U.S.-Australia Cyberwar Treaty

The long-standing ANZUS military treaty now includes cyberspace attacks:

According to Reuters, the decision was made in discussions between the two countries this week. The extension of the treaty would mean that a cyber-attack on either country would be considered an attack on both.

Exactly what this means in practice is less clear: practically every government with a connection to the Internet is subject to pretty much constant attack, and both Australia and America regularly accuse China and North Korea of playing host to many such attacks (China just as regularly denies any government involvement in Internet-borne attacks).

According to Reuters, it’s the first time any non-NATO defense pact has extended to the Internet. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is quoted as saying “cyber is the battlefield of the future.”

Posted on September 22, 2011 at 7:09 AM28 Comments


Big T September 22, 2011 7:32 AM

I understand that hackers, viruses, botnets, etc. can create havoc, but thinking of them like armed combatants on a battlefield is just crazy. The military should keep their focus on physical threats.

LinkTheValiant September 22, 2011 8:27 AM

“The military should keep their focus on physical threats.”

And the electronic threats that have direct effect upon them. A military camp attacked in dead of night responds with military force, but a bank held up by armed gunmen receives a response from the civil authorities. In the same way, the military absolutely should be involved in electronic threats on, say, their wireless communication systems, while they should stay out of attacks on Microsoft and Apple.

It is important to recognize that there IS a place for the military in cyberspace, but no more than a place. The point is to avoid seeing the entirety of the Internet as a war zone, for that way lies madness.

vwm September 22, 2011 8:51 AM

IMHO it is wrong to differentiate “cyber-threads” from physical threads. Those so called cyber-attacks are essentially nothing but plain old sabotage.

It does not matter if a crucial power supply is cut off by cutting actual wire or by messing with the smart grid, is it?

Are there any rules, if / when / how much sabotage is considered as casus belli and casus foederis?

Mike September 22, 2011 9:07 AM

“The military should keep their focus on physical threats.”

But the military has physical assets that are protected by electronic means.

Imagine if the military’s electronic means of logistics was denied to them?

Mike September 22, 2011 9:08 AM

“The point is to avoid seeing the entirety of the Internet as a war zone, for that way lies madness.”

Is that Sun Tzu?

Bob September 22, 2011 10:08 AM

Nit… Isn’t New Zealand part of ANZUS? I didn’t see them mentioned. In fact the article says “discussions between the two countries” in reference to the agreement.

jimrandomh September 22, 2011 12:50 PM

The basic problem is that electronic attacks, if done properly, are inherently anonymous. And if it looks like an attack wasn’t anonymous, it’s very likely that someone stamped a fake return address to pointing at else onto their anonymous attack. As a result, retaliations are very likely to be directed at the wrong targets; deterrence doesn’t work and committing to retaliate makes things worse, not better.

Mike September 22, 2011 12:59 PM

Anonymous attacks are handled easily enough. If you are attacked, and have no one to blame… Nuke Elbonia

Captain Obvious September 22, 2011 1:25 PM

So if a US hosted botnet attacks something in Australia, we will be forced to retalliate by recalling the predators for domestic urban bombardment!

Bryan September 22, 2011 2:24 PM

Probably about as useful as the Anzus treaty. NZ did not have too many worries about getting out of that :-).

Errolwi September 22, 2011 3:02 PM

NZ is a member of ANZUS. After the row about nuclear-armed ship visits in 1984, the United States announced that it was suspending its treaty obligations (which actually aren’t much) to New Zealand.
ANZUS is a much looser arrangement than say NATO.

LinkTheValiant September 22, 2011 3:26 PM

Mike, “Is that Sun Tzu?”

If so, the paraphrase was unintentional, but I honestly have no idea

jimrandomh, “And if it looks like an attack wasn’t anonymous, it’s very likely that someone stamped a fake return address to pointing at else onto their anonymous attack.”

This. It brings up a whole host of problems. Without knowing the origin of an electronic attack, retaliation cannot be carried out. Because it is close to impossible to determine an attack’s origin, military cyber-activities are reduced to pure defense or pre-emption.

CyberPict September 22, 2011 4:18 PM


“Because it is close to impossible to determine an attack’s origin, military cyber-activities are reduced to pure defense or pre-emption.”

Has not knowing the source of an attack every stopped a military force engaging in return fire?

jon September 22, 2011 6:24 PM

Sounds to me like another attempt by Australia to keep ANZUS relevant somehow (like NATO, it was only supposed to be a Cold War thing). If the new initiative came from the US side, it’d probably mention copyright violation as a form of cyber-attack.

Dirk Praet September 22, 2011 7:10 PM

Although I’m not sure how this will be applied in practice, it is a good idea that certain rules of engagement are being defined for state actors willing to use the internet for deliberate acts of sabotage or other mischief to specific entities or nations as a whole. That is of course unless these are committed by the US who everybody knows are the good guys and would never do so without a good reason which Mr. Colin Powell will then come and explain at the UN.

vlion September 22, 2011 8:19 PM

“The military should keep their focus on physical threats.”

Oh, they are.

Adjusting your local water treatment plant settings (which can be hacked into in the usual case) will give you a physical effect.

Or shutting off your power…

Or farting with traffic lights that got hooked up to the net…

Or glitching industrial plant production of things like Corn…

Look up “SCADA” in the context of security sometime.

caf September 22, 2011 11:36 PM

jon: That is a misunderstanding of the geopolitical underpinnings of both NATO and ANZUS. Both treaties are ultimately about giving the US a strong hand in the strategic posture of the countries involved, and securing freedom of action for the US Navy across large parts of the world (it’s no concidence that the first words of NATO refer to an ocean).

