Aegis Paper Series

Strengths Become Vulnerabilities: How a Digital World Disadvantages the United States in Its International Relations

By Jack Goldsmith, Stuart Russell
Wednesday, June 6, 2018, 12:27 PM

We have a new essay in the Hoover Aegis series called “Strengths Become Vulnerabilities: How a Digital World Disadvantages the United States in its International Relations.” It seeks to explain why the United States is struggling to deal with the “soft” cyber operations that have been so prevalent in recent years: cyberespionage and cybertheft, often followed by strategic publication; information operations and propaganda; and relatively low-level cyber disruptions such as denial-of-service and ransomware attacks. The main explanation is that constituent elements of U.S. society—a commitment to free speech, privacy and the rule of law; innovative technology firms; relatively unregulated markets; and deep digital sophistication—create asymmetric vulnerabilities that foreign adversaries, especially authoritarian ones, can exploit. These asymmetrical vulnerabilities might explain why the United States so often appears to be on the losing end of recent cyber operations and why U.S. attempts to develop and implement policies to enhance defense, resiliency, response or deterrence in the cyber realm have been ineffective. We do not claim that the disadvantages of digitization for the United States in its international relations outweigh the advantages. But we do present some reasons for pessimism about the United States’ predicament in the face of adversary cyber operations.