In its quest for global economic and geopolitical domination, America has made many enemies. To help fund 800 military bases all over the world, last year the American taxpayer spent $620 billion on defence, $69 billion for ‘war-funding’ and $10billion on cybersecurity. Military spending represents about 40 per cent of America’s entire global exports trade. However, corporate America describes as derisory the funding for cybersecurity and it is stepping up to the challenge as they get to grips with the threats they now face. As a result of government inaction and under-funding, private sector companies have been forced to take cybersecurity more seriously and, according to some projections, will spend an eye-watering $1 trillion on the digital security of their global operations from now until then end of 2021.
America’s enemies are in no position to fight a hot war – for the time being. They know that. In the meantime, President Trump has continually stepped up trade wars and financial sanctions that some countries are now finding too much and are soon to fight back. The cold war between China and America is just one. Russia, North Korea and Iran are obvious allies of China, so are a number of other countries across the Mid-East, Africa and Asia – weary of endless American intervention in their affairs.
Although the cold war with China is by definition a low-intensity conflict, a sharp escalation is likely during 2020. To some Chinese leaders, it is hardly a coincidence that their country is simultaneously being attacked on all sorts of fronts at the same time. In the last twelve months, China has been beset with a massive swine flu outbreak, a severe bird flu outbreak, and a coronavirus epidemic that has destabilised the entire workings its economy. The trade war is financially damaging and unpopular at home. Political unrest in Hong Kong, the re-election of Taiwan’s pro-independence president, combined with stepped-up US naval operations in the East and South China Seas also add to keeping Chinese leaders awake at night. The coronavirus crisis that now grips the world provides some with an opportunity though.
Contrary to what we have heard in the MSM, in China, hospitals are overwhelmed and overflowing with the sick and dying as a result of CoVid-19. But the Chinese authorities know that the very same disease is now gripping the rest of the world as well.
Nouriel Roubini, Professor of Economics at New York University was Senior Economist for International Affairs in the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton Administration. He has worked for the International Monetary Fund, the US Federal Reserve, and the World Bank. He takes the view that China is ready to fight back and says that – “China’s immediate response to US containment efforts (the trade war) will likely take the form of cyberwarfare. There are several obvious targets. Chinese hackers (and their Russian, North Korean, and Iranian counterparts) could interfere in the US election by flooding Americans with misinformation and deep fakes. With the US electorate already so polarized, it is not difficult to imagine armed partisans taking to the streets to challenge the results, leading to serious violence and chaos.”
These are strong words from someone like Roubini who also asserts that within a year, “the US-China conflict could have escalated from a cold war to a near-hot one. A Chinese regime with its economy severely damaged by the CoVid-19 crisis and facing restless masses will need an external scapegoat, and will likely set its sights on Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and US naval positions in the East and South China Seas; confrontation could creep into escalating military accidents.”
The US, of course, will respond as it comes under an asymmetric attack. It has already been increasing the pressure on these countries with sanctions and other forms of trade and financial warfare, not to mention its own world-beating cyberwarfare capabilities. Roubini goes another step to say:
“US cyberattacks against the four rivals will continue to intensify this year, raising the risk of the first-ever cyber world war and massive economic, financial, and political disorder”
In the meantime, the European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde has warned that a cyberattack on European financial markets could cost $645 billion. Just three weeks ago Lagarde warned that another financial crisis could occur if systemically important institutions failed to protect themselves. “History shows that liquidity crises can quickly become systemic crises,” Lagarde said, adding, “The ECB is well aware that it has a duty to be prepared and to act pre-emptively.”
And while the western world looks to defend itself from cyberattacks, other threats now require considerable effort and money. One of those is the climate crisis. It is already causing a huge shift of capital from fossil fuel investments. The signs are there that the focus is now moving its trillions invested in coal, gas and fracking rigs (and so on) towards more environmentally friendly forms of power. The capital shift is gigantic.
Roubini says that – “As of early 2020, this is where we stand: the US and Iran have already had a military confrontation that will likely soon escalate; China is in the grip of a viral outbreak that will become a global pandemic; cyberwarfare is ongoing; major holders of US Treasuries are pursuing diversification strategies; the Democratic presidential primary is exposing rifts in the opposition to Trump and already casting doubt on vote-counting processes; rivalries between the US and four revisionist powers are escalating; and the real-world costs of climate change and other environmental trends are mounting.”
The point to be made here is this. If China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and others were looking for a moment in time to concentrate their efforts and contain America’s hegemonic empire – 2020 is the best opportunity they have ever had. It’s a perfect storm sceanrio. All four countries are facing problems domestically, all four have strong nationalistic backing from their own citizens, all four have new cyber warfare tools and all four have been collaborating in recent years. On the other side of the scales, the world economy is rapidly sliding into negative territory, vast quantities of money are shifting into safe havens (and away from tech gamble’s) – all of which threatens Trump’s re-election prospects and at the same time, a global pandemic is banging hard on the front door of Western countries – America’s included.
If Trump’s election prospects start to dip – as they are, the tiniest trigger could see America looking for a bogeyman as its scapegoat and before anyone is aware of it – we have a cyber world war.
And it is notable that while there is debate over how a ‘cyberwar’ might turn out, there are really only eight countries that are prepared for it in any tangible way – the Western allies consist of the United States, United Kingdom, India and Israel on the one side – China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea on the other. These two opposing sides are the only countries that have significant and active cyber operations for offensive and defensive operations. Both sides are currently experiencing many political and economic challenges that are surging in 2020.
On either side, it could be an act of aggression or even a response to a perceived one, committed through a digital network, meant to cause damage in the real world, either to civilian or military targets, in order to force its opponent to act or refrain from acting. Power or water supplies, financial hubs and health systems could be targets.
We humans are now living in a two-lane world. One is physical, the other is digital. It’s the same for us individually as it is for the country we live in.
As for the trigger to a cyber world war, here is a good example of that two-lane world. In June last year, Iran fired a surface to air missile at an American surveillance drone flying over the Strait of Hormuz and brought it crashing out of the sky. America responded by launching a cyber attack against Iran by hitting Iranian computer systems that control missile and rocket launches. The Iranians now knew where their cybersecurity weaknesses were and whilst working to plug the holes in their networks – brazenly responded that they weren’t done and used cyberattacks against American businesses.
This is why the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a special alert about an increasing number of cyberattacks from Iran. Attacks which are not only going after U.S. government agencies but also U.S.-based businesses:
“These efforts are often enabled through common tactics like spear-phishing, password spraying, and credential stuffing. What might start as an account compromise, where you think you might just lose data, can quickly become a situation where you’ve lost your whole network.”
It appears to be that America has somehow become more peaceful recently as it hasn’t physically attacked a new country recently. But that’s not true. Traditional warfighting methods and cyber warfighting methods are used interchangeably and used in conjunction with economic sanctions and trade wars. This suite of tactics is well underway – it is just that we don’t hear the bombs going off.