What moral obligations does the United States have with regards to Cyber Warfare?  While major religions and dominant philosophies should be studied, this article provides a brief introduction to the Catholic perspective on this question.

The Ethics of Electrics

What is the morality of cyber warfare?  The Atlantic poses that question and suggests that answering this question now – when cyber is emerging – provides an opportunity to “get it right” from the start. It is clearly a very important question, as the article describes thoroughly.  The article identifies several important principles of just warfare (principles such as proportionality and distribution) and applies them to cyber warfare. Cyber warfare is often conducted behind the scenes, it sometimes falls into the category of espionage, which poses further moral challenges.

Before directly answering some of these questions, it would be beneficial to have a brief discussion about how morality is currently viewed in the United States.  It is very common for people today to have a more limited understanding of the role of certain religious and philosophical beliefs with regards to morals and ethics than in times past.  The role of government and religion has shifted in recent times with religion, especially Christianity, becoming less influential. As a result, many people are forced to come up with their own ideas about what they think is right and wrong with regards to important issues, including important issues like cyber warfare, and oftentimes their knowledge can be limited in a way. 

It is very common for people today to have a more limited understanding of the role of certain religious and philosophical beliefs with regards to morals and ethics than in times past.

Moral relativism, as Pope Benedict XVI noted in a speech he gave immediately after becoming Pope, has become the dominant philosophy of our time.  Certainly, many people believe that this is a negative development.  While the moral landscape varies dramatically depending on the time period, it was more common in the past to have other sources other than the self as the sources of moral authority.  Institutions, such as churches, for example, tended to carry more moral weight in times past.

The Catholic Moral Landscape

Since we are living in a unique time with a unique moral landscape, it can be profitable for those who are preparing for the cyber war to more fully study ethics and morality with respect to warfare.   This study should include wisdom of various belief systems and dominant philosophies. With respect to the Catholic faith, there is a rich tradition of materials that could be studied with regards to ethics that is oftentimes not studied.  The Catholic Church oftentimes records and keeps the works of some of its great thinkers and heroes, and these are available for study. 

Saints Aquinas and Augustine

One such great thinker was Saint Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic philosopher and theologian from the 13th century.  Aquinas, along with Saint Augustine, are considered to be some of the most influential thinkers in the history western civilization. Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas contributed greatly to western civilization and western thought, in ways that many people probably take for granted.  Saint Augustine was one of the strongest early Christian theologians, incorporating ancient philosophers into Christian thought (particularly with respect to Plato). Much of his thought ended up being reflected in medieval beliefs. 

Aquinas was another extremely influential theologian who incorporated Aristotle’s thought with Christianity.  Both Augustine and Aquinas view of just warfare are commonly referenced today. Both Aquinas and Augustine had some important thoughts with regards to the situations in which warfare should be carried out.  They both maintained that warfare could be conducted in a just manner in certain situations. 

The Conditions of Just War

In Aquinas important theological work Summa Theologica, he identifies three conditions that must exist if a country to conduct a “just” war.  The first, is that the sovereign, that is, the supreme authority of a group, must be the authority to declare the war.  It is the responsibility of governments and rulers to protect their people and uphold laws, and thus it is necessary for this authority to decide when warfare should be conducted.  

Both Augustine and Aquinas view of just warfare are commonly referenced today. 

It would be inappropriate for individuals or smaller groups to gather forces together, because they can use means of the state to address their wrongs. There are many examples of this occurring in history.  A basic example would be terrorist attacks that are not sanctioned by legitimate authorities. The 9/11 terrorist attacks were backed by illegitimate authorities, thus they were not just attacks. This rule helps to prevent conflict in the first place, ensuring that a legitimate process is conducted in order to decide whether or not war should take place.  

The second condition for “just” war, is that there must be a fault in the enemy that needs to be corrected- for example, if a country unjustly seized land that they shouldn’t have.  Hitler’s invasion of Poland can be cited here as an example here.  Hitler used propaganda to justify his attack on Poland, making false claims about Polish aggression.  His real motivation was to put in place his visions for enslaving and destroying much of Europe.

Thirdly, the war must be for the purpose of advancement of good and avoidance of evil.  Some examples listed that may not meet this qualification would be if a war was conducted for a lust for power, to enact some sort of vengeance, or simply with an improper spirit of revolt. So, although war itself is obviously not peaceful, if it is conducted to restore peace, then it could be just.  For example, Hitler’s campaigns aimed to advance immoral ideologies, leading to horrible atrocities such as genocide.  

The Nuances of Cyber Warfare

Since cyber warfare is in some ways different than regular warfare, there may be some other considerations that must be made.  Aquinas also dealt with other aspects of warfare and discussed some of these issues thoroughly. When it came to the issue of “ambushes” in warfare, Aquinas included this under the general umbrella of warfare: if the war itself was just, these types of actions are also just.  There are also some biblical examples of these types of actions being done in a just manner. This is one of several areas of warfare that should be explored.  

It could help us understand the morality of our adversaries’ actions as well as our own. Thus, we could further understand what actions are acceptable and what aren’t, and ways to conduct warfare in the future, should it be necessary. 

Another area of warfare that would require thorough study would be the area of espionage and intelligence gathering- Aquinas does not directly mention this type of activity in his SummaMost countries seem to be engaged in some level of espionage and intelligence gathering, so the understanding of morality here would be just as important as other areas.    

It has been argued that in some recent times, the United States has crossed lines and conducted unjust wars.One example of this is that many believe the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unjust.  

Given the current political climate and the growing threats of China and Russia, knowledge of the morality of warfare would certainly be beneficial.  It could help us understand the morality of our adversaries’ actions as well as our own. Thus, we could further understand what actions are acceptable and what aren’t, and ways to conduct warfare in the future, should it be necessary.  Given the current, “relativistic” way of thinking of the West described above, and new methods of warfare, traditional understanding of just warfare is as important as ever.

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