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Minister of Defense Calls for International Cyber-War Rules

Minister of Defense Jaak Aaviksoo
Minister of Defense Jaak Aaviksoo Source: Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

In a speech at the Royal College of Defense Studies in London, Estonian Minister of Defense Jaak Aaviksoo outlined the most pressing cyber security issues to be dealt with by the international community.

Here is the gist of 12-page report:

"In a situation, where many countries are developing terrifying cyber-weapons for offensive use, cyber-attacks can damage physical infrastructure, cause loss of life, and sew widespread fear and panic that can quickly destabilize networked societies [...] Unfortunately, the standard logic of arms control is unlikely to prevent the spread and use of cyber-weapons."

"Rather, we would do well to push for all countries to adopt responsible limits and self-restraint in the use of cyber-weapons. Humane practice means abiding by the same limits we all follow with conventional weapons. If states do use cyber-weapons, they should avoid civilian infrastructure, particularly core services like hospitals, law enforcement and financial services. They should mitigate the loss of life, property and individual privacy. Combatants – those engaged in launching such attacks – should be clearly designated and within the military chain of command. Cyber-attacks should be proportional to the military aims they serve."

Aaviksoo also touched upon how collective security guarantees, particularly the North Atlantic Treaty and the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, apply to asymmetric threats like terrorism or cyber-attacks.

"Does collective defense apply when lines of code take the place of bombs and bullets? I would argue this is the wrong question to ask [...] The decision to invoke NATO’s Article 5 or the EU’s Solidarity Clause should not depend on the type of weapon used or the identity of the attacker. Article 5 comes into force in the case of an armed attack, the EU Solidarity Clause is even broader. Neither specifies what constitutes an armed attack, nor should they: technology and military practice changed in leaps and bounds during the 20th century, and there is no reason to believe the 21st century is any different. Our primary criterion must be the type of damage caused. Did an attack cause a loss of life, large-scale economic destruction, or damage to infrastructure? Did it intend to?"

As a case-in-point, Aaviksoo cited NATO’s reaction to the attacks of September 11. "Civilian aircraft were turned into dangerous weapons as a result of the intentions of the attackers and the choice of their targets. NATO declared that an attack that resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and massive material damage was grounds for invoking Article 5, regardless of the means used," Aaviksoo said.

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