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international understanding of cyber-operations, reflects this consensus.1

The work is the product

of a three-year effort commissioned by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia, to examine the applicability of international norms to cyber-warfare. According to Tallinn, the fact that a computer is used “has no bearing on whether that operation amounts to a ‘use of force.’”2

The Tallinn experts advise, “States

contemplating cyber operations, or that are the target thereof, must be highly sensitive to the in- ternational community’s probable assessment of whether the operations violate the prohibition on the use of force.”3

At this time, however, the Tal- linn Manual is not official NATO doctrine.

Under both the Tallinn standard and the effects- based approach, the United States either has to downplay its involvement in Stuxnet as a moder- ate, targeted action that falls short of prompting Iran to invoke its right of self-defense, or to justify it as a primarily defensive act in a larger conflict. If the roles had been reversed, would the U.S. con- sider a Stuxnet-like attack justification for a self- defensive action? On its face, the United States’ answer to this question seems to be a definitive “yes” according to a 2012 speech by the U.S. State Department’s Legal Advisor Harold Koh.4 Thus, under both Tallinn and the U.S. State De- partment’s position, the Stuxnet attack on Iranian nuclear centrifuges was a use of force. If called to account, the U.S. would likely maintain that its own action was in “anticipatory” self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.5


The judges at the Nuremberg Tribunal called ag- gression “the supreme international crime,” per- ceiving that aggression by one nation against another - whether motivated by politics, power, or demand for resources - formed the wellspring for the hatred from which many other heinous crimes flowed.6

For decades international bod- ies struggled to understand what, precisely, it

was about “aggression” which warranted punish- ment of either individuals or states. In 1998, one hundred and twenty nations signed the Rome Charter, which established a permanent Interna- tional Criminal Court (ICC) and formally defined the terms of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes so that they could be prosecut- ed against individual actors. In 2010, the parties amended the Charter with Articles 8 bis, 15 bis, 15 ter, along with additional elements and under- standings, which outlined criminal liability for the “crime of aggression.”7

However, complex opt-in

provisions, additional voting requirements, and ratification procedures mean that the very earliest ICC jurisdiction could begin is January 1, 2017.

The “act of aggression” required to commit a “crime of aggression,” according to Article 8 bis, para. 2 of the Rome Charter, is defined as “the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of an- other state.” The Rome Charter lists, as examples, classic war maneuvers such as the invasion, mili- tary occupation, or annexation by conventionally armed forces; naval bombardment and blockade; the sending of armed mercenaries; and a nation’s allowing its territory to be used as a launch point for another State to invade a third State. These are traditional notions of aggressive conduct, but they fit poorly into the new modalities of aggression utilized by cyberattacks. For example, if a denial of service attack8

on a nation were so severe that

its communications with the outside world were severed, is the attack analogous to a “blockade”? Perhaps, but even with a fertile imagination, some methods of cyberattack simply have no analogue in the current list of aggressive acts.

There is some evidence from the preparatory negotiations that the parties intended a certain flexibility of interpretation, but until the ICC Prose- cutor brings the first cases before the ICC, it is dif- ficult to know how strictly the Court will construe those provisions. In the meantime, how states act in response to cyberattacks, and whether they

ILSA Quarterly » volume 22 » issue 1 » October 2013


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