A digital war is almost upon us – we need to act now to avoid it

digital war
Image by a_lisa | Bigstockphoto

A digital war doesn’t seem like a ‘thing’, but the sanctions and counter-sanctions that the US and the West, and China are throwing up is already creating tensions that will only escalate.

We have often criticised the farce that was the trade war started by ex-President Donald Trump. We had hoped that President Biden would throw water on the flames of this impending digital war.

And we were disappointed.

Instead, the escalation will almost inevitably deepen the digital divide and grow into a full-scale digital war. And it is possible we will not even notice until it is way too late (setting aside the eye-watering sophistication of recent cyberattacks).

As Jeremy Fleming, a former UK cyber spy, put it, “it is increasingly clear that the key technologies on which we will rely for our future prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the West. We are now facing a moment of reckoning.”

While it might appear that the trade war has merely created a more isolationist outlook and thus added a little more competition to the mix, if you think about it in terms of digital war, then we are getting beyond mere skirmishes and heading into the realm of real struggle.

The fact that Governments are throwing wartime amounts of money at building a strong supply of chips shows how serious this situation has become. And while Taiwan may be thinking that, with their control over chip making (at the moment) that the future is rosy, it is also very precarious for a small island state.

Chips have become a new oil, and whether it is publicly acknowledged or not, countries go to ‘real’ war over oil. Chips might be a tipping point between a trade war, which seems temporary, and a full-scale digital war, which could last for a very long time.

How you de-escalate a digital war is not easy to fathom. Perhaps those in power should already be considering a digital UN peacekeeping operation, where all new technologies have to be vetted completely independently and deemed secure.

What is certain is that, as Fleming says, we need to act now if we are to avoid a nasty, divisive and deeply damaging digital war.

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