National cyber capabilities
Assessing cyber warfare capabilities
Defensive capability
Offensive cyber capability
Developing doctrines
Possible Indicators of Cyber Capability

Coercive cyber capabilities are becoming a new instrument of state power, as countries seek to strengthen national security and exercise political influence. Military capabilities are being upgraded to monitor the constantly changing cyber domain and to launch, and to defend against, cyber attacks. Specific military enhancements to traditional capabilities include technically capable recruits, high-end intelligence and surveillance technologies, aggressive defence innovation, sophisticated doctrines and dynamic strategies for cyber operations. (For more on the challenges of defining cyber in a military context see ‘Cyberspace: assessing the military dimension’, The Military Balance 2011, pp. 27–32; see also Cyberspace and the State: Toward a Strategy for Cyber-Power, IISS Adelphi 424, 2011.)

While more nations are each year developing the capability to operate in the cyber realm – albeit at varying levels of sophistication – measuring national capabilities remains problematic. One reason for this is information classification. Despite heightened public interest in the subject and occasional evidence of evolving cyber-defensive (and especially cyber-offensive) capabilities, countries prefer to be secretive about their military cyber capabilities. Another challenge in measuring national cyber capabilities relates to the ubiquity and dual-use nature of computing and cyber tools, the stealth and immediacy of cyber operations and uncertainty over the responsibilities of civilian and military organisations.

Colin Gray, a professor of international relations at the University of Reading, demonstrates the difficulty in assessing the implications of cyber as a novel area of defence. He argues that the challenge posed by cyber is in fact familiar, citing the way strategists have come to terms with air power, nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles within the last 100 years.

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