Is there a “cyber war” between Ukraine and Russia?

I have just published a blog post addressing this question in the OUP Blog. In the post, I apply some of my book’s findings to the current Ukraine-Russia crisis. As always, comments are welcome.


My new book on cyber operations is out


My book on Cyber Operations and the Use of Force in International Law has just been published by Oxford University Press. If you are interested in ordering a copy, please click here, or, if you prefer the US OUP website, here.

Here is the abstract:

The internet has changed the rules of many industries, and war is no exception. But can a computer virus be classed as an act of war? Does a Denial of Service attack count as an armed attack? And does a state have a right to self-defence when attacked in cyberspace? With the range and sophistication of cyber attacks against states showing a dramatic increase in recent times, this book investigates the traditional concepts of ‘use of force’, ‘armed attack’, and ‘armed conflict’ and asks whether existing laws created for analogue technologies can be applied to new digital developments.

The book provides a comprehensive analysis of primary documents and surrounding literature to establish whether and how existing rules on the use of force in international law apply to cyber operations. In particular, it assesses the rules of the jus ad bellum, the jus in bello, and the law of neutrality (whether based on treaty or custom), and analyses why each rule applies or does not apply in the context of cyber operations. Those rules which can be seen to apply are then discussed in relation to each specific type of cyber operation. The book addresses the key questions of whether a cyber operation amounts to a use of force and, if so, whether the victim state may exercise its right of self-defence; whether cyber operations trigger the application of international humanitarian law when they are not accompanied by traditional hostilities; what rules must be followed in the conduct of cyber hostilities; how neutrality is affected by cyber operations; and whether those conducting cyber operations are combatants, civilians, or civilians taking direct part in hostilities. The book is essential reading for everyone wanting a better understanding of how international law regulates cyber combat.

The book also contains a thought-provoking Foreword by Prof. Yoram Dinstein.

Cyber operations as a nuclear counterproliferation measure

My article on ‘Cyber operations as a nuclear counterproliferation measure’ has just been published in the Advance Access section of the Journal of Conflict and Security Law. It will appear in print later in 2014.

Abstract: Focusing on recent malware that allegedly targeted Iran’s nuclear programme, the article discusses the legality of inter-state cyber operations as measures to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons approaching the problem from the perspective of the law of State responsibility, in particular the circumstances precluding wrongfulness. After examining the role that cyber attacks and cyber exploitation can play in preventing nuclear proliferation, the article explores whether cyber operations can be justified as countermeasures in response to a possible breach by Iran of its non-proliferation obligations. It then discusses whether counterproliferation cyber operations amounting to a use of force are submitted to a more lenient legal regime than other more traditional forms of the use of force in international relations. Finally, the article explores the legality of counterproliferation cyber operations from the perspective of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and in particular of the resolutions adopted against Iran by the Security Council. The article concludes that the legality of counterproliferation cyber operations must be assessed in the light of the general primary and secondary rules of international law: neither the means used (cyber instead of kinetic) nor the aim pursued (the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons) justify a special legal regime.

Is India a non-nuclear weapon state under the Rarotonga Treaty?

Australia is presently in discussions with India to begin exporting uranium for India’s civil nuclear programme. Australia, however, is a party to the 1986 Treaty of Rarotonga establishing a nuclear weapon-free zone (NWFZ) in the South Pacific Ocean, Article 4 of which provides that ‘[e]ach Party undertakes: not to provide source or special fissionable material, or equipment or material especially designed or prepared for the processing, use or production of special fissionable material for peaceful purposes to any non-nuclear-weapon State unless subject to the safeguards required by Article III.l of the NPT, or any nuclear-weapon State unless subject to applicable safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’. Is India, which has not ratified the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and possesses nuclear weapons, a non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS) or a nuclear weapon state (NWS) under Article 4 of the Rarotonga Treaty? If the former is the correct qualification, then Australia may be in breach of the treaty if it exports uranium to India, as India has only accepted limited IAEA safeguards (INFCIRC/66/Rev.2) on certain civilian plants, but not full-scope safeguards (i.e. applicable to all materials and facilities) under the INFCIRC/153(Corrected) model (I will leave the discussion of whether less comprehensive safeguards also meet the requirements of Article III of the NPT for another time).

