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Perceptions of risk and uncertainty are pervasive in all international interactions. How states perceive risk and uncertainty and how they respond to these conditions impacts their policies and diplomatic behaviors. Despite a robust literature encompassing of risk and uncertainty within conventional state to state interactions including conflict, state interactions in cyberspace have received less attention.

How states perceive and interpret risk and uncertainty in cyberspace varies widely by state. Very often, these perceptions are mutually incompatible and lead to a sub-optimal status quo that fosters increased risk and uncertainty. This work analyzes the formulation of state perceptions of risk and uncertainty and seeks to establish a heuristic within which risk and uncertainty can be analyzed. Perceptions of risk and uncertainty form part of the framework for decisions on state policy development and actions.

How states perceive one another and the actions they undertake in any domain whether conventional or digital is important for understanding and predicting their future actions. How states formulate perceptions of risk and uncertainty within international interactions has been examined ly by multiple scholars across the conflict studies literature [ 1—3 ], yet the overwhelming majority of prior analyses have privileged conventional state-to-state interactions transpiring outside of cyberspace.

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Whether conventional decision-models pertaining to conventional conflict hold within cyberspace has received less attention. This work examines the formulation of state perceptions of risk and uncertainty in cyberspace. Ultimately, this article finds that states are deciding to engage in different behaviors as a result of divergent interpretations of shared experiences.

Perceptions of risk and uncertainty in cyberspace differ in their construction than in other domains for a of reasons.

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Among these differences are anonymity, order of effects, complexity, uncertainty of adversary capabilities, and field specific jargon and technical concepts. The ability to remain anonymous over critical periods of time shields both the violator and the violated from crucial information flows that inform and help to clarify decisions [ 4 ].

Likewise, actions and their effects in cyberspace are not straightforward and can be obfuscated as states do not seek to cause first-order effects, but rather effects that extend from second- and third-order consequences [ 5 ]. These effects foster confusion related to action and effects pairs as the complexity of networked environments makes the unintended spread of cyber capabilities beyond intended targets far more possible than the comparative use of conventional capabilities with the exception of biological weapons and perhaps nuclear fallout both of which far exceed the presently demonstrated destructive power of cyber capabilities.

Moreover, just as uncertainty about conventional weapons changes perceptions of risk, uncertainty surrounding adversary cyber capabilities elevates the perceptions of risk associated with adversary cyber capabilities. Finally, as is often the case with new technologies in conflict—concepts of risk and uncertainty associated with cyber capabilities befuddle decision-makers with an overwhelming amount of jargon and complex concepts. Placing the risk and uncertainty associated with state interactions in cyberspace within the broader context of international relations and security studies research makes it possible to examine the question of whether risk and uncertainty can be examined in cyberspace.

At its most basic the article asks how states perceive risk and uncertainty in cyberspace.

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Assessing how states perceive risk and uncertainty increases the accuracy of decision-modeling for states acting in and through cyberspace. This article proceeds in four sections. It begins by briefly examining the literature on uncertainty and risk to contextualize state behaviors prior to examining their actions relating to cyberspace.

After examining the literature on uncertainty and risk, the attributes of cyberspace are examined and contrasted with attributes often found in more conventional conflict dynamics. Next, a brief discussion of two cases are used to illustrate the formulation of risk by both the Russian Federation and the USA.

Lastly, state learning in cyberspace is examined. To understand why states behave differently from one another in cyberspace requires briefly examining how decisions are made within a rational choice framework and beyond. Specifically, this work extends beyond a simplified rational choice framework predicated on five core axioms: completeness, transitivity, continuity, monotonicity, and substitution [ 6 ].

It is the act of bounding decisions for future rational choice frameworks that differentiates the decisions in cyberspace from those in conventional interactions. Bounding is the result of a learning process, a heuristic.

The development of an expected utility for international conflict, whether conventional or transpiring within cyberspace requires parameterization. Parametrization converts Knightian unquantifiable uncertainty to quantifiable decisions with uncertain outcomes.

