2023 Conference on International Cyber Security | 7-8 November 2023
Register now

< Return to program overview

Panel 7


Cyber Conflict: Strategies and Realities

Richard J. Harknett

Dr. Richard J. Harknett is Professor and Director of the School of Public and International Affairs and Chair of the Center for Cyber Strategy and Policy at the University of Cincinnati. He co-directs the Ohio Cyber Range Institute, a state-wide organization supporting education, workforce, economic, and research development in cybersecurity. He served as Scholar-in-Residence at U.S. Cyber Command and National Security Agency. He has presented both policy briefings and academic research in 11 countries, on Capitol Hill, and to various US Federal and State government agencies. Professor Harknett has held two Fulbright Scholar appointments: in Cyber Studies at Oxford University, UK and in International Relations at the Diplomatic Academy, Vienna, Austria, where he holds a professorial lecturer appointment. He has authored over 60 publications including the co-authored book Cyber Persistence Theory: redefining national security in cyberspace (Oxford Univ Press, 2022) and has contributed to raising over $50 million in institutional and research grant and philanthropic support.



You Come As You Structure: Cyber Campaigning Across Contingencies

This paper will address the conference’s focus on the interplay between cyber, peace, and war by examining how they are linked with each other through cyberspace operations conducted as continuous campaigns.

Specifically, the paper posits the following: what if this traditional segmentation of competition-crisis-conflict is not in line with actual cyber operational and strategic behavior in and through cyberspace? In the 2022 book, Cyber Persistence Theory: redefining national security in cyberspace, Michael Fischerkeller, Emily Goldman, and Richard Harknett, offer a theoretical framework that provides the basis for explaining this potential shift to a new way of thinking about and planning for the contingencies of crisis and conflict. Cyber Persistence Theory (CPT) explains why most state cyber operations are occurring in what the authors categorize as a strategic competition. They suggest that this conduct structurally and behaviorally reinforces an “agreed” competitive upper threshold in which the goal is to achieve strategic aims without leveraging the coercive conditions of crisis and conflict to do so. Although this is a focus of introducing the theory, the authors lay the groundwork for thinking about the interplay between this strategic competition and the conditions of crisis and conflict, which remain salient in international politics.

In this paper, CPT is applied to explain the relationship and interplay between competition-crisis-conflict through an examination of the Russo-Ukraine conflict and an examination of the United Kingdom’s and United States’ 2022-23 published strategies and operations, including US hunt forward operations that have been discussed publicly by US officials and NCF operations publicly revealed.

The core hypothesis of this paper is that persistent cyber campaigning following the logic of CPT is a means to not only secure relative power in the strategic competition space, but simultaneously structure the contingency spaces of crisis and conflict.