Article IX(3) of the NPT defines a NWS as a state ‘which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967’. Under the NPT, therefore, India is not, and cannot be unless the treaty is amended, a NWS, as it has not manufactured or exploded a nuclear device before 1 January 1967. Unlike the NPT, however, the Rarotonga Treaty does not contain a definition of either NNWS or NWS. To solve the problem, one needs to apply the criteria for the interpretation of treaties provided in Article 31 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT). If the expression ‘NNWS’ in Article 4 of the Rarotonga Treaty is interpreted according to its ordinary meaning, it should be concluded that India is not a NNWS, as the ordinary meaning of this expression arguably is ‘state that does not possess or control nuclear weapons’, and not ‘state that has not manufactured or exploded a nuclear device before 1 January 1967’. Article 31(3)(c) of the VCLT, however, also provides that treaties should be interpreted taking into account ‘any relevant rules of international law applicable in the relations between the parties’. I would argue that the NPT can be seen as part of the rules ‘applicable in the relations between the parties’ and that, therefore, the definition of NWS (and, consequently, NNWS) contained therein may be extended, in the absence of alternative definitions, to the Rarotonga Treaty. This conclusion is reinforced by the following considerations: 1) Article 4 of the Rarotonga Treaty and Article III(2) of the NPT employ essentially the same language; 2) the Rarotonga Treaty refers in many instances to the NPT: the Preamble, for instance, reaffirms its importance and Article 4 itself requires the states parties ‘to support the continued effectiveness of the international non-proliferation system based on the NPT and the IAEA safeguards system’; and 3) NWFZs are usually seen as regional means to support the global nuclear non-proliferation regimes, not as alternatives to it (see Article VII of the NPT). An additional argument in favour of interpreting ‘NNWS’ in the Rarotonga Treaty consistently with the NPT could be that the definition of NWS contained in the NPT has become customary, and as such – again, lacking alternative definitions in the treaty in question – it also applies to the Rarotonga Treaty.

Could Article 4 of the Rarotonga Treaty be interpreted as referring only to NNWS ‘parties to the NPT’? The United States has made this argument in relation to Article III(2) of the NPT in order to justify its export of nuclear technologies and materials to India under the Global Partnership between the two countries. There is nothing in the letter of either provision, however, that supports this interpretation. What is more, this interpretation is in contrast with the object and purpose of the NPT: assuming that the NPT is based on the renunciation by the NNWS to certain uses of nuclear energy (the military ones) in return for assistance by the NWS in the peaceful uses of this type of energy, an interpretation of Article III that allows a state (India) to benefit from that assistance without also accepting to renounce to the military uses of nuclear energy seems in contradiction with the ‘grand bargain’ on which the NPT is founded. The same considerations can be extended to Article 4 of the Rarotonga Treaty, which, as already noted, expressly requires the states parties ‘to support the continued effectiveness of the international non-proliferation system based on the NPT and the IAEA safeguards system’.

As always, I would welcome your thoughts.

Global mass surveillance: We cannot say we were not warned

Yesterday I came across this report to the European Parliament (‘An appraisal of technologies of political control’). According to the report, ‘[w]ithin Europe, all email, telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the United States National Security Agency, transferring all target information from the European mainland via the strategic hub of London then by Satellite to Fort Meade in Maryland via the crucial hub at Menwith Hill in the North York Moors of the UK’ (p. 19). The date? 6 January 1998. In light of the recent disclosures, it seems that the warning contained in the report fell on deaf ears.

Conference in Naples

I would like to bring to our readers’ attention this conference on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation that is taking place at the end of this week in Naples. I will be one of the discussants in the first session. Come if you can!

Another speech, another omission – President Obama’s Inaugural Address

I just read President Obama’s inaugural address and I was surprised to find no reference whatsoever to disarmament and non-proliferation, which played an important role in Obama’s first four years. I also found that declaring that ‘We [the US] will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms’ was a bit too belligerent (but, to be fair, he mentions the rule of law too). And what ‘decade of war’ is ending? I assume the reference is to the ‘war on terror’, an unfortunate expression that is obviously hard to get rid of.