Not Your Grandfather’s War


War really is going out of style.

At least that’s what Joshua Goldstein, professor emeritus of international relations at American University, and Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece last month.

Throughout the editorial, Goldstein and Pinker dissect the meaning of “war” today, its various categorizations, and the reasoning behind their sentiment that war has become passé. Among other rationales, the piece cites a lack of monetary gain as a key contributor, as the financial cost of war overshadows any acceptable gain:

“For centuries, wars reallocated huge territories, as empires were agglomerated or dismantled and states wiped off the map. But since shortly after World War II, virtually no borders have changed by force, and no member of the United Nations has disappeared through conquest.”

But is war really going out of style, or is the way it’s fought being changed?

As I wrote in a recent Threat Geek post, war is being redefined, not replaced. The battle for land in previous times has now translated into a fight over intellectual property, with nation states attempting to steal from each other using advanced, targeted cyber attacks. It’s not that war is passé, it’s that the landscape has changed. Land is no longer the primary motivator in global conflict, as the value of intellectual property has become, in many ways, priceless—just think of what China would pay for Pfizer’s next groundbreaking drug before it hits the open market.

Instead of bullets on battlefields, wars are being fought with keyboards over networks at a fraction of the price.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Why risk billions of dollars engaging in combat with a nation when you could steal their most valuable assets with the click of a mouse? Why thrust your country into global negative light, when you could be a faceless enemy attacking from thousands of miles away?

The perception that the United States has not been attacked by a foreign government since Pearl Harbor is false. Thousands of times each day, nation states like China and Russia are engaging in cyber warfare, trying to deploy advanced persistent threats (APTs) over American networks to gain access to our most crucial information. The United States has always been upfront in flexing its military muscle as a deterrent against potential threats, but when it comes to our capabilities in a cyber war, we have been secretive.

Maybe that’s about to change.

Recently, four-star General James Cartwright (a retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) went on record as saying the United States needs to be more upfront about its cyber capabilities.

“You can’t have something that’s a secret be a deterrent. Because if you don’t know it’s there, it doesn’t scare you,” said General Cartwright.

It’s hard to argue with his logic of letting the world know of our offensive capabilities or employing a strong defense as a way to defeat cyber attacks. If a country is going to take a shot at U.S. interests, they are going to get hit back. Hard.

This is where Fidelis Security Systems and several other security companies can help to deal with these types of advanced persistent threats on a daily basis. In a way, network security companies are becoming the defense contractors of the future. What Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin were to the aerospace industry throughout the 1980s, has now been transferred to our shoulders. We can’t win the war for you, but we can equip you with the best weapons to help fight in the cyber war.

General Cartwright estimated that it could probably take hackers two to five years before they had access to disable a large percentage of the banking industry or the U.S. electrical grid. Even a smaller attack could undermine confidence in financial markets. It would appear to me that these threats are cyberspace’s version of the Cuban missile crisis.

Doesn’t sound like war is going anywhere, does it?

Peter George is the President and CEO of Fidelis Security Systems. Follow @

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One response to “Not Your Grandfather’s War”

  1. Andy OryChris C. says:

    Thanks for the insights and good read, Peter…