A Psychological Turn. Our understanding of interstate behavior in cyberspace over the past decade rests firmly on systemic and technological attributes as determinants of strategic choices in this increasingly relevant domain. Scholars and policy specialists alike invoke established concepts such as the offense-defense balance, coercion, and signaling to account for state-associated cyber operations. Yet despite technological advancements, cyber operations continue to deliver limited strategic outcomes. This is paradoxical when accelerating investments in cyber capabilities are contrasted against lackluster performance thus far. Consequently, one may argue that attempts to frame strategic choices as a function of material and strategic realities hinders rather than enlightens attempts to comprehend state behavior in cyberspace. This, however, is not necessarily the case.
Recent cybersecurity scholarship acknowledges the importance of micro-level attributes. Whereas emphasis is commonly placed on the balance of power, dependence, and technological expertise; it is becoming apparent that cognition plays a crucial role in the decision-making processes that influence strategic choices. This psychological “turn” is not a novel occurrence as associated disciplines such as political science and international relations long recognized its importance. With cyber operations serving as an instrument of foreign policy, it is fair to posit that cognitive factors that account for behavior in the physical domain are equally applicable to cyberspace. Consequently, this ARI demonstrates this by discussing recent scholarship and how these affect the stability of cyberspace. In doing so, it surfaces the importance of taking a simultaneous top-down and bottom-up approach in evaluating state behavior in this man-made domain.
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