Publication: Asia-Pacific Regional Security Assessment 2017
02 June 2017
East Asia’s security environment is currently shaped by contending strategic trajectories reflected in the struggle for dominance by the region’s two major powers (China and Japan); the divided Korean Peninsula; intra-regional competition in territorial disputes in the South China Sea; and, perhaps most importantly, the contours of long-term regional strategic competition and rivalry between China and the United States. Amid greater strategic uncertainties, there is ongoing debate with regard to the diffusion and use of military cyber capabilities as a potential game-changer for East Asia’s future security and stability.
On the one hand, sceptics may argue that there are serious limitations in using cyber means to create political or military effects, particularly at the higher end of the conflict spectrum. In this view, military cyber capabilities may not strengthen states’ capabilities for coercion or deterrence – they do not transform regional power structures, do not replace conventional military capabilities of the most advanced powers in the region, and, ultimately, have a limited utility to achieve desired political outcomes. The prevailing view, however, is that East Asia’s regional military-modernisation trajectories are already shaped by increasing requirements for more sophisticated and capable cyber assets, as well as advanced military technologies, including unmanned and autonomous systems; artificial intelligence; and human–machine platforms in nearly every combat domain. The pursuit of military cyber capabilities therefore creates a new arena for strategic competition, imposing a complex set of challenges for strategy and defence planning.