Cyber Warfare and Conventional Warfare

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Quite frequently, disputes between states can develop and turn into wars. In order to ensure that the welfare of citizens is always preserved whenever states rise up against one another, nations have collaborated to create rules. These laws are typically based on the fundamentals of international law and a number of other conventions, including the Geneva Convention and the Hague Conventions. States have, however, also embraced another form of warfare as a result of technological advancements: cyberwarfare.

The Difference Between Conventional Warfare and Cyber Warfare

The conventional war is a type of conflict in which two states engage in an open conflict. In such a case, conventional weapons such as guns and bombs are used and are usually targeted towards the rival's military. On the other hand, cyber warfare is defined as an invasion of a state by another country through the penetration of the target country's computer networks, hence, causing disruption and damage to the targeted country. Unlike the conventional war, which is usually as a result of an escalating crisis, a cyber-war can be launched even if two countries are at peace with each other. Therefore, states invest a lot of resources in their computer networks to always remain alerted of any threat that can be perpetuated by its rivals.

Issues between Conventional Warfare and Cyber Warfare

Limited Operations

During a conventional war, the military forces are involved in some activities. For instance, Abraham tanks and Bradley infantry-fighting vehicles can be used in carrying out maneuver operations instead of the usual linear defense mechanisms (Institute for National Strategic Studies, 1999). Also, F-16 and F-15 aircraft can be used to carry out interdictions and deep strikes. On the other hand, cyber warfare involves continuous hacking of the opponents' computer systems to uncover their schemes as well as disrupting their intelligence tactics (Szoldra, 2016). Cyber warfare also involves disrupting the enemy's communication networks and halting any explosion that might be triggered through cell phones.

Declaration of War

The declaration of war is defined as a legal act, which is initiated by a state once it decides to wage war against its rival. It can be implemented through a speech or a document, which is usually signed by the government – usually the president. The declaration of conventional war is safeguarded by the Hague Convention (III), which was held in 1907, that gave the states the freedom to open hostilities against each other. Additionally, cyber warfare is also instigated by higher ranking government authorities (Jones, 2012). Such authorities make use of their powers to design how they can centrifuge at other countries' computer systems.

Determination of When Hostile Actions Can Be Initiated

There are rules – commonly referred to as the Rules of Engagement (ROE) - that have to be followed whenever a state seeks to justify its use of force. The use of force is only initiated once it has been noted that a state has been observed to be engaging in an activity that threatens the welfare of its partner. Therefore, the rationale for the declaration of hostilities is anchored on a nation's efforts to defend its citizens and their properties as well (Global Security, n.d.). Cyber warfare is declared whenever a state notes that another nation has been engaging in cyber activities that threaten its welfare (Iasiello, 2014). In such a scenario, the state adopts cyber deterrence strategies that deter the activities of its adversary. For instance, the affected nation can opt to use the deterrence by punishment approach, which implies that it will retaliate in case its enemy carries on with its offensive mission.

Process of Declaring War Based on Cyber Act of Hostility

Due to the increase of cyber-attacks over the years, nations have become more committed to ensuring that their computer networks are not threatened. Before an act of cyber war is declared, it has to be established that a nation's invasion on another results in a physical destruction of property, which is often referred to as 'kinetic effect' (Hathway & Crootof, 2012). The implementation of the cyber warfare must, however, conform with the ad Bellum law, which calls for necessity and proportionality. According to this law, force should only be used in case other peaceful means of enhancing peace have borne no fruits. Hence, it should be applied as a last resort (Hathway & Crootof, 2012). On the other hand, the proportionality principle dictates that the force used to retaliate should be equal to the magnitude of the imminent danger.

Process of Declaring War Based on a Physical Act of Hostility

Just like in the case of the cyber warfare, a state cannot declare war on the other without prior warning. According to the Hague Conventions dictation on the opening of hostilities, before the declaration of war, a country must explicitly warn its adversary. Emerich de Vattel, also notes that it is paramount that the nation the attack is being directed should be made aware of the looming assault (Duhaime's Law Dictionary, n.d). However, the amount of force used must also fulfill the proportionality and necessity principles as dictated by the ad Bellum law.

Appropriate Response if An Attack on the US Power Grid and Telecommunications Systems is Carried Out

An attack on the US Power Grid and Telecommunications would fall under the cyber warfare invasion. Hence, an act of cyber war retaliation would be appropriate. However, the United States must make sure that it follows the due process of declaration of war before it launches the attack against its opponent.


To sum it all, there are two main types of self-defense mechanisms (conventional warfare and cyber warfare) nations can adopt when countering attacks. Conventional warfare is usually used during an act of physical war while the cyber warfare is used whenever a country opts to retaliate against an attack on its computer networks. Nevertheless, some principles must be upheld in both cases such as the principle of ad Bellum, which calls for proportionality and necessity.


Duhaime’s Law Dictionary. (n.d.). Declaration of war. Legal Resources. Retrieved on August 1, 2017,

Hathway, O.A., Crootof, R. (2012). The law of cyber-attack. Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository.

Iasiello, E. (2014). Is cyber deterrence an illusory course of action? Journal of Strategic Security. Vol. 7. No. 1.

Institute for National Strategic Studies. (1999). Strategic Assessment. Retrieved on August 1, 2017, from

Jones, W. D. (2012). Declarations of cyberwar. IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved on August 1, 2017, from

Szoldra, P. (2016). How the US military is beating hackers at their own game. Business Insider. Retrieved on August 1, 2017, from

United States Marine Corps. (n.d.). Law of war/Introduction to rules of engagement B130936 student handout. Marine Corps Training Command. Retrieved on August 1, 2017, from

March 10, 2023

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