30-06-2002 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 846, by Michael N. Schmitt
Information warfare is set to revolutionize armed conflict. A computer network attack is any operation intended to disrupt, deny, degrade or destroy information held in computers or computer networks. This article examines the use of such attacks in international armed conflict, where their ramifications could be far-reaching. It starts out by analysing the applicability of international humanitarian law to computer network attacks, moving on to examine the legal effect of this body of law on the use of such attacks as a method of warfare. Certain experts are of the opinion that while humanitarian law contains no explicit rules concerning attacks on data networks, and while such attacks are not kinetic (i.e. not “armed” attacks as such), humanitarian law does apply given its underlying purpose, which is to protect civilians and their property. When an attack on a data network is intended to endanger protected persons or objects – or runs the risk of doing so – humanitarian law becomes applicable, and such attacks fall under jus in bello. I n analysing the legality of computer network attacks from the perspective of humanitarian law, the author highlights the underlying (and unresolved) legal issues involved and raises important questions concerning the definition of “armed conflict” and the capability of international humanitarian law to control means and methods of warfare that are both new and – from a conceptual point of view – interesting.