Democratic Presidential nominee warned foreign governments and hackers Wednesday that cyber attacks against the U.S. will be treated like any other, even if it leads to war.
“As President, I will make it clear that the United States will treat cyber attacks just like any other attack. We will be ready with serious political, economic, and military responses,” Clinton told supporters during a campaign speech at the American Legion National Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Clinton and the Democratic Party have both had cyber-related in issues in recent months. The nominee was recently the subject of an FBI investigation for storing classified emails on a private server, while the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has fallen victim to hackers believed to be linked to Russia. Clinton was not afraid to accuse the Kremlin and China of backing such attacks.
“You’ve seen reports. Russia’s hacked into a lot of things, China has hacked into a lot of things,” said Clinton. “Russia even hacked into the Democratic National Committee, maybe even some state election systems. So we have got to step up our game. Make sure we are well defended and able to take the fight to those who go after us.”
While cyber-attacks undoubtedly have a real impact on security, Clinton’s apparent willingness to include military kinetic attacks in response to Russian or Chinese hacks risks total war. Russia-U.S. tensions are higher now than they have been since the end of the Cold War. The Russian military frequently harasses U.S. forces across the globe, while a massive Russian deployment near the Ukrainian border risks direct conflict. Relations with China also continue to deteriorate, particularly due to China’s aggressive military build-up in the South China Sea.
Clinton’s cavalier attitude toward going to war over cyber attacks seems to contradict her assertion that she is the responsible voice on foreign policy in the current election. She emphasized that point in her speech Wednesday, attacking Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump’s foreign policy.
“It’s more than a photo op. It takes consistency and reliability,” said Clinton, regarding her time as secretary of state. “And it certainly takes more than trying to make up for a year of insults and insinuations by dropping in on our neighbors for a few hours and then flying home again. That is not how it works.”
President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Policy Directive regarding cyber security in July that called for a “risk-based response” to attacks, focusing mostly on deterrence. Additionally, cyber security experts have cautioned against treating any cyber attack as a reason to go to war, given the broad definition includes everything from simple website defacement to cutting off power grids. Generally, military kinetic responses have only been floated as response to hacks that result in loss of life or damage to property or industrial systems, like the electrical grid.