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Stuxnet and international law on the use of force: an informational approach*

Samuli Haataja and Afshin Akhtar-Khavari

Keywords: use of force; Stuxnet; information ethics

This article considers the Stuxnet cyberattack in the context of international law on the use of force below the armed attack threshold. With a focus on the concept of ‘force’ within Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, it is argued that international law embodies an anthropocentric and materialist view of violence. Violence, as traditionally understood in the context of Article 2(4), involves a state using kinetic weapons to damage or destroy physical property, or injure or kill human beings within another state. Using the Stuxnet incident as a case study and as a tool of critique, it is argued that the law's one-dimensional conception of violence, which focuses on physical damage, limits its ability to recognise the non-material harm Stuxnet caused to countless virtual entities and processes. As such, the law does not adequately account for the non-material ways in which states that are increasingly dependent on information and communication technologies can be harmed. As a means of overcoming the law's limited conception of violence, this article draws on Luciano Floridi's information ethics. This is a theory that extends its ethical concern beyond the material world to include all entities, whether natural or artificial, physical or virtual. In this article it is used both to critique the law's anthropocentrism and materialism and to provide an alternative account of the harm that Stuxnet caused.

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