Martin H. Simon/Pool via Bloomberg

By Stewart Benson

The Cold War may be over, but it looks like another type of “cool” war is brewing between the United States and China. Instead of the buildup of nuclear weapons as a form of deterrence, the two prefer the use of cyber attacks by hacking groups. Last week, the Obama administration sent a confidential list of computer addresses to U.S. internet providers who have stolen data from American Corporations. These addresses are all linked to a specific hacking group in China: the Chinese military’s cybercommand. The fact that all of these attacks from China are coming from one source, connected to the military and government, is a very troubling find for the United States. China has repeatedly denied issuing state-sponsored cyber attacks, however the evidence points that not only is the military behind the latest attacks on American corporations and even The New York Times, the hacks are being traced to a specific address in Shanghai. Confronting China over the attacks is a sticky situation for President Obama; how do you threaten such an important trading partner and, technically, your bank?

The Obama administration had previously kept the source of the cyber attacks a secret to the nation’s internet providers and to those affected because there is still a question on what should be the correct course of action in confronting China. In the latest State of the Union Address, President Obama spoke on foreign countries stealing American corporate secrets, but avoided mentioning China by name. He also said these enemies were conspiring to sabotage our power grid, financial institutions and air traffic control systems. There is sensitivity in Washington over outright accusing the Chinese of issuing the cyber attacks; perhaps there is worry that the Chinese will become even more defensive and perhaps nationalistic, making future talks uncomfortable and unproductive. However, Attorney General Eric Holder as well as members of the House Intelligence Committee are backing confrontational approaches to the Chinese, saying it is without a doubt the Chinese are behind the hacking.

One way in convincing the Chinese to stop the attacks is the toll the espionage is taking on American global firms. Over the last several decades, these multinational corporations have forged a strong economic relationship with Chinese firms, resulting in trade priced at $425 billion in goods last year. It could be very effective to tell the Chinese that continued attacks will erode their alliance with the American business community, hurting not only the U.S. but the Chinese as well. American officials have said that in the next few months, private warnings will be issued to many Chinese leaders, including new president Xi Jinping. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and Secretary of State John Kerry will be making trips to China to further cement these warnings, hopefully convincing the Chinese that more attacks on American global firms will undermine the special U.S.-China economic relationship.

There are only a few ways to deter cyber attacks by another country, and the U.S. is facing the problem of choosing the best course of action. The Chinese have been aiming at American commercial targets, such as plans for aerospace design and wind-energy products, and American officials have demanded that these need to end. But in what way do we convince the Chinese? As of now, the only way to end cyber attacks is either through negotiations, economic sanctions or cyber counterattacks. If an attack is made on American infrastructure or another massive American institution, then counterattacks should be ordered. However, that has not yet come to fruition, thankfully. According to Robert Hormas, the under secretary of state for business and economic affairs, convincing the Chinese  that future attacks will hurt their hopes for economic growth is the best choice. Hopefully negotiations will be successful, but you can be sure that the debate over retaliation to cyber attacks is just beginning in Washington.

This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.

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