Offense-defense theory analysis of Russian cyber capability
Medvedev, Sergei A.
Huntley, Wade L.
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The Russian Federation is a key state actor in cyberspace; cyber events associated with Russian state and non-state actors have threatened Russia’s neighbors, shaped international cyber norms, as well as influenced strategists’ understanding of cyber power. This thesis seeks to understand Russian cyber capability through the lens of Robert Jervis’s offense-defense theory in order to answer the thesis’s central question: Do Russian cyber capabilities reflect an investment in offensive or defensive cyber weapons, and do Russia’s cyber technology, doctrine, and policy differentiate its posture as offensive or defensive? To evaluate Russian cyber capability, this thesis considers two factors—technology and geography—concluding that, although the Russian government is modifying its cyber terrain to improve defensiveness, Russia’s brandished cyber weapons suggest that it pursues offensive capability. To evaluate Russia’s posture differentiation, the thesis examines Russians’ understanding of cyber power, Russian information warfare and hybrid warfare doctrines, and the country’s international engagements, concluding that, although Russia has historically presented its posture as defensive, it is increasingly difficult to make that distinction. Finally, the thesis evaluates this state-level analysis in the broader context of the international system; Russia’s historical aggression and current behavior in cyberspace likely reflects Stephen van Evera’s explanATOry hypothesis for the causes of war—defensive expansion.
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