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Title: Cyberattacks in international relations
Author: Edelman, Ross David
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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New methods of conflict and coercion can prompt tectonic shifts in the international system, reconfiguring power, institutions, and norms of state behavior. Cyberattacks, coercive acts that disrupt or destroy the digital infrastructure on which states increasingly rely, have the potential to be such a tool — but only if put into practice. This study examines which forces in the international system might restrain state use of cyberattacks, even when they are militarily advantageous. To do so I place this novel technology in the context of existing international regimes, employing an analogical approach that identifies the salient aspects of cyberattacks, and compares them to prior weapons and tactics that share those attributes. Specifically, this study considers three possible restraints on state behavior: rationalist deterrence, the jus ad bellum regime governing the resort to force, and incompatibility with the jus in bello canon of law defining just conduct in war. First, I demonstrate that cyberattacks frustrate conventional deterrence models, and invite, instead, a novel form of proto-competition I call ‘structural deterrence.’ Recognizing that states have not yet grounded their sweeping claims about the acceptability of cyberattacks in any formal analysis, I consider evidence from other prohibited uses of force or types of weaponry to defining whether cyberattacks are ‘legal’ in peacetime or ‘usable’ in wartime. Whereas previous studies of cyberattacks have focused primarily on policy guidance for a single state or limited analysis of the letter of international law, this study explicitly relates international law to state decision-making and precedent. It draws together previously disparate literature across strategic studies, international law, and diplomatic history to offer conclusions applicable beyond any single technology, and of increasing importance as states’ dependence on technology grows.
Supervisor: Khong, Yuen Foong; Percy, Sarah Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: International studies ; Public international law ; War (politics) ; Social Sciences ; Law ; Law and the internet ; History of War ; cyberattacks ; cybersecurity ; cyber ; international relations ; international law ; cyberwar ; cyberdeterrence ; deterrence ; norms