Just Warfare: Is a Nuclear Attack an appropriate Response to a Cyber Attack?


  • Alexia Fitz Towson University
  • Richard Wilson Towson University




Just Warfare, Cyber Warfare, Nuclear Warfare, Cyber Attack, Nuclear Attack, Appropriate Response


It is well known that nuclear weapons pose a grave threat to humanity because of their destructive power and to the lives of innocent civilians potentially affected by them. What might be less known are the grave effects that cyberwarfare can potentially have on a state and its nuclear security. Most nuclear weapons systems were designed decades ago, when manipulations of computer networks, or cyber-attacks, were practically a non-existent threat. In the present international political situation, where threats about the use of strategic nuclear weapons, have been discussed, cyber threats are everywhere, and it may be expected that they will have consequences for the stability of nuclear weapons systems as well. Considering the many unknowns of the continually evolving issues related to cyber threats, it is hard to measure how serious the risks are, but the idea cannot be excluded that, over the long term, they may have “game-changing” effects on the perceived value of nuclear weapons.  Potential consequences of this phenomenon include cyber operations targeting nuclear weapons development, nuclear weapons systems, and cyber operations replacing nuclear weapons.

     It is crucial that nation states, such as for example the United States, work hard to prevent cyber-attacks in a world where we are becoming more reliant on computer systems that if disrupted could destroy the economy, politics, and even military operations. The question, of how far states are willing to go to protect their cyber realm, and the extent to which their nuclear policies might allow for the possibility of a nuclear response to a cyberattack, present significant issues. This analysis will employ distinctions from just war theory, to attempt to address these issues. Just warfare is important to this analysis because developing a sense of right and wrong in a case of unpreventable conflicts could avoid further escalation and even more devastating results. In other words, what occurs when we apply the ethical distinctions of Just War Theory, to Cyber Attacks related to nuclear weapons? Can the distinctions of Just War Theory be employed to create a taboo, so that, the protection of a states cyber security creates an obstacle so that cyber warfare does not lead to a result such as nuclear attack? This analysis also takes into consideration anticipatory research, while developing an argument based on ethical considerations without a nuclear attack having to occur first. Anticipatory research such as this is important as the foundation for developing preventative measures because it can be used to argue for the creation of policies (both domestic and international) that will not allow for a nuclear response to a cyber-attack, therefore eliminating the threat to the international community.

      This analysis will employ a basic conceptual analysis that will proceed by defining critical terminology and will attempt to address the ethical and anticipated ethical issues related to answering the question, Is a Nuclear Attack ever an appropriate response to a cyberattack?