“Cyberspace offers huge opportunities” — interview with general and professor Paul Ducheine in Dutch MoD magazine Pijler

On February 12th 2015, an interview (in Dutch) with Dutch professor and general Paul Ducheine was published in the Dutch MoD magazine “Pijler”. Ducheine holds the cyber chair at the Netherlands Defense Academy (NLDA). The original Dutch text was written by Ingmar Kooman. Here is a translation (hyperlinks are mine):

General Ducheine first professor of cyber operations

Foxholes and cyberspace: a world of difference. Tangible sweat versus the online domain. Yet they are linked, because the armed forces will in the future operate both in the physical and non-physical — digital — front. Brigadier General Paul Ducheine prepares the armed forces for that, as the first Dutch cyber professor.

His collar mirrors and epaulettes are brand new. Since February 2nd, engineer Ducheine also holds a military chair in the ‘operations terrain’ of cyberspace, besides his civilian chair. At the University of Amsterdam he is professor of Military Law of Cyber Operations and Cyber Security. At the Faculty of Military Sciences of the Netherlands Defense Academy (NLDA) the brand new general teaches cyber operations.

Fifth domain

Cyberspace, freely translated to the virtual world of computers, is a potential battleground, Ducheine explains. “Next to land, water, air and space, the information arising from those is the fifth domain of military action. Altogether, cyberspace provides digital access to intelligence, which offers huge opportunities”.

Weather, terrain or presence of enemy troops can disrupt the use of for instance ground troops, artillery, or air power, Ducheine explains. “But you do not necessarily have to attack armed forces physically. You can also disrupt, deny or distort information sources. That too can achieve the objective.”

An example of that is operation Orchard. Israeli fighter planes in 2007 destroyed a nuclear installation in Syria. That happened after the Syrian air defense was disrupted by a cyber attack. “But the access to digital networks also created dependencies”, Ducheine emphasizes. “And that makes you vulnerable again, meaning that you need to protect your digital domain.”

Off territory

According to Ducheine, many “significant misconceptions” exist among the public about the phenomenon cyber operations. “Much is yet unknown. Some people think we can carry out cyber operations at will. That we do it very often, and that we attack whatever we can attack.”

As examples he mentions electricity networks, water purification systems, traffic lights, all civil infrastructure, and off-territory for armed forces according to the laws of war. “A civilian object cannot be attacked. The armed forces follow the same rules in cyber operations as in conventional action. And is equally restrictive in it. A cyber operation, too, only takes place after a political decision”, Ducheine says.

A fascinating subject, Ducheine finds. “It is about facts, their legal meaning, political decision-making and the action that government services such as police and the armed forces take on that. This interaction is what I want to convey to the officers we train.”

Open mind

Ducheine does not think every cadet or midshipman must develop into a cyber specialist. “I give them a basic understanding of the possibilities that this domain offers. It contains information, you can use it to communicate and maneuver. And through that, you can have a positive and negative effect in military conflict. I want to open their minds to that.”
Ducheine’s multidisciplinary chair in Breda entails law, technology, military operations and socio-administrative aspects of military cyber operations. At the University of Amsterdam, the general’s research and education only focuses on legal aspects. His chair in Amsterdam offers opportunities to the MoD. “Via PhD programs”, Ducheine explains. “I can guide researchers in their activities. The boys and girls are in Breda with me, but get their PhD in Amsterdam. They will later on apply their knowledge within the armed forces. In addition, this provides access to research experience, knowledge, and a large network. Research is not done in isolation, after all.” The advantages of the mix of military and civilian students are something the Ducheine experiences himself. “Sometimes they ask questions that I had never thought of. That is enriching.”


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