Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 01/2012

Deterrence and Escalation in Cross-domain Operations: Where Do Space and Cyberspace fit?

Vincent Manzo

December 2011

Institute for National Strategic Studies


In Center for Strategic Research’s Strategic Forum No. 272, Vincent Manzo explores how the emergence of space and cyberspace as new strategic domains affects deterrence and escalation in cross-domain operations. Manzo provides two definitions of cross-domain operations (one based on platforms/targets and one based on effects) and argues that most U.S. military operations are inherently cross-domain. The real questions underlying recent interest in cross-domain deterrence are how the United States can mitigate vulnerabilities that stem from its dependence on space and cyberspace and why threats to respond to counterspace and cyber attacks in other domains are considered less credible than cross-domain responses to air, land, or sea attacks. Manzo uses Thomas Schelling’s concept of “the idiom of military action” as a starting point for answering these questions. Both the U.S. Government and potential adversaries lack a shared framework for analyzing how counterspace and cyber attacks fit into an accepted escalation ladder. A shared framework that integrates actions in the emerging strategic domains of space and cyberspace with actions in traditional domains would give decisionmakers a better sense of which actions and responses are expected and accepted in real-world scenarios and which responses would be escalatory. This would support more coherent cross-domain contingency planning within the U.S. Government and deterrence threats that potential adversaries perceive as clearer and more credible. Manzo concludes that attacks that strike targets in space and cyberspace and affect capabilities and events in other domains should be judged on the basis of their real-world effects. This approach would help decisionmakers determine whether responses in different domains are proportionate or escalatory. Manzo argues that a shared framework for assessing deterrence and escalation in cross-domain operations that involve space or cyberspace must also address variables such as differing strategic objectives, cultures and capabilities, the balance between offense and defense in space and cyberspace, U.S. responses to cyber exploitation during peacetime, and the strategic context (peacetime, crisis, limited conflict, or full-scale war).