Cyber Security and International Relations

Written on 11 March 2014


I have just read a short, but interesting article by Rod Beckstrom entitled ‘It’s a MAD, MAD, MAD Cyber World’.  It was particularly interesting to me because of my academic background in international relations on which it draws parallels.  The article compares the current cyber security situation with the Cold War national security concepts, particularly with the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction(MAD) Doctrine of the Cold War.

MAD doctrine related to the concept of deterrence that kept the peace during the Cold War. Under MAD conflict between the Great Powers was prevented by making the cost so high it would be rigorously avoided.  The idea was based on the assertion that if NATO was attacked by the Warsaw Pact the response would be total rather than proportional.  This meant that any attack would result in General Nuclear War. This was understood by all the actors.

Beckstrom refers to the Internet variant MAD as Mutually Assured Disruption.  This is based on the fact that the Internet is of immense value to all nations and that if one nation attacks another the other will respond in kind.  Of course, the actors on the Internet are not restricted to nation states.  The situation is therefore far more complex than the Cold War, and rogue elements are far more prevalent.  Also the consequences of upsetting the game would by no means herald the end of civilisation. The doctrine would therefore not be as an effective behavioural control mechanism as it was during the Cold War.

Nevertheless, an interesting article which can be read at: