world war E
dispatches from the network society

cybercontrol of nuclear systems

Recent discussions about the relationship between mainland China and Taiwan reminded me of a Pentagon report leaked in 2002 documenting seven U.S. nuclear contingencies – one of which being a war between China and Taiwan.

William Arkin wrote at the time in the Los Angeles Times about how the nuclear contingency planning is located in a post-9/11 worldview where nuclear deterrence is neutralized by the fact that aggressive actors are no longer just states. Arkin specifically noted a

directive to improve U.S. capabilities in the field of “information operations,” or cyber-warfare. The intelligence community “lacks adequate data on most adversary computer local area networks and other command and control systems,” the review observes. It calls for improvements in the ability to “exploit” enemy computer networks, and the integration of cyber-warfare into the overall nuclear war database “to enable more effective targeting, weaponeering, and combat assessment essential to the New Triad.”

The unification of informational warfare and nuclear arsenals seems to bear out the predictions of Dr. Strangelove and, more recently, the Terminator series. Given the sophistication of recent cyberattacks, and the acknowledgment that vital systems are not adequately shielded, do we really want to put even a modicum of nuclear control into cybersystems?

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