In the movie, Dr. Strangelove: or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb a character, the insane US Air Force General Jack the Ripper, thinks the Russians are conspiring to pollute the precious body fluids of the America people so he sends a bomber wing to nuke the USSR and precipitate a nuclear world war.
Mark Twain said, “truth is stranger than reality”, but in the present Russia USA contretemps I would say “reality is copying fiction”.
The US Russia policy is similar to the movie in that Russia is now accused of polluting the pristine American political process by hacking into the DNC emails, exposing corruption and thereby interfering in US elections. I mean after all, we certainly don’t want US corruption to be exposed by anyone, above all not by the Evil Empire! The increasingly heated and irrational rhetoric and accusations leveled at Russia from the US are now looking like a justification and prelude to open conflict, actions now, not words. And, although I still am loathe to believe even the mentally unbalanced neocons would favour a nuclear world war, they could precipitate a cyber war.
There is no question that all major countries are already indulging in cyber warfare on a limited basis, i.e. NSA and GCHQ hacking into and monitoring friend and foe alike while Russia and China do the same. Both the West and Russia have done this since 1945, in the early days trading radio propaganda 24/7. However, the danger now is that cyber-warfare could be escalated to another level, one described by Richard A. Clarke, in his book Cyber War (May 2010), as “actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption.” Or, as Dr. Harari put it more dramatically in his recent book, Homo Deus, “Within seconds, a sufficiently sophisticated cyber strike might shut down the US power grid, wreck US flight control centres, cause numerous industrial accidents in nuclear plants and chemical installations, disrupt the police, army and intelligence communication networks – and wipe out financial records so that trillions of dollars simply vanish without trace and nobody knows who owns what. The only thing curbing public hysteria is that with the Internet, television and radio down, people will not be aware of the full magnitude of the disaster.” There would not even be time to retaliate. Checkmate! And, this holds equally true for China and Russia should the US initiate a cyber attack.
The US technical skills in cyber-warfare are very good but, as we have seen, US defences can be penetrated, and ditto for the Russians and Chinese, but all three countries are becoming more adept. When I lump Russia and China together, as I do the US and UK, it is because that is the way the geopolitical map is being shaped by the US and UK forcing Russia into an embrace with China. These are not good fighting odds on nuclear or cyber-warfare terms that favour the combined forces of China and Russia.
Leaving aside the possibility of a nuclear holocaust and MAD (mutual assured destruction), one should consider that the US is probably more vulnerable to cyber attack simply because of its techno-demographic profile. The US is more Internet connected and concentrated than either China or Russia so more of its infrastructure could be brought down with a single cyber strike. Too, with the move in the US to the Internet of Things an increasing number of devices (home appliances, locks, cars) are connected to the Internet, so the US becomes ever more vulnerable.
The danger is if any one of the Big Three is pushed too hard too far and feels its national infrastructure seriously threatened the balloon could go up. That is why the rhetoric needs to be to be toned down. The hackers, whoever they may be, serve the Democratic Party presidential campaign well in that the hacks help deflect attention from the content, the malfeasance of the party and Hillary Clinton’s questionable policies and honesty so the hackers need to be more circumspect. Expose, but do it circumspectly and the Americans need to be more circumspect in their reaction.
Above all, beware the successors to General Jack the Ripper.