The Strategic Promise of Offensive Cyber Operations
Abstract: Could offensive cyber operations provide strategic value? If so, how and under what conditions? While a growing number of states are said to be interested in developing offensive cyber capabilities, there is a sense that state leaders and policy makers still do not have a strong conception of its strategic advantages and limitations. This article finds that offensive cyber operations could provide significant strategic value to state-actors. The availability of offensive cyber capabilities expands the options available to state leaders across a wide range of situations. Distinguishing between counterforce cyber capabilities and countervalue cyber capabilities, the article shows that offensive cyber capabilities can both be an important force-multiplier for conventional capabilities as well as an independent asset. They can be used effectively with few casualties and achieve a form of psychological ascendancy. Yet, the promise of offensive cyber capabilities’ strategic value comes with a set of conditions. These conditions are by no means always easy to fulfill—and at times lead to difficult strategic trade-offs.