Stimson in the News

Bruce MacDonald speaks at Stimson on Deterrence and Crisis Stability in Space and Cyberspace

in Program

On Wednesday, January 9, Bruce MacDonald spoke on
Deterrence and Crisis Stability in Space and Cyberspace as part of the Stimson
Center’s programming on Space Security.

MacDonald is Senior Director of USIP’s Nonproliferation and
Arms Control Program, where he serves as an adviser on a variety of issues
related to nuclear strategy and policy, missile defense, arms control, and
nonproliferation.  Bruce was assistant
director for national security at the White House Office of Science and
Technology Policy. He has also served on the National Security Council staff,
for the State Department, and on Capitol Hill.

The US receives enormous economic and military benefits
from space-enabled information systems (SEIS) and cyberspace. Because of these
derived benefits, space deterrence and stability are necessary for US national
security in the space and cyberspace domains. Therefore, understanding the
complexities of deterrence and stability is of paramount importance to the United

MacDonald indicated that decision making on when and how
to use space and cyber assets will dictate if or how escalation in crisis
situations occurs, but that little is known about this behavior in both
domains. He noted the haste to move on to the conflict phase of space war
games, and argued that a key focus should be the crisis phase to better
understand the incentives and dynamics involved.

Space is an offense-dominant environment and SEIS are
vulnerable to attack. Therefore, there are incentives to attack first in a
space-based crisis situation, as surviving a space first strike and responding
appears to be difficult. Using nuclear deterrence as a partial example,
MacDonald described instability in space and cyber domains as stemming in part
from a lack of a secure second strike capability, such as we have in the
nuclear domain with sea-based offensive forces.

Finally, MacDonald offered implications for US security
interests. Because of the enormous benefits that the US receives from SEIS, its
goal should be a stabilized space environment.  MacDonald also alluded to questions concerning
tactical use of cyber or space weapons and escalation during a crisis and
emphasized the uncertainty over the escalation potential of their limited
offensive tactical use.  He reiterated
the need for US caution in considering first use of offensive space assets,
noting that the US will likely lose more than gain in an engagement. He
stressed that measures should be taken to prevent low levels of space and cyber
conflict from escalating and gravely damaging assets to all combatants, and
that the economic benefits derived from SEIS should provide a common interest
for countries not to engage in large-scale space and cyber conflict. To
conclude, MacDonald pointed out that his review was preliminary, and raises
further questions concerning crisis instability in space and cyberspace.


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