NATO Cyberwar Challenge: Establish Rules of Engagement


Russia Vladimir Putin Troops

One of their biggest challenges: When it comes to cyber, so far, there is no agreed-upon international law of war. Vice President Joe Biden has indicated the US will retaliate against the hack of the DNC and other Democratic Party entities, warning that the administration will be “sending a message” to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Counter-measures are operations that would otherwise be unlawful but can be used if the purpose is to stop another state from violating the law.

Those measures don’t have to be cyber-related. The US, for example, could prevent Russian ships from transiting its territorial waters until Russia stops its cyber breaches.

If an intelligence agency says it knows who did it, it could be challenged to reveal sources and methods of how it collects intelligence data.


  • The cyber world presents unique challenges, like the ability for actors to maintain “plausible deniability.
  • In July, NATO included cyber as a domain of its military operations, along with land, sea, air and space.
  • The DNC hacks may be their first major operation against the US, but they almost surely won’t be their last.

“When the Russians hack into the DNC database and then release it, is that a violation of international law?”

Schmitt, chairman of the US Naval War College’s international law department and other experts say Russia and cyber-savvy countries like China are “playing the margins.”

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