Cyberattacks are about to carry even more weight, with the United States and Australia expected to include them in a mutual defense treaty.
The two nations will declare the cyber realm to be part of the 60-year-old treaty tomorrow, Reuters reports. The inclusion will mean that a cyberattack on one country could lead to a response by both.
"We will be releasing a joint statement saying that the ANZUS treaty applies to cyberspace," Reuters quoted a senior U.S. defense official as saying of the rare move.
The Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty, signed in 1951, is the military alliance that binds Australia and New Zealand and, separately, Australia and the United States to cooperate on defense matters in the Pacific region. The agreement, however, is understood today to relate to attacks in any area.
The expansion of the treaty will take place in San Francisco, where defense and diplomacy leaders from the U.S. and Australia are meeting 60 years after the alliance was sealed in the city on September 1. New Zealand has been an inactive partner of the alliance since 1985.
Speaking to the press today on a flight to San Francisco, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said applying the cyber realm to ANZUS underscores the seriousness with which the U.S. views cyberthreats.
"I think it's in large measure a recognition of what I've been saying time and time again, which is that cyber is the battlefield of the future," Panetta said.
State Hillary Rodham Clinton will join Panetta to meet with Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Defense Minister Stephen Smith for tomorrow's Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations. It will be held at San Francisco's historic Presidio, where ANZUS was originally signed.
To illustrate the sophistication of cyberattacks, William Lynn, deputy secretary of defense, this summer cited a March cyberattack that led to 24,000 files being stolen from military computers. Virtual intruders have tried to extract files related to missile tracking systems, UAVs, and the Joint Strike Fighter, Lynn said.
"Just as our military organizes to defend against hostile acts from land, air, and sea, we must also be prepared to respond to hostile acts in cyberspace," Lynn said in a July speech at the National Defense University in Washington D.C. "Accordingly, the United States reserves the right, under the laws of armed conflict, to respond to serious cyberattacks with a proportional and justified military response at the time and place of our choosing."
Also earlier this year, President Obama reportedly laid out guidelines for the U.S. Department of Defense to determine how it should respond to cyberwarfare.
Press reports cited anonymous defense officials as saying those measures include a wide range of cyberwar efforts to be employed by the U.S. during both peacetime and conflicts, including installing viruses on international computers and taking down a country's electrical grid.