view counter

CyberthreatsNATO launches Cyber Operations Center

Published 10 November 2017

Russia’s successful cyber-interference on behalf of its favored candidates, partiers, and causes in the United States, France, the Netherland, Germany, and the United Kingdom; its effective cyberattacks on infrastructure facilities in Ukraine and the Baltic states; and the growing cyberthreats from China, North Korea, and Iran, have convinced the member states of NATO that these threats must be met in a more systematic and comprehensive fashion.

Russia’s successful cyber-interference on behalf of its favored candidates, partiers, and causes in the United States, France, the Netherland, Germany, and the United Kingdom; its effective cyberattacks on infrastructure facilities in Ukraine and the Baltic states; and the growing cyberthreats from China, North Korea, and Iran, have convinced the member states of NATO that these threats must be met in a more systematic and comprehensive fashion.

The defense ministers of NATO members states, in a meeting earlier this week, endorsed a set of principles for how the Alliance can integrate the cyber capabilities of its Allies into Alliance military operations. Ministers also agreed to the creation of a new Cyber Operations Center to help integrate cyber into NATO planning and operations at all levels. This follows steps last year to recognize cyber as an operational domain along with land, sea and air.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, after outlining different initiatives launched at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council earlier this week, said:

Finally, we discussed ways to strengthen our cyber defenses. We must be just as effective in the cyber domain as we are on land, at sea and in the air, with real-time understanding of the threats we face and the ability to respond however and whenever we choose. Today, ministers agreed on the creation of a new Cyber Operations Centre as part of the outline design for the adapted NATO Command Structure. This will strengthen our cyber defenses, and help integrate cyber into NATO planning and operations at all levels. We also agreed that we will be able to integrate Allies’ national cyber capabilities into NATO missions and operations. While nations maintain full ownership of those capabilities. Just as Allies own the tanks, the ships and aircraft in NATO missions.

Franklin D. Kramer, a distinguished fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and an Atlantic Council board member, said NATO’s cyber initiative is a big deal.

The Alliance has “always had significant conventional capabilities—land, air, and sea—now cyber can be included,” Kramer told the New Atlanticist. “The value of the cyber operations center is that it will integrate the cyber capabilities with all of the rest of NATO’s military capabilities,” he said.

There is uncertainty surrounding the level of offensive cyber-capabilities and how they may be implemented, but the new cyber command will facilitate NATO’s responses to cyberattacks, which, as of the 2016 Warsaw Summit, could elicit an Article 5-level response. Article 5 of the NATO charter stipulates that if one ally is attacked, all members of the Alliance will come to its defense (see “EU set to define cyberattacks as “acts of war,” allowing collective military response,” HSNW, 30 October 2017).

“The decisions with respect to the cyber center simply allows NATO to respond more effectively [to an attack] if necessary, because there is a structure for it,” said Kramer. Ultimately, he said, the operations center will facilitate a proportionate reaction to a threat, by either conventional or cyber means.