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Cyber warfare cannot replace conventional military operations

Dr. Iskren Ivanov is a senior lecturer of U.S./Russia Foreign Policy at Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski and a former Fulbright lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin. His latest book Pandemic Among Nations: U.S. Foreign Policy and The New Grand Chessboard explores the implications of the U.S.-China strategic competition for the post-pandemic security architecture.

On February 24, 2022, a military conflict broke out between Russia and Ukraine. In the Russian-Ukrainian network war, in addition to the system paralysis or data damage caused by network attacks, there is also the influence and competition of network information war on public opinion.In this context, the center conducted an exclusive interview with Dr. Iskren Ivanov on the network security issues reflected in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and analyzed the opportunities and challenges that China Russia cooperation will face.

Iskren Ivanov:Cyber warfare cannot replace conventional military operations

In response to the statement that “cyber war will replace traditional military operations”, I think such an assumption was misleading. Wars occur because the struggle for power is a genuine part of human nature, and it is up to international actors to decide whether to fight or surrender. I believe that the conflict in Ukraine, the U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and historically-World War II provide reasonable proof of my thesis. However, not all state actors are equally inclined to succumb to that temptation. My assumption is that war-like scenarios will continue to dominate the strategic culture of Western countries, which are most inclined to follow the logic of geopolitical expansion by promoting values through smart and hard power. On the other side, China is, to a greater extent, immune to that allurement because, as Professor Yan Xuetong observes, Confucianism favors benevolence and social harmony over colonization and offensive strategies. The greatest challenge to the Chinese strategic culture, thus, remains its Westernization, which threatens to convert China’s neo-Confucian approach to an expansionist strategy.

Digital and network power are essential facets of the Russian geopolitical strategies. However, in the Ukrainian conflict, they occupy a secondary place to the Neo-Eurasian paradigm dominating Russian foreign policy since 2001. Neo-Eurasianism has a dichotomous nature. The short-term purpose of this strategy is to unite Eurasia politically, economically, militarily, and culturally. Once the Eurasian space is united under Moscow, Russia will be able to resurrect the Soviet Union. In the long-term, the Neo-Eurasian paradigm claims that the confrontation between Russia and the West is imminent. It contends that Moscow and Washington are destined for war. I believe that both sides are rational actors because none of them would risk mutual assured destruction. Network power will, of course, continue to play an essential role in Russia's offensive strategy. Considering the “hard” nature of Eurasian strategic culture, however, cyber operations will be just an auxiliary tool to disrupt the cyber capabilities of Europe.

Laozi once said, “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” Thus, the first challenge concerns the rise of China. This process, at present, is irreversible unless World War III breaks out. China should not take a side in this conflict, a position I took when the Russian troops entered Ukraine. As to Russia, I assume that the People's Republic should act according to its global economic interests. For example, a protracted conflict in Europe will have detrimental consequences for Chinese investments. Alternately, closer cooperation with the West would hardly contribute to the leading position of China in international relations. Thus, future relations between China and Russia should rely on partnership, not alliance. The partnership could also involve cooperation as harmoniously balanced as relations with the United States and European Union.

The second opportunity stems from the changing balance of power in Eurasia. The weakened economy of Russia will be a plausible opportunity for China. The Eurasian landmass is rich in resources that will make a great asset to China's economic growth. Facing the alternative to be economically and culturally colonized by the West, Russia will prefer to share its resources with Beijing. The conflict will also provide China with the opportunity to expand its political presence and to participate in the global distribution of power without engaging in any military interventions. In my book, I define this approach as the policy of the silent cultivator. By endorsing this policy, China will demonstrate to the world that it can bear the responsibilities of a great power under pragmatic leadership and balanced foreign policy behavior.

Finally, it is essential to highlight that the global distribution of power after the conflict ends will inevitably affect China. In a post-pandemic but still nuclear world, I believe that the biggest challenge for Beijing will be to preserve its original foreign policy approach, which granted China the opportunity to cultivate its power through its millennial history.

Interview time: March 16, 2022

Interviewer: Hou Yunxi

Translator: Li Yuhan

Reviewer: Xu Houkun

Collator: Zhao Xiaoli



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