Tallinn Paper: Offensive Cyber Operations Should Not Be Ignored

In the newest Tallinn Paper “The Role of Offensive Cyber Operations in NATO’s Collective Defence” Dr James A. Lewis argues for NATO to be doing more in cyber defence. He discusses the need for NATO to publicly embrace the notion of offensive cyber operations.
“Can any military force credibly claim to have advanced capabilities if it does not include offensive cyber operations in its arsenal?” Lewis asks. He follows up on the premise of the previous Tallinn Paper by Professor Michael Schmitt, a Senior Fellow at the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, that offensive cyber operations are part of modern warfare, and therefore opines that NATO should not ignore the issue. This is especially so since cyber techniques are essential for the kinds of combat operations that NATO forces may carry out in the future, Lewis writes.
“NATO’s decision on how cyber attacks could trigger Article 5, while greeted with complaints, had a stabilising effect. It made clear to potential opponents that cyber attacks are not risk-free,” is argued in “The Role of Offensive Cyber Operations in NATO’s Collective Defence.” Lewis carries on to write: ”Similarly, a clear enunciation of how NATO would use offensive cyber capabilities as part of any defensive operation would also change opponents’ risk calculations in ways that would force them to consider how offensive actions, even if intended to be covert, are not free of risk or cost.” The author recommends a model where Allies with cyber capabilities dispatch teams to support the NATO commander.
The question for Lewis is whether NATO can field a credible military force without some acknowledgement of an offensive cyber capability. “It will be neither easy nor quick for NATO to discuss publicly the role of offensive cyber operations, but it is ultimately unavoidable,” concludes Lewis noting the political sensitivities of the question.
The full text of “The Role of Offensive Cyber Operations in NATO’s Collective Defence” by Dr James A Lewis can be accessed online at https://ccdcoe.org/multimedia/role-offensive-cyber-operations-natos-collective-defence.html


The Tallinn Papers are peer reviewed publications of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. Focussing on the most pressing cyber security debates, the Tallinn Papers aim to support the creation of a legal and policy architecture that is responsive to the peculiar challenges of cyberspace. With their future-looking approach, they seek to raise awareness and to provoke the critical thinking that is required for well-informed decision-making on the political and strategic levels.
Dr James A. Lewis is an internationally recognised expert and a frequent commentator on cyber security matters. He serves as a Director and Senior Fellow of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.