Due to the penetration of the Internet in our lives, the world is increasingly interconnected, allowing voice, images, and data to be transmitted at speeds and distances unthinkable a few years ago.
However, thanks to concepts such as the cloud or the wireless operation of many technological items, it is easy to forget that between 97% and 99% of the internet is transported through underwater fiber optic cables at speeds close to the light.
Thus, the world is interconnected with a vast network of underwater cables of about 1.2 million kilometers that allow finance, communications, and information to flow throughout the planet, allowing financial transactions with a very high level of security or virtual meetings in real-time.
Likewise, it is important to highlight that governments use the submarine infrastructure to maintain official communications and in the case of the great powers, to carry out transcontinental operations that of course include critical information. For example, the remote operation of drones used by the United States uses the bandwidth and transmission speed available in the submarine cables to control its territory operations at a global level in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
Thus, due to the economic, commercial, and national security importance, from the perspective of critical infrastructure protection, it could be inferred that the safety and security of these submarine networks is a priority for the governments that depend on them; nothing could be further from the truth.
In this context, it is clear that if we review the documentation and legislation associated with the seas and oceans, we find that the great forgotten in international maritime regulation are the submarine cables; why?
The installation, operation, and maintenance of submarine cables, since they are operated by private companies (in many cases multinationals) and since they use international waters, lack the state protection required for their protection, since we are talking about large cable laying under millions of gallons of water, in excessive pressures, which in itself generates astronomical costs.
Therefore, the solution of the countries tends to be the cheapest (not the cheapest or most efficient), to look the other way and let the responsibility for the maintenance and operation of the fiber optic lines fall on the private ones (despite the fact that a great part of them is based on the exclusive economic zone and territorial sea of each one of the countries); ignoring something that from the perspective of national security is evident: The submarine fiber-optic network is critical infrastructure for national security and as such it must be managed jointly, taking into consideration the impact that a critical failure in this system would generate for each of the nations that use it.
Now, there are many examples in which, due to failures of the submarine cable, critical failures have occurred to the totality of the computer systems of a geographic area, causing multimillionaire losses and generating chaos and social and economic instability.
One of the most shocking events occurred in December 2006 in Asia. In this event, as mentioned by the New York Times, telecommunications throughout the continent were apparently interrupted by an earthquake outside Taiwan that damaged several underwater cables, blocking data, voice, and internet services and affecting the speed of satellite links.
According to the North American newspaper, due to this event financial companies were hit very hard, as well as online banking, communications between financial markets were affected. All these problems were associated with an earthquake of a magnitude of 6.7 on the Ritcher scale.
Now, if this scenario occurred in the robust Asian submarine cable infrastructure, with multiple contingency plans, the question that must necessarily be asked for developing country scenarios is: What would be the impact of an affectation of the submarine cable infrastructure for the region?
In the second part of this article, we will address these scenarios and how developed countries with geopolitical interests in the region are developing tools that could be used to affect submarine cable infrastructure worldwide as a possible weapon of war.