In its original incarnation, Thomas Rid’s Cyber War Will Not Take Place was an attempt to replace much of the hyperbole in cybersecurity discussions with academic rigor and research. Published four years later, the updated edition maintains Rid’s central thesis that no “cyber war” has occurred. Rid further states that, given problems of accessibility, resourcing, and the diverse panoply of modern computer control systems, it is unlikely that such an event will occur soon.
Rid uses the first three of eight loosely linked chapters to explain cyber war. These passages rely on theorists and philosophers from Carl von Clausewitz to Thomas Hobbes to give the reader a framework of what war is. The essays continue laying an etymological foundation by further defining what constitutes violence, weaponry, and an attack both in general and within the cyber domain. Finally, Rid points out that within these boundaries, cyber operations have yet to claim a single direct victim versus supporting the traditional employment of actual weapons.
The first third of the book then ends with a discussion of how major nation-states certainly could employ cyber weaponry to kinetic effect. However, Cyber War Will Not Take Place also illustrates how such a decision would be akin to unleashing physical biological agents. Like their microbiological counterparts, computer viruses do not care about the identity of their targets, only about executing their code. Thus, those most capable of engaging in true cyber warfare also are those with the most to lose by doing so. In this manner, an uneasy deterrence is likely to keep the electronic peace.
Having provided the reader with this hopeful viewpoint, Rid then uses the back half of the book to explain what should give cybersecurity professionals pause: the entropic nature of the cyber commons. Although true cyber conflict is unlikely, inadvertent and/or purposeful destructive events localized to a particular region or industry are feasible.
Previously, the diversity of industrial control hardware and software code provided some inoculation. However, Rid points out that efforts to standardize and homogenize both software and hardware are making a disgruntled saboteur’s job easier. Compounding this effect is the Internet’s ability to serve as a conduit for the rapid transmission of ideological misanthropy while facilitating the organization of those dissatisfied with society. In turn, the rapidity of the modern news cycle and an impassioned public’s demand for action, misattribution may turn a fatal attack into something worse.
In Rid’s mind, unless steps are taken, a marginalized individual or group eventually will have an outsized effect on a given company, facility, or national infrastructure. Rather than worrying about an infrastructural Pearl Harbor, or advantage-destroying espionage (which Rid illustrates is extremely difficult without access), Cyber War Will Not Take Place posits a strong case that cybersecurity experts should focus on preventing major damage from insider threats.
Rid’s research, presentation, and methodology are solid. However, as the essay “Cyber War Will Take Place” included as an epilogue points out, the foundational problem with Cyber War Will Not Take Place remains the increasing obsolescence of Clausewitzian definitions of war in an increasingly interconnected world. Despite this shortcoming, Rid’s book should be required introductory reading for any officer assigned to a Department of Defense cyber billet. In an ideal world, it would also be read by members of Congress and senior government officials who oversee allocation of national resources.
This is not to say the book is flawless, as there are problems with jargon, repetition, and the loose joining of the chapters. However, Cyber War Will Not Take Place tackles an important issue in a readily accessible manner and is highly recommended.
Michael Fabey. New York: Scribner, 2017. 320 pp. Endnotes. $26.
Reviewed by Rear Admiral Mike McDevitt, U.S. Navy (Retired)
In his first sentence, Michael Fabey claims the United States and China are at “war” in the western Pacific. The war is neither “hot” nor “cold” but “warm”—a formulation he appropriated from a long- retired People’s Liberation Army (PLA) colonel to characterize what others might call an ongoing “competition” between the United States and China being played out in the East and South China seas.
In Fabey’s telling, the United States is losing, thanks to the misguided China policies of President Barack Obama’s administration—policies that sought cooperation on major Sino-U.S. issues and tried to avoid confrontation with Beijing at sea. Policies that have been aided and abetted by, in Fabey’s characterization, “panda hugging” admirals such as former Pacific Command Commander Admiral Sam Locklear and former Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Jon Greenert. Military-to-military engagement and relationship building with the PLA Navy (PLAN) is largely portrayed as a waste of time.
Fabey is a well-regarded and award-winning military journalist who has brilliantly capitalized his extraordinary access to U.S. Navy officers over the past few years. He admits this is not a policy-oriented work; it is a one-sided pro-United States perspective that portrays the Chinese as the “black hats.” He sells himself short; his discussion of Chinese interests and policies is well done. The strengths of Crashback are the number of fascinating anecdotes and sea stories that make up sizable portions of the book. They only can have come from interviews and participation in events with four-star admirals and operational commanders.
One anecdote is his lengthy discussion of the near collision between the Aegis cruiser USS Cowpens (CG-63) and a Chinese landing ship tank (LST) escorting the PLAN’s new carrier Liaoning. In December 2013, the Liaoning was operating in the South China Sea near Hainan Island. The Cowpens was dispatched to observe—in short to conduct a perfectly legal overt intelligence gathering operation. The Cowpens intentionally “surprised” the Chinese force—the carrier was being screened by LSTs, of all things—when it came over the horizon. Two LST escorts were dispatched to shoulder the Cowpens away and in the process forced the cruiser to back emergency full to avoid cutting a much smaller LST in half.
