As You Approach #1, The Catch-up Tactics Need to Cease

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China, are you in there?

NYT story on how the Defense Department suffered a massive loss of data during a hack last March.  Pentagon won’t say which country is to blame, which makes it either China or Russia. Why tell us now?  The cleared version of the new US cyber strategy is being released, as Mark just noted.

Odds are it’s China, because that’s what a #2 does when it’s trying to catch up:  it lies, cheats and steals full-time.  It’s what the US did as a rising power in the 19th century (we were the ultimate “counterfeit nation”), with our government’s quiet encouragement going all the way back to Alexander Hamilton.  When we got truly rich and somewhat powerful, we knocked it off, in part because other powerful nations really started to take offense. Once on top, we “let” other desirable risers do the same to us – like Japan and South Korea.  When they narrowed the gap, we changed our tune, of course.

Conducting such theft in the security realm is always a far touchier subject, but the same dynamics hold.  I can remember counter-intell briefs I got in the 1990s on industrial espionage and the “star” was typically the French, who never seemed to have any problem ripping off their American allies.  A constant subtext was also Israel.  Why put up with it?  Allies . . . what are you going to do?

But when the countries in question are true frenemies at best, how to signal that they’re crossing a line a bit too often?  You publish a strategy that makes your growing sense of anger and frustration known. And yeah, you may suggest your own future line-crossing activity by implying that . . .  well, you might just counter their virtual with some truly kinetic.  As I’ve noted here earlier, the benign take on this is that we’re on the starting line of a long education process: we make it clear that, as China draws closer in military capabilities, certain ongoing catch-up tactics become unbearable – even threatening.

So yeah, this is different from how we suffer true allies, and it’ll be a delicate dance that lasts for years.  At times, we’ll purposely sound a bit over the top in our threats, and there will be real danger there too, because as everyone on this planet knows, if there’s anybody who will really go all the way on a weapon, it’s the Americans. It’s just who we are.