No Shortcuts

Why States Struggle to Develop a Military Cyber-Force

May 2022 9781787386877 304pp
July 2023 9781805260332 304pp
Available as an eBook Available from Oxford Scholarship Online
EU Customers


Over the past decade, numerous states have declared cyberspace as a new domain of warfare, sought to develop a military cyber strategy and establish a cyber command. These developments have led to much policy talk and concern about the future of warfare as well as the digital vulnerability of society. No Shortcuts provides a level-headed view of where we are in the militarization of cyberspace.

In this book, Max Smeets bridges the divide between technology and policy to assess the necessary building blocks for states to develop a military cyber capacity. Smeets argues that for many states, the barriers to entry into conflict in cyberspace are currently too high. Accompanied by a wide range of empirical examples, Smeets shows why governments abilities to develop military cyber capabilities might change over time and explains the limits of capability transfer by states and private actors.


‘[An] insightful and expansive book for anyone interested in better understanding the present and future of cyber conflict.’ — International Affairs

‘A refreshing contribution to cyber scholarship that will resonate with military and intelligence professionals. With a methodical analysis of the technical, organizational and policy challenges governments must surmount to employ offensive cyber operations with precise effect, Smeets argues that few states conduct such operations because they are incredibly difficult. Pundits, commentators and policymakers must read this book to temper both their fears and expectations.’ — Emily O. Goldman, US Cyber Command

‘In the process of answering the book’s driving question – why do states struggle to develop a military cyber force? – the author offers rigorous theoretical and empirical analysis, as well as nuggets of wisdom for the policy community.’ — Survival

‘In No Shortcuts, Smeets does an exceptional job of exploring how truly difficult it is to be successful at cyber operations. It requires thoughtful buildup and vital experience that many countries lack. An important book for an evolving landscape.’ — Daniel Moore, author of Offensive Cyber Operations

‘If offensive cyber operations are cheap and easy, then cyberweapons should proliferate and cyberwar should escalate. Max Smeets demolishes these myths and reveals a more complicated, and more interesting, reality. While cyberweapons may not proliferate, No Shortcuts certainly will!’ — Jon R. Lindsay, Associate Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology, and author of Information Technology and Military Power

No Shortcuts provides an original and empirically-informed framework for understanding the practical work required for offensive cyber operations. Highly recommended for anyone seeking to understand the challenges of cyber effect operations and how those challenges can constrain state behaviour.’ — Rebecca Slayton, Associate Professor, Department of Science and Technology Studies, Cornell University


Max Smeets is Senior Researcher at the Center for Security Studies, Zurich; Director of the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative; and an affiliate at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. He publishes widely on cyber-statecraft, strategy and risk, including in The Washington Post, War on the Rocks and Slate.

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