Wars have long been waged on the World Wide Web, whether it be governments hacking into the servers of other governments, such as a suspected Russian break-in into the Democratic National Committe on Tuesday, or wars of words between impassioned individual or groups on public forums such as a YouTube comments section. Recognizing the increasing prevalence of online fisticuffs, NATO formally declared cyberspace a domain of warfare in Brussels on Tuesday.
The decision is being advertised as primarily a defensive one, with the potential of having offensive components. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal:
"The effort is designed to bolster allies' cyberdefenses, but also will begin a debate over whether NATO should eventually use cyberweapons that can shut down enemy missiles and air defenses or destroy adversaries' computer networks...By making cyber a warfare domain, NATO will open the door to stepped up military planning, dedicate more officers to cyber operations and better integrate electronic warfare into its military exercises."
With increasing concerns over the cyber abilities of nations such as Russia, China, and even ISIL, the agreement comes as a no-brainer in many ways. Attacks have, and will, continue to be carried out through cyberspace, and NATO nations such as the United States must be prepared to ward off such attacks.
"Most crises and conflicts today have a cyber dimension," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, "So treating cyber as an operational domain would enable us to better protect our missions and operations."
In addition, Stoltenberg said that a cyber attack could now trigger Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty, according to Euronews, which commits the alliance to consider an armed attack on one member of the alliance as an attack on every member.
The decision should be viewed as sensible, if not somewhat overdue given the global importance of electronics and the internet to society and culture. Hopefully, the move prevents further cyber attacks, or something like a WarGames situation, from happening.