Looking for War in All the Wrong Places

06/06/2011 04:29 pm ET | Updated Aug 06, 2011

For about three-and-a-half centuries wars have been fought principally between and among nation-states or countries. Military people are paid to prepare for these wars and employ the tools and practices of traditional warfare in doing so. Now comes the 21st century and the new threats we face are not from the governments of other countries, and they rarely represent a challenge to our survival or the balance of power in the world. What is a traditional military to do under these circumstances?

What our Pentagon did recently was to try to fit cyber attacks into the traditional military mold. According to the New York Times, it "plans to issue a new strategy soon declaring that a computer attack from a foreign nation can be considered an act of war that may result in a military response." Notice that it does not insist the attack come from a foreign government, just from a "foreign nation."

Starting some years ago reports of hackers around the world -- Russia, China, and elsewhere -- penetrating our military and civilian computer systems began to flourish. Our counter-technology usually traced these to random mischief-makers demonstrating their computer skills. Rarely have these been traced to a foreign ministry of defense or official source. So, our Pentagon is going to war with other nations -- "a military response" -- if some hacker attacks any of our computer systems? Really? Are they serious?

Perhaps these geniuses, who are totally adrift in a world where threats do not originate from foreign governments, are trying to intimidate foreign governments, including Russia and China, into policing their own hacker world. It is a theory, but not a very plausible one. Instead, it seems like an attempt by traditional military thinkers to fit a world of new realities into an old world of conventional warfare: "Anybody in your country does something bad to us, particularly something bad we're not prepared to deal with, and we'll attack you."

If someone, in this case the Commander-in-chief and the senior civilian command, doesn't shut down this dangerous kind of thinking soon, we'll find ourselves in the same situation of Gulliver-tied down by armies of little Lilliputians. There is nothing more harmful to the survival and success of a great nation than to let itself become irrelevant.

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