Non-Linear Stratagems in Theory and Practice: Examples from Iranian Cyber Policies

In this report, the authors explore the emergence of a host of “non-linear” stratagems aimed at exploiting pre-existing structural vulnerabilities in the liberal world order whilst reducing the likelihood of reprisal or retaliation. Following the end of the Cold War, it was hoped that a more peaceable liberal world order would emerge under the benevolent rulership of American unipolarity. The liberal order sought to gradually transform acts of self-interested transactional cooperation into more enduring loyalties. Non-linear stratagems are simply a variation of this theme, albeit without the anticipated positive externalities. Operating on similar lines to realist international theory, such ploys seek to further the dual objectives of self-interest and state survival in an anarchic global system. This report provides a general theoretical examination of such emerging stratagems, using recent Iranian cyber activities to support the arguments made. To that end, we offer a deeper analysis of the findings partially presented in our recent ARTICLE 19 studies on Iran’s National Internet (published in 2016) as well as a forthcoming publication on Soft War and Iranian Cyber Army.