Several millennia of experiences have helped shape the subjective bounds of expected utilities for conventional conflict. Below I lay out two layers of the decision-model starting with that which is unquantifiable and moving into that, which is. Knightian uncertainty constitutes the nonquantifiable conditions within which risky quantifiable decisions are made.

Forming the foundation of nearly all decision models containing calculi on risk is the notion that the underlying conditions are quantifiable.

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Rational choice and most bounded cognition models are predicated on the quantification of decision. As a result, most formal analyses avoid the challenge of Knightian uncertainty, or unpredictable events that are beyond quantification [ 8 ]. Most analyses of decisions in international relations are bounded either with a priori assumptions based on experience or within the limits of available time or resources to seek out new information [ 9 ]. Experience reduces Knightian uncertainty through a priori information that can be ascertained in multiple ways. Experience can be abstractly learned via historical records, cultural or social norms.

It can be lived, such as learning that touching a hot stove in pain or witnessing others experience something. Experience is endemic to the human existence and by its nature reduces Knightian uncertainty. The assumption of boundedness pervades both cognitive and rational models. The tighter the pd knowledge boundaries of cognitive or rational frameworks, the greater the Knightian uncertainty the less accurately decisions can be quantified. As risk assessments become more parsimonious, they are increasingly divorced from reality.

Parsimony, in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. The presumption of simplicity facilitates decisions [ 10 ]. There is, however, a tradeoff between parsimony and reality. As parsimony simplifies the decision process, events that fall beyond those predictable within cognitive or rational models increasingly arise. When an outcome occurs that falls outside of the bounds that experience would quantify as possible, the events is best referred to as a Black Swan [ 11 ].

At its most basic, risk is the probability and impact of losing something, a tradeoff between choices resulting in a potential loss. Or as defined by Huth et al. The overwhelming majority of analyses of decision-making in international relations examine state actions in the context of risk [ 212—15 ]. The exact outcome is still uncertain, but it is quantifiable. Of considerable importance to the study of international relations and predictions related to state behavior is the distinction between cognitive and rational approaches to decision-making [ 11617 ]. However, both cognitive and rational models seek to understand or provide predictions based on state perceptions of risk [ 18 ].

While cognitive models lean on a variety of analyses, several have emerged as dominant explanations, in particular, prospect theory [ 19 ]. Rational modeling of states can be divided along utility modeling and more generalized rational models [ 1720 ]. The more bounded a state is in its information environment, the less likely its perceptions of risk or its assessments of utility are to match reality.

In contrast, the less information a state has relative to the environment international system or domain in which it operates, the more uncertainty will be present. Similarly, if too much information is available, and the boundaries of information within a decision-model are too large and the time to process and generate probabilities or utilities for various decisions is constrained temporally, decisions can be plagued by what is known as polythink [ 21 ]. Both too little and too much information can result in inaccurate utility constructions, thereby increasing uncertainty.

Often the latter case is overcome through sustained analysis, but as Kissinger writes, the diplomat has substantially less time than the analyst [ 22 ]. Yet, to get to the utility model itself, states must make assumptions based on the experience.

To do this, they must move beyond Knightian uncertainty to quantifiable uncertainties. Here in lies the core issue and challenge presented in this article. To get to quantifiable states, i. Absent of a framework, within which to develop quantifiable risks, the uncertainty of states increases. Given a tabula rasa, states are unable to formulate an expected utility model due to the unquantifiable conditions of Knightian uncertainty. As they engage in activities within cyberspace, they begin to establish the contours of the domain and generate the experiences 3 needed for quantification and thereby utility modeling [ 10 ].

Measurements of state behavior over time, whether the detailed analysis of diplomacy [ 22 ], the quantification of wars and the relative power of the states that wage them [ 23 ], or analyses that parse out how different options are formulated within a government [ 24 ], these and many more seek to divine the means by which states identify and develop the information associated with any given decision.

