The Importance of Cyber-Security for NATO
In the probable event of an extensive cyber-attack in the next decade, it would be difficult to create a spontaneous and cohesive response. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that NATO and its member states turn their attention in order to prioritize cyber-security policies – they cannot afford to waste time.
In general, "cyber-security" is defined as a whole comprised of the tools, security concepts and guarantees, guidelines, risk management approaches and activities, training and technological advances that are used to protect cyber-space institutions, organizations and users. "Cyber threats" that have generated the phenomenon of cyber-security, are defined as the possibility of a malicious attempt to disrupt a computer network or system. Finally, cyber-space, in which the previous two phenomena take place, is "a numeric world that contains computers and computer networks, where people and computers exist together in which all aspects of online activities take place."
"Traditional security" is understood as security with a reference to a state-centric and military threat-focused viewpoint. In this understanding, artificial or constructed threats define the security agenda. However, with the process of globalization since the 1980s, the traditional security approach has been abandoned in favor of the "new security" concept. In fact, cyber-security is located at the intersection of all these new security areas. In fact, while daily cyber-attacks can affect individuals as well as information security, a comprehensive cyber-attack can have a direct impact on social, global, economic and environmental security. In this context, during the cold war NATO acted with the logic of traditional security against its symmetrical enemy, but since the end of the cold war NATO has been obliged to reform this understanding. In this renewal process, cyber-security has occupied an important place as one of the most challenging issues facing NATO today, and in the future. The cyber-attacks against NATO during the Kosovo War in 1999, Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008 have forced NATO to become more cautious about cyber threats.
I think that in the most pessimistic scenario, NATO may face a cyber war with Russia, Iran or China as those countries are developing their capabilities on malicious activities in cyber-space. In particular Russia seems to be the most important threat as it has showed its capacity in Kosovo, Estonia and Georgia in 1999, 2007 and 2008 respectively. A possible cyber-war between NATO allies and Russia would completely close the ways in entering critical information systems. State supported groups' sabotages on electrical or nuclear power grids of NATO allied, and denial-of-service-attacks on strategic bases of NATO would absolutely lead to a stalemate. Within this context, if preventions are not applied immediately it is very clear that NATO may face a scenario such as this in 2026.
As NATO today is insufficient in struggling with cyber threats, the question "what can be done to eliminate these attacks?" has some possible answers:
- NATO needs to enhance its central mechanism on cyber-security as there are visible gaps between member states on cyber-security mechanism. For this, NATO needs to organize more annual exercises.
- Behind the domestic corporation on cyber-security, NATO should co-operate with the Council of Europe, EU, UN, and the OSCE. However, NATO still needs more inter-organizational partnerships: international dialogue and harmonization of systems are important issues due to the fact that the geographical localization and distinction that may have existed in the past between parties and in relation to the creation and distribution of works do not exist now.
- Although the Tallinn Manual Process is a starting point, NATO needs to enhance both its own and its member states' legal systems regarding cyber-security; good governance within each member state means good governance in collective defense.
To conclude, with the end of the cold war at the beginning of 1990s, many problems have come into existence. In particular, cyber-security is at the junction of the issues and areas considered under the new security approach, and thus is one of the most important issues challenging NATO in 2026. The rapid developments in cyber-space make cyber-security the most important topic to be discussed and thought over in both the short and long term. As a consequence, NATO and its member states are obliged to increase their policy towards cyber-security without losing time, because In the probable event of an extensive cyber-attack in the next decade, it would be difficult to create a spontaneous and cohesive response.
Haci Mehmet BOYRAZ is a graduate student from Gediz University in the Department of International Relations.
This article has been submitted for category A "Preparing NATO for 2026" of the competition "Shaping Our NATO: Young Voices on the NATO Summit". Comments are most appreciated. You can also read the other articles in this category. Learn more about this competition and how you can submit your own text or video in the categories B, C, D.
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