The final version of an annual defense bill unveiled recently contains language that will set the nation’s first cyberwarfare policy if signed into law.
Lawmakers tasked with reconciling House and Senate versions of next year’s National Defense Authorization Act included sections in their conference report released Monday establishing policies for the Pentagon with respect to both countering and conducting cyberattacks. They cited significant advantages being achieved by increasingly capable adversaries including Russia and China.
“It shall be the policy of the United States, with respect to matters pertaining to cyberspace, cybersecurity, and cyber warfare, that the United States should employ all instruments of national power, including the use of offensive cyber capabilities, to deter if possible and respond to when necessary, all cyber attacks or other malicious cyber activities of foreign powers that target United States interests,” reads part of the 2,552-page conference report.
The policy would apply to attacks conducted with the intent to cause casualties, significantly disrupt the normal functioning of society or government, threaten the military or “achieve an effect, whether individually or in aggregate, comparable to an armed attack or imperil a vital interest of the United States,” according to the conference report.
“The conferees note the operational advantages provided by electronic warfare and cyber capabilities and expects the Department to dedicate additional resources to the problem set,” wrote the lawmakers who negotiated the bill. “The conferees remain concerned that electronic and cyber warfare are two warfighting areas where our peer adversaries, such as China and Russia, are establishing significant asymmetric advantages and the conferees urge swift action by the Department’s leadership to regain United States superiority in these warfighting areas.”
The House may vote on the NDAA conference report as early as this week, potentially sending the negotiated bill to the Senate and ultimately to President Trump to sign into law.
The White House previously said the president “strongly objects” to language included in the compromise bill that “would damage the national security interests of the United States by endorsing certain foreign policy and military determinations that are traditionally within the President’s discretion.”
The White House added that it “strongly supports” the notion that military operations in cyberspace constitute tradition military activities, however, adding: “This affirmation is critical to ensuring that all elements of national power may be brought to bear in support of national security objectives.”
The proposed NDAA authorizes $716 billion in fiscal year 2019 toward national defense.
“The focus of this funding will be building a joint force that is ready, equipped, and capable of maintaining military overmatch against potential adversaries,” the Senate Armed Service Committee said in a statement. “As this legislation moves toward final passage and to the President’s desk, we are confident it will continue to represent how our government can and should function — and serve as a model of how we can work together to solve problems and defend our great nation.”
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