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Strategic Dialogue in the Old Days (Courtesy of Gerald R. Ford Library)

Strategic Dialogue in the Old Days (Courtesy of Gerald R. Ford Library)

Some recent reports surrounding U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel’s visit to China claim that the United States “release[d] cyber warfare plans to China” in December in an effort to encourage greater Chinese transparency. It is more likely that the United States has simply shared the contours of a doctrine already widely known, particularly after Edward Snowden’s release of a classified presidential directive (read it here). In any case, the U.S. has previously held several bilateral cyber war games with China under the auspices of think tanks, which would have provided China with more useful information about how U.S. officials think about these issues than a prepared briefing.

In general I am supportive of these discussions, but I have several concerns about where we are headed.

First, the most immediate cyber security concerns, particularly with China, are commercial and deeply linked with broader worries about state-sponsored intellectual property theft (like the Google mess of 2010). So long as Chinese firms benefit more from state-sponsored industrial espionage than they stand to lose to theft by others, the incentives don’t seem to be on our side. To the extent that our outreach to China is aimed at dissuading the Chinese government from using military cyber resources to steal commercial secrets from U.S. firms, I wonder if we really have much leverage, particularly acting alone.

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