Category Archives: Clara Suong

Alliance Management in Cybersecurity: Case of the U.S.-Japan Alliance

Last week there were protests against the Japanese government throughout Asia as crowds demanded apology for its aggression during WWII and for cabinet members’ visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. It was August 15, 2014, the 69th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. Like August 15 of previous years, leaders of China and South Korea also condemned Japan’s increasing assertiveness in foreign and defense policy.

Interestingly, the U.S. government’s growing willingness to share burden with Japan in its defense and deterrence against China and North Korea seems to have stroked this fear of Japanese militarism. The U.S. government has been carefully balancing the military need to push Japan to bear a bigger burden and the diplomatic need to not offend other countries in East Asia by doing so. The difficulty of such balancing act was underscored by Japan’s recent reinterpretation of its constitution, which extended the scope of the right to self-defense to include the defense of an ally under attack. The event exemplified the understanding between the two allies in burden-sharing but was recognized by other East Asian countries as a sign of Japan’s new assertiveness.

Political scientists have long recognized such complicated dynamics in inter- and intra-alliance relationships, in East Asia in particular. For instance, Cha (2000) argued that the key determinant in friction between Japan and South Korea is the symmetry of the U.S. commitment to Japan and South Korea. Noting Japan and South Korea are in a quasi-alliance relationship where the both countries have the U.S. as an ally, respectively, but not are in an alliance with each other, Cha applied Snyder (1984)’s framework of allies’ fear of abandonment and entrapment to explain the fluctuating tension between Japan and South Korea. He maintained that Japan and South Korea experience friction when the U.S. commitment to the region is strong or when there is an asymmetry in the two countries’ fear of abandonment by the U.S. When the U.S. commitment is weak and both countries fear abandonment by the U.S., Japan and South Korea display greater cooperation with each other.

Yet existing work on the dynamics in U.S. alliances in Northeast Asia are mostly concerned with nuclear and conventional military forces. How would the dynamics play out in the cyber domain? For one, burden-sharing between the U.S. and Japan in the cyber domain would incur lower diplomatic costs than other war-fighting domains. Cyber warfare is usually accompanied by anonymity. According to Gartzke (2013), anonymity in cyberspace provides both initiators and targets with conundrums. While anonymity “protects an aggressor from retribution, it also dilutes credit for the deed” (Gartzke 2013: 46-7). Moreover, anonymity fails to give the target a way to retaliate or to acquiesce (Gartzke 2013: 47). However, this implies that anonymity in cyberspace will prevent the U.S.-Japan cooperation from any public diplomacy crisis. While cyber warfare’s anonymity may weaken its effect in deterrence, it would neutralize any public outcry among East Asian countries responding to Japan’s burden-sharing. Because it is difficult to identity who cooperated and who attacked in cyberspace, Japan can take an initiative in its cooperation with the U.S. yet hide behind the cover of anonymity.

On the other hand, it is unclear whether Japan has the capability to share its burden and contribute to deter cyber threats from China and North Korea. The case of Stuxnet serves as a useful benchmark. In 2010, the U.S. and Israel implanted a computer worm in which attacked Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and disrupted its nuclear enrichment. According to Lindsay (2013), Stuxnet included “collaboration with Israel for both operational and strategic reasons: the United States needed access to Israeli clandestine intelligence networks in Iran, and the United States wanted to dissuade Israel from launching an airstrike against Iran” (385). There are some reports which suggest that it was Israel, not the U.S., which spearheaded the Stuxnet attacks (Lindsay 2013: 385). Unlike Israel, however, it is uncertain whether Japan can offer the U.S. anything akin to what Israel provided. Japan has been relatively slow in developing cyber capabilities and in responding to cyber threats. It was only in 2005 that the National Information Security Center was established in the Cabinet Secretariat. It was only last year that the Japanese government created and released its Cyber Security Strategy for the first time.

At present, it is unclear how the dynamics of the U.S.-Japan alliance will unfold in the cyber domain. The alliance has been central to East Asian security in the conventional domains. Both friends and adversaries in the region have observed and reacted to the changes in the relationship, resulting in political and military ramifications. It is unquestionable that they will continue to pay close attention to the alliance dynamics in the cyber domain.

North Korean Cyber-Attacks and Public Backlash

June 25, 2014 marks the 64th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. Started out as a war by proxy, the Korean War became an epitomical conflict in the Cold War era, showcasing not only the civil war between North Korea and South Korea but also friction and conflict between the great powers, U.S. and U.S.S.R. While the U.S., North Korea, and China have signed an armistice in 1953, North Korea and South Korea are technically at war with each other, which recently has taken an interesting turn in the cyber domain.

On June 25 of last year, the websites of South Korea’s presidential office, ruling party and major media outlets were attacked by hackers. Continued until July 1, 2013, the attacks on the websites of 11 news outlets, 5 government offices, and local chapters of the ruling Saenuri Party, included distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and resulted in shutdown of 131 internet servers and 69 websites. The South Korean government blamed North Korea for the attacks.

This was not the first time for North Korea to be accused of cyber-attacks on South Korea. In March of the same year, the South Korean government attributed the attacks on six major banks and three TV broadcasters to the North. In fact, North Korea has been accused of conducting over 6,000 cyber-attacks against South Korea in 2010-2013.

The case of North Korean cyber-attacks on South Korea provides us with interesting implications in cross-domain deterrence. First, cyber capability served as a tool for North Korea which complements, rather than substitutes, its capability in the conventional and nuclear domains. In 2010-3, the period in which they were busy with cyber-attacks, they carried on with their nuclear and conventional activities, testing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Their aggression in the cyber domain was accompanied – not replaced – by aggression with nuclear and conventional weapons. To North Korea, cyber-attacks were useful for initiating low-intensity conflicts and provoking South Korea.

Second, South Korea’s reliance on the internet and the government’s mismanagement of internet-related activities may lead to a backlash from the public on cyber deterrence. South Korea is one of the countries with the highest internet connectivity in the world. With the population heavily reliant on the internet, North Korean cyber-attacks had not only security and economic ramifications but also an effect on public opinion and political culpability. Having experienced North Korean cyber-attacks and the South Korean government’s alleged internet censorship and inability to prevent repeated theft of personal information, South Koreans are now very suspicious of the South Korean government’s efforts to promote cyber security and to deter North Korean cyber-attacks. Many detect political motives behind the South Korean government’s cyber deterrence and some doubt the government’s ability to deter North Korean cyber-attacks. Moreover, some even refused to believe that North Korea was behind the attacks at all, given cyber war’s anonymity and attribution problem.

Similarly, the U.S. government may face public backlash and suffer public relations costs in cyber deterrence. This is demonstrated by the recent controversy over National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program. To the public, there may be a fine line between the U.S. government’s efforts to deter cyber-attacks and signals intelligence operations. It is possible that the public may associate the government’s active cyber deterrence with eavesdropping on the domestic population. While such backlash may not be a security threat, the calculus of cyber deterrence should take account of the possible political ramifications and costs.