There are many ways to wage war today other than in the depths of the trenches. And the threat isn’t just nuclear. We are thinking of taking over gas pipelines, oil pipelines and power plants that would threaten our energy supply. A little less in telecommunications.
What if Putin caused a general internet outage in Europe? “It is entirely possible,” confirms Serge Besanger, professor at the ESCE International business school. “A few days ago, a cyber attack hit the Ka-Sat satellite service, whose terrestrial infrastructure is located in Ukraine, leaving thousands of French customers of NordNet, a subsidiary of Orange, disconnected.
Russian spy ships like the Yantar have been taken by surprise several times, off our coasts, near the submarine cables through which 99% of communications between Europe and the United States run.”
Scouting mission or display of power? In terms of sabotage, the Russians wouldn’t be on their first attempt. Gender specialists in the Atlantic during the Cold War also cut Ukrainians off the internet in 2014, when Crimea was annexed.
Facing threats (accidental or intentional) of rupture, recent major transatlantic cables have split. “It wouldn’t be enough to rob Europe of its telecommunications if just one were to be shut down,” said Camille Morel, an associate researcher at the Institute for Strategy and Defense Studies (IESD) at Jean-Moulin University. Lyons 3.
On the other hand, the consequences of sabotage in several places would be “major,” warns Serge Besanger, the optical fiber used to route our emails as well as the billion-dollar Swift exchange system, from which Moscow has just been barred. .
Cutting a cable, “barely wider than a garden hose”, is “child’s play”, according to this specialist. So true that every year a hundred damages caused by anchors or fishing trawls are recorded.
Moreover, the means to tackle malicious people are “very inadequate”, the ESCE professor illustrates. Due to a lack of investment in the fleet, “while a European cable defense program is needed”. And that, placed end-to-end, these 400 “pipes” along the world’s oceans “represent more than three times the distance from Earth to the Moon.” A gigantic battlefield.
France is the main access point for cables connecting Europe to the rest of the world. Essential communication nodes are located outside of Ireland and Brittany.
It was in Penmarc’h (29) that the first fiber optic cable “landed” in 1988. Another information highway, Apollo is building a bridge between the East Coast of the United States and Lannion (22). “A sabotage carried out by a rival power in our territorial waters would be a casus belli, but it could happen anywhere on the high seas,” said Camille Morel.
Despite several maintenance cable vessels traversing the world under the French flag (including the Pierre-le-Fermat, owned by Orange Marine, based in Brest, and an Ifremer building), “it would take between five and ten days of repair”. More with multiple attacks.
“By plunging the Philippines and Spain into darkness, the Americans won the Spanish-American War as early as 1898,” recalls Serge Besanger. Since then, telegraphs have given way to terabits, but the strategy of the warring factions hasn’t really changed.