Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

The U.K. Would Respond to a Russian Cyberattack With the Weapon of Its Choice

  • Theresa May’s national security adviser briefed lawwakers
  • Mark Sedwill hinted at ancient Chinese manual on retaliation

If Russia launches a cyberattack on the U.K., the government would likely respond using its own weapon of choice rather than a tit-for-tat online exchange, the country’s top national security adviser said.

“Let’s think about the Russian example: if we are hit with a cyber and propaganda attack, probably a deniable one, maybe from a non-state actor whom they will disavow all knowledge of -- even if it was on their behalf -- the correct response might not be in the same area of operations,” Mark Sedwill said in response to questions from lawmakers on Parliament’s National Security Strategy Committee in London Monday.

“The correct response might be to push back or disrupt an entirely different area where we are exploiting our strengths and their weakness. Read your Sun Tzu: you choose to fight on ground of your choosing if you possibly can, rather than of theirs.”

The ancient text by the Chinese general sets out a philosophy for winning conflicts. His advice includes: “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight” and “let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

Sedwill appeared deliberately cryptic about where and how the U.K. would choose to respond to any cyberattack. Part of the reason might be because the committee was meeting in public. Earlier he said a military alliance with France and other western states gave the U.K. international clout. “One of the assets the Russians don’t have is allies,” he said.

His remarks come as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is set to visit Moscow Friday. Sedwill also said the “Russian attitude has worsened more generally towards the West and that is set to continue.”

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