The ethics of soft war and cyber warfare

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Two special events on campus this week and next will explore the complexities and realities behind cyberwarfare and soft war. These forms of conflict, often rooted online, have real-world consequences on power grids, air-traffic controls, water systems, and even political processes, as all become targets — with potentially disastrous consequences.

Today, at 4:30 p.m. in the Persson Hall auditorium, Colgate’s Center for Freedom and Western Civilization and the Program on Security and Democracy welcomes to campus Marie Helen Maras, associate professor of security, fire, and emergency management at John Jay College. She will discuss the fiction and realities of cyberwarfare and its impact on national security.

That lecture seeks to answer the question of what exactly cyberwarfare is, and it will explore the laws of war and rules of engagement relating to cyberspace.

On Tuesday, April 18, at 4:30 p.m. in the Persson Hall auditorium, a panel discussion titled, “Soft War: The Ethics of Unarmed Conflict” will feature Colgate political science professor Valerie Morkevicius, University of Haifa professor Michael Gross, and West Virginia University professor Jessica Wolfendale.

The panel, sponsored by the political science Kulla Lecture Fund, PCON, and the Division of Social Sciences, will examine how such “soft wars” can have real impacts.

Soft war is the idea that non-kinetic means such as cyberwarfare, communications interruptions, sanctions, and even misinformation and fake news are simply other methods of accomplishing a state or group’s aims without physical action. “There’s also the concept of ‘force short of war,’” said Morkevicius, referencing the practice of a military vessel firing a warning shot, or a surgical strike by a SEAL team. “Some say cyberwar always falls into that category and should never require a kinetic (or physical) response. Others argue otherwise.”

Both events are open to students and the community.