The world goes to cyber-war, Brazil prepares a new rang of submarines and we meet Washington's man in Yangon.
Worms and viruses may not quite be poised to replace bombs and bullets as our weapons of choice but militaries around the world are rushing to build up their cyber forces to protect critical systems from outside attack and, if necessary, cripple those of the enemy.
Stung by repeated Chinese cyber attacks on government and private networks, the US announced in March that the US army is setting up 40 new cyber-warfare teams, 13 of which will focus solely on “offensive” operations. The UK government has also stressed the need to shore up its online defences, claiming attacks are costing British companies £27bn (€31.8bn) a year.
The international community is only just beginning to understand the complexities of this new domain. In March, Nato’s Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) published the Tallinn Manual, the first attempt to apply international law to cyber defence.
“What makes the situation fairly unique is that there is not much cyber-specific international law regulating actions between states,” says ccdcoe scientist Liis Vihul. At present, governments have to think very hard, she points out, to determine what constitutes an “act of force”. Activities requiring a retaliation would usually be those that “injure or kill people or damage or destroy objects”. Legally, a proportionate response to a virtual attack could involve the use of bombs and bullets, not just a cyber counterstrike.
- The US would need to pursue Chinese hackings in other ways – as espionage or criminal acts.
- Not all countries agree. China and Russia, for instance, support a cyber code of conduct.
- Worms such as the US’s Stuxnet (Iran, 2008), can spread to unrelated networks. Militaries must learn to keep control of their cyber weapons or they could cripple global systems.
South America is about to get its first junior super power. In order to safeguard its offshore resources and to underline its arrival as a major global player, Brazil is planning to join an exclusive club of nations that possess the capability to build their own nuclear-powered submarines.
France, one of the five countries in that club, has agreed to supply the know-how. A new naval shipyard has been established near Rio de Janeiro with the assistance of French shipbuilder DCNS, which is already constructing four new conventional subs for the Brazilian navy. The nuclear boats will then follow; Brazil has plans to build six, and wants the first to be operational by 2025.
As well as guaranteeing a share of the €7bn Brazil has earmarked for the ambitious programme, Paris’s assistance also boosts its chances of selling Rafale fighter jets to the Brazilians.
The dream of Abu Dhabi Ship Building (ADSB) competing with Europe’s naval shipyards and becoming a regional construction powerhouse is essentially over.
ADSB was set up in 1996 using canny investment, cheap labour drafted in from India and input from some key international partnerships to create what is without argument the finest, most modern naval shipyard in the Gulf region.
However, aside from some fairly basic orders for landing craft coming from Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, the UAE’s neighbours have preferred to go elsewhere for their warships and Abu Dhabi’s business model has since become unsustainable. With no major warship orders on the horizon from the UAE and no others from the rest of the Gulf, ADSB appears to be facing exactly the same issues that have killed off naval construction in Europe.
The global defence industry is often seen as a corrupt and cynical business. Transparency International publishes two indices that rank governments and companies according to the probity of their defence activities.
Why is defence more prone to corruption?
The sector is notoriously secretive, with companies and governments hiding behind the veil of national security. The amount of money involved in contracts is enormous and deals can extend over years if not decades.
Which side is to blame?
It is a supply-and-demand problem, with both sides contributing. Companies blame government employees for demanding bribes; governments blame companies for scheming up complex channels and harbouring slush funds.
What can be done about it?
The broadest way to tackle the problem is for companies and governments to collaborate on a global initiative that leads to much greater transparency in deals with all arms-importing governments.