This month we had the pleasure to attend and present at the UK Deterrence and Assurance Academic Alliance (DAAA) Conference hosted by Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in conjunction with the Scottish Council on Global Affairs. The focus was on the process of escalation – defined as: a situation, such as a conflict, in which factors stimulate the situation to become greater or more serious. 

The Close Alliance of Escalation and Strategy

The number one insight from the conference was that escalation is back on the table as a strategic issue. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; one only has to listen in to the steadily escalating talk of nuclear conflict related to the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Escalation is firmly (and scarcely) back in the public and political consciousness. That much is obvious, but the conference revealed related elements. 

Asymmetry Meets Escalation

One of the most interesting papers presented was about the effect of climate change on escalation in the Arctic Circle. To summarise a complex paper, retreating sea ice is opening shipping lanes in the high Arctic, which can be used for military purposes, increasing military tension in the region. The premise highlights how novel factors can influence symmetrical conflicts; cyber security is subject to the same context.

The Challenge of Cyber-threat Capabilities

Fitting cyber capabilities – whether linked to computer hacking, information operations, or more conventional command-and-control – into a conventional escalation framework is a challenge. The obstacles aren’t new: attribution, cyber-sovereignty, and cyber/physical attack proportionality are just some of the contributing factors. 

Role of the Private Sector

One of the standout talks was by the University of Nottingham’s Dr. Andrew Mumford. His topic was hybrid warfare – an approach to military operations that combines civilian and military capabilities.