Weekly Geopolitical Report – Reflections on Cyberwar (May 21, 2018)

by Bill O’Grady

(Due to the Memorial Day holiday, our next report will be published on June 4.)

On Saturday, May 11, the New York Times ran an article on the threat of Iranian cyberattacks.[1]  Although the report didn’t necessarily break any new ground, cyberwar does pose some interesting issues for American hegemony.  In this report, we will begin with American military superiority and the increase in unconventional threats.  From there, we will discuss the impact of near abroad risks on hegemony.  The problem of security and efficiency will be addressed and, as always, we will conclude with market ramifications.

The American Military
On January 16, 1991, the air campaign of the Gulf War began.  By February 28, 1991, the conflict was over.  Going into the war, there was concern about the American military’s ability to successfully fight a war half a world away against a hardened Iraqi army, given that the U.S. hadn’t conducted a major military operation since Vietnam.

Although it would be unfair to discount the contributions from the allies in the conflict, the reality was that the Gulf War was an American-conducted event.  Of the 750k soldiers who participated in the ground campaign, over 70% were American.

The results, at least for the allied side, were phenomenal.  The air campaign lasted 42 days, with the allies conducting over 100k sorties.  The ground phase of the war officially began on February 24, 1991, and was halted three days later, with a ceasefire called on February 28, 1991.  In the conflict, 150 American soldiers lost their lives.

It was clear the American military had improved since Vietnam.  The air campaign undermined Iraqi command and control, isolating Iraqi troops in the field.  Once the combined air forces achieved air supremacy, Iraqi troops were in a precarious position.  By the time allied ground forces entered the field, Iraqi troops were poised to be routed.  The American way of war, which combined multiple aircraft platforms, signals intelligence, rapid armored movement and highly trained troops, was a form of “shock and awe.”

The U.S. military showed the world that entering into a conventional conflict with the U.S. was probably foolhardy.  Although the flat desert terrain was almost ideal for U.S. war planners, the fact remained that the military had learned to fully integrate the armed services into a single functional unit that could deliver precise, overwhelming firepower.

So, how does a nation deal with the U.S. military?  Numerous trends have developed.

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/11/technology/iranian-hackers-united-states.html