This “crashback” forms the book’s title and forms central narrative thread throughout. Fabey argues that the Cowpens was frightened off and was effectively run out of the South China Sea. This is a bit much; he never explores why the Cowpens either chose or was ordered to terminate her shadowing of the Liaoning. Later during her deployment, the Cowpens’ commanding officer rarely ventures from his import cabin and develops an unusual relationship with the ship’s acting executive officer, a female lieutenant commander. He is relieved upon return to San Diego. Fabey speculates that this behavior, an effective abdication of command, was the result of what happened in the South China Sea—a big reach in my judgment.
Admiral Harry Harris, current Commander, Pacific Fleet, is the “hero” of Crashback. He is willing to confront the Chinese in the South China Sea but is portrayed as being “leashed” by the Obama administration. Harris is a “dragon slayer,” as opposed to a “panda hugger,” who wants to name and shame the Chinese. Fabey misunderstands the purpose of freedom-of-navigation operations (FONOPS). He implies Harris wanted to use it as a deterrent signal to China as opposed to its legal purpose—a challenge of an excessive maritime claim. Harris’s intention is to shape Chinese behavior; to that end he apparently convinced the Obama administration to the extended the John C. Stennis (CVN-74) strike group’s deployment in the South China Sea in spring 2016. Fabey agrees this was the way to do it.
There are several annoying factual blivets in the book. For example, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force does not fly F-4s or F-15s, although I suspect they would like to. The concluding chapter is upbeat, reflecting the hope that President Donald Trump’s administration will deliver on the promise to build a bigger U.S. Navy and be more assertive in dealing with China in the western Pacific. The jury is still out on both counts.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY BOOKS
By Captain Bill Bray, U.S. Navy (Retired)
The Leader’s Bookshelf
Admiral James Stavridis, U.S. Navy (Retired), and R. Manning Ancell.
Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2017. 266 pp. $29.95.
This book is not just another reading list. It is, first and foremost, a testament to the cultivating power of reading well, and thus is experienced counsel to any aspiring leader to take seriously his or her choice of fuel for thoughtful contemplation. The main section covers 50 books, each one a recommendation by a retired four-star flag or general officer, starting with the retired leader’s explanation of the book’s importance, a short background of the author, and a review and leadership lesson provided by either Admiral James Stavridis or R. Manning Ancell. The list is modestly diverse in genre, leaning heavily toward geopolitical and military history, but it also includes novels, contemporary leadership science, and the Gospel. It is less diverse in subject matter, reflecting the reading habits of a previous generation of military leaders, and may not fully resonate with the force of the future. In a later chapter, Admiral Stavridis does recommend a few additional books as “outliers,” and that is welcome. For good books to more fully shape developing leaders, they should not only teach them, but also occasionally make them uncomfortable.
Future War: Preparing for the New Global Battlefield
Major General Robert H. Latiff, U.S. Air Force (Retired).
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 208 pp. Index. $25.
Knopf needs a better title, because in looking at this one, the bookstore browser may yawn at yet another futuristic military technology treatise. Instead, in retired Air Force Major General Robert Latiff’s trim and trenchant book we find ourselves at the intersection of cutting-edge technology, philosophy, history, politics, and just war theory. He presents a well-reasoned case that the United States is almost apathetically drifting toward a future where the ever-complex technology of war, which will still involve killing people, serves a society increasingly disconnected from and disinterested in war’s ethical and social dimensions. Latiff is not as much trying to prepare our intellects for the new global battlefield as he is our consciences, for a citizen’s fidelity to democratic governance comes with obligations. War waged in the next frontier of science, even if it involves far fewer U.S. casualties, will never be morally antiseptic, and the dark side of technology’s promise is the temptation to believe it somehow ever could be.
Churchill Warrior: How a Military Life Guided Winston’s Finest Hours
Brian Lavery. Oxford: Casemate, 2017. 512 pp. Biblio. $32.95.
Considering all that has been written on Winston Churchill, one of the 20th century’s most towering figures, it is quite a challenge today for any historian to find a new—or least less traveled by scholars—aspect to examine his life and accomplishments. Brian Lavery, one of Britain’s leading naval and military historians and author of Churchill’s Navy (Conway, 2006) and Empire of the Seas (Naval Institute Press, 2010), attempts just that. He examines how both Churchill’s military experiences and longtime study of the strategy and administration of war, from boyhood through the darkest days of World War II, shaped his thinking and leadership. Each of six periods—before, during, and after World War I and World War II—is broken into four parts: land, sea, and air warfare and combined operations. Mr. Lavery lives up to his reputation, delivering a sharp, insightful biographical work that should interest even Churchill aficionados.
Proud to Be a Marine: Stories of Strength and Courage from the Few and the Proud
C. Brian Kelly with Ingrid Smyer. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2017. 382 pp. Index. Biblio. $18.99.
One would probably not read from end to end this extensive collection of vignettes from the rich and storied history of the U.S. Marine Corps so much as sample a story here and there for a few moments before bed, for example. It is not critical history by any stretch and runs quickly to the colloquial (warning: this book contains a lot of “news flashes” about arcane historical details). But the book is more than just entertaining. With the telling of each heretofore obscure story, an inspiring mosaic of a great U.S. fighting force comes into focus, a diverse sampling of individual men and women who have served as Marines since before the founding of the republic. The U.S. Marine Corps may be one of our country’s enduring and respected archetypes, but only because of the countless courageous men and women to have filled its ranks.