justify diverting resources to cope with “gray zone” warfare?
For General Carter, at least, the answer is that Britain is already in a state of pseudo-war.