While perception and misperception are rampant within international politics, each knowledge point acquired potentially further adds to the construction of utility models associated with risk and reward for various decisions. War, as so aptly described by James Fearon, is the ultimate model within which states identify and assess the information they had antecedent to a given conflict [ 20 ]. As a war transpires, the bounds of information tend to be shed and each side is more accurately able to assess the probability of outcomes based on decisions and action. If states had and comprehended perfect information on the probable outcomes of any given conflict in advance, they might have been able to forego war through negotiated settlements.

These unobservable variables constitute the Knightian uncertainty that underpins decisions and falls outside the scope of quantifiable risk. Strategic intelligence seeks to provide as much information as possible regarding the resource capabilities and the decision-making logic of adversaries [ 27 ]. National Security intelligence collection and analysis serves to reduce Knightian uncertainty and more accurately bound utility models.

While much of the intelligence derived is delivered in the form of assessments, often probabilistic in nature, these products improve the quantification of risks and thereby reduce the uncertainty of outcomes. Even with the abundance of intelligence, the formulation of accurate assessments in international relations is consistently plagued by failures of one kind or another [ 2829 ].

This is despite efforts by decision-makers to utilize information to make optimal decisions. Mistakes are not necessarily caused by information provision errors that lead to faulty decision-making, but rather issues outside of the information used in assessing the risks and rewards associated with any decision related to a given action. Thus, even if a state knows how many tanks and soldiers another state has, and even if it knows that the adversary state is willing to fight to the last man or woman, there are factors that extend beyond an analysis of risks and rewards based on simple probabilities of success or failure.

These intangibles challenge even the most rigorous of analyses on decision-making in international relations [ 30 ]. Intangible attributes within the broader decision-matrix makes the analysis of perceptions of risk at the state level unstable. In formulating choices, through both the framing of the information being aled and received, and the information intelligence available to the state it is apparent that at the state level, leaders are privy to a large amount of information. While this information may be insufficient to eliminate all error, it is hopefully enough to minimize egregious errors.

The attributes of conventional conflict are multifaceted. The generic features of states in advance of conventional conflict range from weapon systems and troop s to their economic and political attributes. While states try to deliberately obfuscate, minimize, or elevate certain attributes, the ability to hide many of them in totality is difficult. Despite the volume of readily available information in advance of conventional conflict wars still take place.

States still perceive the risks are worth taking and that the utility being sought is positive [ 17 ]. To summarize the current state of affairs regarding state perceptions of risk and uncertainty, within international relations, there are two principal decision-making frameworks rational choice and cognitive models which lead the way in providing readily accessible and mathematically rigorous means to predict state decisions. While their predictive qualities vary over time and scope, both are generally well-regarded means of assessing when and how states will decide between difficult choices.

Yet, as the literature and history demonstrate both are susceptible to substantial error in predictive quality. Both are also only as strong as the known unknowns and known knowns upon which they are based those things which are quantifiable.

As the level of uncertainty increases, the quantifiable nature of the world in which events are transpiring in less accurate predictions. The short examination of a broad swath of literature above contextualizes the pre-cyber world.

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A world in which the quantification of risk and the comprehension of uncertainty provide decision-makers a framework within which to assess outcomes. Whether these assessments are accurate or not is the matter of discussion. Cyberspace challenges the conventional formulations of state behavior for a of reasons.

Unlike in the conventional domains of land, sea, air, and space, assessing the relative power of states is highly subjective and subject to changes that have less to do with material or financial capabilities than educational, infrastructural, or other attributes often ignored in conventional analyses of power. The term domain itself implies the importance and frames the metaphorical space in which a new typology of activities involving code and inter-networked computers that facilitate military and civilian activities take place [ 31 ].

Defining the space cyberspace of operation is useful insofar as it helps delineate and differentiate it from activities occurring in other domains. Several scholars have attempted to develop parallel understandings of state power in cyberspace as a means to extend analysis beyond conventional capabilities [ 43233 ]. There is a great deal of skepticism about the construction of analyses on state power in cyberspace [ 34 ] as it comprised a large of intangibles not necessarily visible to outside observers.

Some scholars even contend that the risk of conflict within or emanating from cyberspace is minimal or will simply not take place [ 35 ].

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