An example of process-as-solution involving cyber threats to spacecraft

If you had ever wanted an article from the liberal institutionalism view that said just about nothing regarding the problem or the solution….here’s a great example. An editorial in Via Satellite concerning “Cyberspace in Outer Space” set out to discuss the problem of cyber attacks upon spacecraft and the “response” to it.

Don’t get me wrong, it was an interesting read-just probably not for the ways the author intended. Here is what I found interesting. Nowhere in the entire article did the author explain the problem as she defined it (cyber attacks on satellites) and no where did she ever really propose a solution. Instead, her solution was to create more forums within¬†international institutions such as the UN to discuss the topic. In other words, her solution is the process of discourse itself, not the remediation of the problem.

Also, I found it interesting that articles such as this from this lens of international relations, tend to focus on a problem that is not the root cause of the concern they want to have dialogue about in these international forums. What do I mean? Look at what she said the issue was.

“…an attack against a satellite (as well as to its ground stations and communication links) can have profound negative impacts on a set of diverse sectors and activities that rely on satellites.

Such security aspects are all the more important not only due to the increasing reliance, cross-sector and cross-borders, on satellite systems, but also in light of the dual-use nature of satellite technology, the use of IP-based technologies in the space sector, as well as the recourse to the private sector for procurement of sensitive technology and management of critical infrastructures.”

All of this statement is true. It is important to understand the cyber threat to ground and space segments as they have become key pieces of critical national infrastructure, however. is this the problem or is there a root cause that is being ignored? How can you decide a response framework that is “coordinated” if you don’t define the issue to rally the nations to? That was another thing that was missing-national interests. Notice that the author uses the phrase “cross-borders.” This is a true statement in the fact that cyberspace does move across borders, but so does the space domain-that does not remove the fact that those borders exist within the present international order. What are the interests of a nation engaging in cyber attacks? Does this apply more to Western nations or global powers as a whole?

Other questions for strategists to think about when advising policymakers include: Who is attacking? Why are they attacking? Why cyber? Is it just nation states and if not how will having UN meetings among states to develop a process to talk about the second or third order effect solve the strategic issue? It won’t.¬†International institutions believe the solution is the process and not the problem being solved. Managing a problem, as the UN calls it is not a solution.

The problem is not the threat of cyber attack, or even the attacks themselves. This article is focusing on an effect of a cause, not the cause of the problem. The root issue that leads to this concern of cyber attacks is states and non-state actors that have decided there is an asymmetric advantage to using these systems to negate (temporarily or permanently) the utility of space systems upon a nation or commercial entity. Why is that? They do not say.

I am aware that the author’s intent was saying that it was important for nations to discuss issues like these and that is totally fine. Diplomatic initiatives can be helpful instruments and tools of statecraft. However, it is important to understand the roots of a problem and not just propose a forum, but the solution to propose and discuss from the beginning. Otherwise, you will end up with similar results to the UN’s Group of Government Experts and other related forums that have had no real solutions coming out of these multi-day, sometimes multi-year efforts besides rhetorical deliverables to the press.

Anyway, its quite an interesting discussion to dig into. I hope this has sparked some thought processes and is taken in the way it was intended-as a dialogue starter. After all, the author is a supporter of dialogue, lets add the strategic context to this discussion before creating more bureaucratic processes to get bogged down in.


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