Omnium against omnes (I): Foucault in cyberwarfare

There is no doubt that, in recent years, the number of politically motivated cyberspace operations has been increasing. Under the analysis of the geopolitical context, we can find one of the causes of the rise of this new model of warfare.

Not since World War II has there been a warlike conflict between two First World nations. This shows how the major nations have shifted the clash of interests to less classical methodologies, such as the use of subsidiary wars, commercial warfare and, in recent years, cyberwarfare.

However, it is the use of cyberwarfare that makes it possible to interpret the current geopolitical context, since it offers a series of particularities, as a conflict, that allow it to be adapted to contemporary international relations.

International balance

In 1648, as a result of the Thirty Years’ War, the European States found the need to structure the foundations of international relations. These agreements would be recorded under the name of the Peace of Westphalia and would establish the recognition of the sovereignty of each State, creating a complex web of interests that would prohibit interference in the internal affairs of each one.

In this way, the State not only had to be stronger than its rival, but it would have to be stronger than the sum of all the participating States, since the alteration of this balance would affect all of them.

The Westphalian equilibrium was put in check on numerous occasions, for example, by Napoleon or Otto von Bismark. Finally, Wilsonian idealism was put into practice first in the League of Nations and later in the United Nations, creating a series of supranational regulatory bodies that have arbitrated international relations to this day.

Low-intensity warfare

There is no doubt that the creation of these supranational organizations is part of the reason why the number of high-intensity conflicts has decreased, however, philosopher Michel Foucault established in the 1970s a new model of perennial, low-intensity warfare.

Due to the possible consequences of a nuclear war, Foucault established that nations should find political methodologies for conflict resolution outside the use of a type of weaponry that would lead to the destruction of the planet.

Thus, the limitation of the action of diplomacy defined by Carl von Clausewitz under his well-known phrase: “war is the continuation of politics by other means“, was invalidated by Foucault. For Clausewitz there was a time for politics and a time for war. Foucault, on the contrary, established that the impossibility of utilizing the full potential of war, in addition to the emergence of commercial interests throughout the planet, would lead to the use of a great impact on a hostile nation being detrimental even to the perpetrator.

In this way, the conflict between nations would progressively migrate towards a low-intensity war, where nations would carry out small acts that would allow a small improvement in the political position in international relations.

Cyberwar

The emergence of information and communication technologies, together with their governmental use, has made States vulnerable to cyberwarfare actions. Moreover, the implementation of virtual actions makes it possible to bypass the regulatory capacities of supranational bodies, thus making it possible to instantly, anonymously and globally carry out an action that has an economic or political impact on a State.

As a result, cyberwar is not only a methodology of warfare aligned with the current socio-political context and predicted by Foucault, but its maximum exponent.

A clear example of its application is the well-known case of Stuxnet. Iran, a nation located in an area of clear political instability, was the target of one of the most sophisticated cyberwarfare campaigns to date. The consequences of a conventional military intervention would have been catastrophic, both at a human and geostrategic level, since the decapitation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government could have left the country in the hands of radical Islamist groups, as has happened in Iraq or Afghanistan, countries with which it shares a border.

This example illustrates how cyberwarfare enables this new interaction between nations on a new plane that has not been regulated to date and whose repercussions will allow the possible interpretation of a new socio-political paradigm.


The theoretical considerations raised in this article are set out in full in the book “Omnium contra omnes. Análisis político-militar de la guerra en el ciberespacio” (Spanish).

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