The Escalation Inversion and Other Oddities of Situational Cyber Stability (Fall 2020)




Healey, Jason
Jervis, Robert

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Texas National Security Review



As the United States shifts to a new military strategy of defending forward against adversaries in cyberspace, research into the role of cyber capabilities in crisis stability is especially relevant. This paper introduces the concept of situational cyber stability, suggesting the key question is not “whether” cyber capabilities are escalatory but rather how they are escalatory under certain geopolitical conditions. We identify four key mechanisms: Pressure Release, Spark, Pull Out the Big Guns, and the Escalation Inversion. Optimists (believing that “No, cyber conflict is not escalatory”) and pessimists (“Oh, yes it is”) have each touched on parts of these mechanisms. This paper integrates research from both views to better understand crisis stability in cyberspace across the range of geopolitical contexts, from relative peace to impending war. We examine the role of surprise in cyber conflict and introduce policy recommendations to reduce the chances of crises escalating.

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