A Blurring of Lines

Popular culture provides a window into world affairs for me for the second week in a row, as the upcoming Seth Rogen/James Franco movie, “The Interview,” becomes the eye of an international storm.  I generally don’t find Rogen’s work all that funny, but the notion that a fictional, over-the-top portrayal of a CIA plot to assassinate North Korean President Kim Jong Un could become the trigger for a real-life cyber war is pretty amusing – if you ignore the larger implications this holds for the future. 

As I discuss in my new post this week on US News & World Report, we just may have witnessed the defining war of the 21st Century.

A group of hackers, apparently at the behest of the North Korean government, wreaked havoc on Sony Pictures by stealing thousands of documents and causing the company an untold level of damage.  You might think it unlikely that anyone would conceive of a Seth Rogen pic as intelligence war rather than part of a war on intelligence.  But North Korea’s less-than-keen appreciation of satire has led it to denounce the movie as an “act of war” that would result in “stern” and “merciless” retaliation, and to launch a cyber attack on a private company (with revenues that exceed the GDP’s of one-quarter of the world’s states) intended simply, as in war, to destroy it.

 In sum, we’ve just seen a new category of state aggression against non-state actors (or, to judge by some of Sony’s email comments about its own stars, non-actors), involving entirely economic – without any physical – destruction of a non-territorial adversary.  These events encapsulate in one episode all the trends we see coming – the blurring of distinctions between governments and businesses, state and non-state actors, the real and the virtual.  Most of it won’t be as comedic.

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