I thought it might be useful to refer to an authoritative source on war for the United States: DoD Joint Publication 1: Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States (.pdf), known as JP 1.
Incidentally, back in 1997 as an Air Force 1Lt straight from intelligence school, I worked on doctrine publications like this for Air Intelligence Agency, specifically the early doctrine on information warfare, like the August 1998 publication of Air Force Doctrine Document 2-5: Information Operations (.pdf).
What does JP 1 say about war?
War is socially sanctioned violence to achieve a political purpose. In its essence, war is a violent clash of wills. War is a complex, human undertaking that does not respond to
deterministic rules. Clausewitz described it as “the continuation of politics by other means” [Book one, Chapter 1, Section 24 heading]. It is characterized by the shifting interplay of a trinity of forces (rational, nonrational, and irrational) connected by principal actors that comprise a social trinity of the people, military forces, and the government...
The use of the term "violence" would seem to preclude cyberwar as being "war." Read on however:
Traditional war is characterized as a confrontation between nation-states or coalitions/alliances of nation-states. This confrontation typically involves small-scale to large-scale, force-on-force military operations in which adversaries employ a variety of conventional military capabilities against each other in the air, land, maritime, and space physical domains and the information environment (which includes cyberspace).
The objective is to defeat an adversary’s armed forces, destroy an adversary’s war-making capacity, or seize or retain territory in order to force a change in an adversary’s government or policies. Military operations in traditional war normally focus on an adversary’s armed forces to ultimately influence the adversary’s government...
The near-term results of traditional war are often evident, with the conflict ending in victory for one side and defeat for the other or in stalemate.
We see "traditional war" involving state-on-state, military v military conflict, with the listed objectives. Those elements do not preclude cyberwar.
[Irregular Warfare, or] IW has emerged as a major and pervasive form of warfare although it is not per se, a new or an independent type of warfare. Typically in IW, a less powerful adversary seeks to disrupt or negate the military capabilities and advantages of a more powerful, conventionally armed military force, which often represents the nation’s established regime. The weaker opponent will seek to avoid large-scale combat and will focus on small, stealthy, hit-and-run engagements and possibly suicide attacks.
That is very interesting and consistent with ongoing operations.
The weaker opponent also could avoid engaging the superior military forces entirely and instead attack nonmilitary targets in order to influence or control the local populace. An adversary using irregular warfare methods typically will endeavor to wage protracted conflicts in an attempt to break the will of their opponent and its population. IW typically manifests itself as one or a combination of several possible forms including insurgency, terrorism, information operations (disinformation, propaganda, etc.), organized criminal activity (such as drug trafficking), strikes, and raids. The specific form will vary according to the adversary’s capabilities and objectives.
Here we read about engaging nonmilitary targets, very relevant to today's nation-vs-private enterprise activity. However, the following text clarifies the main idea behind Irregular Warfare:
IW focuses on the control of populations, not on the control of an adversary’s forces or territory. The belligerents, whether states or other armed groups, seek to undermine their adversaries’ legitimacy and credibility and to isolate their adversaries from the relevant population, physically as well as psychologically... What makes IW “irregular” is the focus of its operations – a relevant population – and its strategic purpose – to gain or maintain control or influence over, and the support of that relevant population through political, psychological, and economic methods.
This text shows that Irregular Warfare is thought of in JP 1 as being more like insurgency operations as witnessed in southwest Asia.
One more thought before I publish this post: I don't consider any of the following to meet the definition of war:
- War on Poverty: President Lyndon Johnson declared "war" against a tragic human condition, but it's not really a war if the target is a physical condition.
- War on Drugs: President Richard Nixon declared "war" against narcotics, but it's not really a war either if the target is a substance.
- War on Terror: President George Bush declared "war" on terror after 9/11. While there is no doubt war happened, the target should be defined groups, like Al Qaeda, as stated by President Barack Obama -- not effects, like "terror."
Please note I keep these ideas in mind when forming thoughts on cyberwar.