Anon#729-376 September 23, 2011 1:44 AM

“for that way lies madness”

Describing the current direction of humankind in just 5 little words. Excellent. 😉

Bob September 23, 2011 2:14 AM

In a post-Wikileaks Cablegate world what does such an agreement mean? Australian has agreed to protect the interests of Hollywood? The US presence in the south Pacific has no military significance. Cyber-attack probably means bit-torrent download.

GreenSquirrel September 23, 2011 4:10 AM

@Bob – I wondered that as well.

Its all talking about the A NZ US treaty but it keeps saying “both” nations.

Is NZ now a subsidiary of one of the others? Wont anyone think of my favourite country?

jggimi September 23, 2011 12:12 PM

I can find no original attribution to “That way lies madness. The closest is Shakespeare:

“Oh, that way madness lies; let me shun that.”
King Lear. ACT III Scene 4.

Bruce Clement September 25, 2011 3:19 PM


IIRC the actual requirements under the treaty are to consult if any of the signatories are attacked.

NZ are a signatory to the treaty and were originally part of ANZUS defence arrangements, but when we wouldn’t accept their nuclear armed or powered warships the US withdrew from military cooperation with us effectively leaving us in the treaty but outside the added on defence arrangements.

At the time this all happened there was a witty saying “What do you get if you take the Zeal out of ANZUS?”

Let’s just say that the US & Australia are happily continuing with the rump of ANZUS.

Nick N September 26, 2011 12:02 AM

Damn, we are like the US’s little bitch. I don’t know why our politicians want to be accepted by the US government so much, it’s not as if these agreements benefit us. Who the hell is going to attack Australia?

Clive Robinson September 26, 2011 6:07 AM

@ Nick N,

“Who the hell is going to agreements ben Who the hell is going to attack Australia?”

The que might not be as long as for some other places but it’s definatly there and getting longer.

Historicaly Japan saw Australia as very desirable as the second world war showed. And the last time I looked the Japanese owned a considerable part of Australia one way or another, and used it as a major holiday destination (I have European decent Australian friends who’s children speak fluent Japanese and it’s far from uncommon where they live, whilst it’s virtually unknown in other countries).

You only have to pick up various international versions of Australian newspapers to read about the “imigration” problems (both legal and illegal). So Australia is today for many reasons an attractive place to many at the personal and corporate level, so it might well be of interest to other states as well either covertly or overtly.

But there is a major reason why it is of interest from the communications aspect as I’ve said on this blog before.

Have a hunt around on the internet for a world map of sub-sea communications cables. You will see that as far as China is concerned there are two places where their data effectivly routes through or around and thats Australia and Japan.

Now as we know in the past Taiwan has been a bit of a pawn between China and the US and has caused some less than covert saber rattling from both sides.

Well lesser known untill recently is the half century divide between South Korea and North Korea. For various reasons in the past the South backed by the US has been quite provocotive towards the North, who have in the past “not taken the bait”.

However the North and South are currently going through a quite serious “spat” with not just accusations of ill intent flying around but apparently quite serious “cyber-atttacks” as well as quite a few bullets, shells and the odd torpedo.

North Korea (supposadly backed by China) has proved capable of cutting sub-sea cables as has China it’s self, and one assumes that South Korea and the US both possess the same ability. Oh and both China and the US have fielded anti satellite capability of varying degrees.

So using or witholding communications capability is becomming a little like the “water rights” wars of old.

Thus if I was China and wanted to ensure I had a bridge head outside of the likley places of attack on my external communications then Australia and Japan would be good places to set up “cyber-camp” for comand, control and intel APT. Because in effect from China’s perspective it would be just behind enemy lines and very important to the likes of the US or other attackers on China and it’s satellite states.

LinkTheValiant September 26, 2011 7:47 AM

Cyberpict, Has not knowing the source of an attack ever stopped a military force engaging in return fire?

Perhaps not, but that isn’t the point of what I was saying. The concept of whether the military can control itself in that sort of a situation is separate (in this context) from how they can ideally respond. The first is a political oversight issue, the second is a security one, and it is the second to which I was referring.

And I certainly didn’t expect to spark so much discussion over five words. O_o

signalsnatcher September 27, 2011 12:47 AM

First the ANZUS treaty is not actually a treaty. In the event of an attack on one party it merely calls on all parties “to consult”

Australian governments see the alliance with the US as a relationship rather than a treaty. Australia makes itself available for joint exercises and provides bases for electronic monitoring by satellite. It also provides troops for the various foreign adventures that the US engages in – Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, although the actual numbers of troops provided is so small as to be a token effort. Given the choice Australians would rather keep their military at home or available for supporting neighbouring nations such as the Solomon Islands, PNG or Timor L’Este. The policy of keeping an ongoing relationship with the US is referred to as “paying the insurance” – strange choice of words if you have ever tried to get an insurance company to pay out.

From the US point of view they perceive a tendency for Australia to drift towards Asia and abandon the West. Australia’s current prosperity is largely due to exports of raw materials to China while Europe and America are rivals in trade. A question being asked at certain levels is “if China attacked Taiwan should Australia support china or the US?”. Don’t assume that support for the US would be automatic.

This looks like an attempt by the US to keep Australia on side, and an attempt by Australia to enhance its cyberwar potential at minimum cost.

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