This seminar will discuss Russia’s use of cyberspace for revisionist purposes in the international system and the West’s failure – so far – to counter it. Contemporary Russia is no ordinary world power. Its leaders strive to alter the international order more than preserve it. This aspiration embodies ideological as much as material goals. The main targets of Russia’s activist foreign policy are the Western liberal nations that dominate the current international order and their aspiring partners in Russia’s near abroad. Cyber activity is a central element of this programme of change. Virtual weapons confer a crucial advantage: they enable Russia to disrupt the international order without firing a single gun, thereby avoiding serious reprisal. Western security thinkers have largely failed to grasp the superiority and distinctness of the security doctrine that guides Russian policy. The doctrine refutes the notion of a decisive military confrontation which prevails in Western security thinking but that Russia recognizes it is unlikely to win. Instead, the core tenet of Russian cyber operations is the belief that the ideological element of conflict is more important than the physical one.
On the backdrop of a global contest of conceptions of political order, both domestic and international, Russian strategists seek to deny adversaries the internal cohesion necessary to act purposefully abroad. The vast plane of cyberspace comprising interconnected machines and information spaces magnifies the possibilities for political disruption within the opponents’ home terrain. Russia has mastered the principles and technologies of unpeace: mid-spectrum action lying below the physically destructive threshold of interstate violence but whose harmful effects far surpass the tolerable level of peacetime competition and possibly even of war.
Lucas Kello is Senior Lecturer in International Relations. He serves as Director of the Centre for Technology and Global Affairs, a major research initiative on the impact of modern technology on international relations, government, and society. He is also co-Director of the interdisciplinary Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security at the Department of Computer Science. His recent publications include The Virtual Weapon and International Order (Yale University Press), “The Meaning of the Cyber Revolution: Perils to Theory and Statecraft” in International Security, and “Security” in The Oxford Companion to International Relations (Oxford University Press).