Information Warfare Arms Control

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Full Title of Reference

Information Warfare Arms Control: Risks and Costs

Full Citation

Maxie Thom, Information Warfare Arms Control: Risks and Costs, USAF Institute for National Security Studies (2006). Web


Key Words


In this document, Thom considers historic arms control treaties and enforcement efforts to analyze issues related to the development of arms control regarding Information Warfare (IW) activities. In this article, he limits the definition of IW to actions executed by state actors during interstate conflict and warfare.

The discussion begins with the different levels of credibility that various groups assign to the IW threat, and proceeds to explain how IW is securitized across the military, economic, and political domains. The author defines arms control for use in his context as the “agreement among states to regulate some aspect of their military capability or potential,” and discusses if IW arms control is a likely prospect considering the decline in the US commitment to and reliance on arms control as a mechanism to maintain national security following the end of the Cold War.

IW is substantially different from articles previously handled by arms control treaties, and Thom illustrates these differences by describing the intangible nature of IW’s effects, the lack of clear sovereignty in the cyber domain, and the ambiguous definitions found in international law. The budgetary considerations of IW arms control are also discussed, with an emphasis on how the decreasing arms control budget demands that arms control treaties must be cost effective to be implemented successfully. The 1993 Chemical Warfare Conventions is used to initially model the costs of the various phases of an arms control treaty, and the author breaks the costs into six distinct phases, the Pre-Signature costs, the Ramification Costs, Post Entry into Force (EIF) Costs, Administrative Costs, Industry Costs, and Overhead Costs, all of which are analyzed individually.

Thom finishes by discussing the risks associated with entering into an arms control treaty, which he classifies into seven categories: International Law, Sovereignty in the Information Realm, Verification and Compliance, Defensive, Increased Kinetic Targeting, and Political. The risk from international law is said to arise from the increased complexity in responding to IW events when they are tied into international treaties. The risk to sovereignty stems from the possibly reclassification of some U.S. diplomatic information campaigns as IW (making them illegal). By providing countries sovereignty over the IW realm, it may also aid certain regimes in further limiting the type of information allowed to reach their citizens. The risk from verification and compliance includes a false sense of security, the leakage of information regarding our intelligence capabilities, and increased chances of IW weapons proliferation. The defensive risk comes from not having the ability to research defensive IW limited due to the dual-use nature of IW technology. The increased risk of kinetic targeting results from aggressors resorting to kinetically striking targets that could have otherwise been handled through IW. This may result in greater civilian casualties and longer-term losses of infrastructure following conflicts. The political risk stems from not signing such a treaty (such as with the Ottawa Landmine Treaty) and then having greater difficulties in building coalitions with our allies.

Additional Notes and Highlights

  • The mission of the USAF Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) is to promote national security policy research for the Department of Defense within the military academic community, to foster the development of strategic perspective within the United States armed forces, and to support national security discourse through education and outreach. INSS is located at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado and was created by the Air Staff in 1992. INSS’ primary sponsor is the Strategic Security Directorate on the Air Staff (HQ USAF/A5X). Each year, several of the research products from each year are published as INSS Occasional Papers and as articles in journals.