Abstract: Cyber: Weapon of War or Weapon of What?

The United States of America, and the west in general, is under attack from many sides with many tools, cyber chief among them. But is it war? Americans are not so sure—military doctrine and legal concepts cloud the issue. But two senior officers of China’s Peoples’ Liberation Army explain that it’s unrestricted warfare, that is, warfare free from traditional ideas about who is a combatant, where a battlefield is and what is a weapon.  “Who is the most likely to become the leading protagonist on the terra incognita of the next war” ask Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui? “The first challenger to have appeared, and the most famous, is the computer hacker.” And the United States is being attacked from many sides. No, there is no worldwide conspiracy, but there are plenty of entities out there that share a desire to revise what they see as an American-dominated status quo. Cyber attacks matter. Maybe it’s not war, but it may be a contest that we could lose.


Ambassador David J. Smith is a principal at CyberLight Global Associates, focusing on cybersecurity strategy, threat intelligence and training.  He is also Professor of Cyber Policy at Utica College, which is designated by NSA and DHS as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense Education.  At Utica, he teaches Cybersecurity Policy, Cyber Intelligence, Cyber Tactics, Techniques and Procedures and Critical National Infrastructure Protection.  Ambassador Smith is also Director of the Georgian Security Analysis Center in Tbilisi, Georgia, the first country to sustain simultaneous cyber and kinetic attacks.  Since 2011, he has presented Russian Cyber Capabilities, Policy and Practice to top business, analytic and government audiences around the world.

In these roles, he builds on a 35 year career in international relations, including the US Air Force, Defense and State Departments, the staff of both houses of Congress and extensive think tank experience.  His diplomatic experience includes multilateral, alliance-to-alliance and bilateral negotiations.  From 1989 until the demise of the Soviet Union, he was US Ambassador at the US-Soviet Defense and Space talks.  His other areas of expertise include missile defense, arms control, European security policy and security relationships with China, Russia and Korea.  He also has in-depth experience in building effective security institutions in the South Caucasus region.

Smith holds degrees from the University of Arizona, London School of Economics and Harvard University.  He was a major in the United States Air Force.

Ambassador Smith’s articles have appeared in publications around the world.  He contributed chapters to #CyberDoc:No Borders—No Boundaries, Sample and Swetnam, eds.  Some recent articles include Russian Cyber Capabilities, Policy and Practice in inFocus Quarterly; Combining Internet Computing, Biometrics and Sensors to Leverage Deterrence in Synesis; and Time to Confront China’s Cyber Espionage in Defense News.