Battles in the air, on land, and sea are decreasing with the rise of cyber warfare as countries are seeing the increase of cyber as the most critical tools of war. Yet, while the tools of war are changing, the rules have not. The US and the international community must have a thorough discussion to address the details and concerns of the morality, law, and ethics of the use of cyber capabilities for war to define lasting policies that will prevent unnecessary damage to the function of civilian systems and outline proper reasoning for launching cyberattacks. This new, complex realm of war requires immediate attention before it is too late to control.
Principles of the Just War Theory used as the backbone of existing international law, including certain principles and articles of Law of Armed Conflict and International Humanitarian Law, do not technically apply to the use of cyber warfare at the moment. The Geneva Convention, the Hague Convention, and other law-of-war conventions were established during a time when the world was quickly changing and advancing with the rise of the nation-state, modernization, aviation, and decolonization.
While most cyber attacks do not appear to fall under the Geneva Convention’s definitions of “grave breaches” or “war crimes,” they could still be illegal or unethical. Articles 51 and 57 of the Geneva Conventions protocols state that there must be precautions taken continuously to avoid harm to civilian populations and objects, prohibiting attacks that use means and methods with effects that cannot be controlled or that cause disproportional damage.
Cyber warfare systems lack precise targeting and inefficient means of damage assessment. This lack of assessment could lead to the launch of larger-scale attacks in hopes of guaranteeing damage, but since viruses can spread to civilian infrastructure from the military’s and damage repair could be very difficult, cyber attacks could still be prosecutable as war crimes under the current protocols.
International laws of war must be reevaluated to take the rise of globalization and the internet into account, and the public must be involved in the conversation regarding morality. The perpetual changes in this battleground are still in the beginning stages and lack enough precedence to be addressed based only on legal matters. A just and fair legal system is based on good moral philosophy, so updates to the international laws of war must begin with a breakdown of moral analysis of 21st-century warfare in the eyes of the public.