Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science


Simpson, Erika


The emergence of more devastating and organized cyber attacks by non-attributable threat actors internationally raises questions about whether classical deterrence theory in its contemporary form has assisted important military defence alliances, like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to adapt to the changing threat landscape. The timeline of the NATO Alliance's adaptation to external cyber threats is examined at critical historical junctures. Changes and adaptation within internal policy-making processes at NATO headquarters and its affiliated centres, think tanks, and military bases are analysed with input from informed decision-makers. The research project demonstrates that NATO policy substantively changed over the period 2000 to June 30, 2022 because the scale and measure of cyber capabilities among 30 NATO Allies (particularly during and after the COVID-19 pandemic) contributed to a two-decade pattern of increasing defensive preparations, including new technologies, extensive military exercises, and military planning intended to counter amplifying hybrid threats in the 'gray zone' of conventional warfare. NATO implemented different security solutions to cyber space challenges, demonstrating the application of contemporary deterrence theory to current policy. Critical junctures, like major international precedent-setting cyber attacks, influenced cyber defence policy developments at NATO and internal policymaking processes like NATO Summitry. Two conceptual lenses—historical institutionalism and social learning—illuminate understanding of the evolution of NATO's policy development, military exercises, and the training initiatives of affiliated NATO organizations over the period 2000-2022.

Summary for Lay Audience

Threat actors have become more coordinated and destructive in their cyber attacks. This raises questions about whether conventional deterrence theory has aided military defence alliances, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in adapting to this shifting threat environment. This study looked at how NATO has dealt with cyber threats from the outside to examine how its internal policy-making procedures have changed and evolved. The chronology of NATO's policy development was analyzed in response to cyber threats by looking at significant historical events and speaking with experienced decision-makers. NATO's strategy changed dramatically between 2000 and June 30, 2022, principally due to the NATO Allies' growing cyber capabilities. The study reveals a recurring pattern of NATO's defensive preparations, including adopting new technology, military exercises, and strategic planning. In order to confront the threats posed by cyberspace, NATO has established many security measures, demonstrating how modern deterrence has been used to influence current policy. Notably, pivotal global cyberattacks have shaped NATO's internal policymaking procedures, such as NATO Summitry and cyber defence strategies. This research study illuminates how NATO has modified its processes and policies to address the growing cyber threats it confronts.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.