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Under questioning from Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, Gen. Alexander was asked when a cyberattack from Russia or China on the U.S. electrical power grid would be viewed as an act of war.

The four-star general said the definition of a cyberact of war is being “ironed out.”

“First, I would look at the laws of armed conflict, the intent of the nation, what they’re doing,” he said. “I would say what we’re seeing today from those countries is essentially espionage, and theft of intellectual property is not an act of war.”

However, he said, “I think you’ve crossed the line” with a cyberattack intended to disrupt or destroy infrastructure. He declined to provide details in an open hearing.

New Asia policymaker

Obama administration officials tell Inside the Ring that the White House is quietly pushing its National Security Council staff director for Asian affairs, Danny Russel, to be nominated as the State Department replacement for Kurt Campbell, who retired last month from the key post of assistant secretary for East Asia.

Mr. Russel, a Foreign Service officer, is said to be an advocate of soft power and averse to hard power under the administration’s new Asia policy that Mr. Campbell played the key role in developing.

His views were captured during a briefing before President Obama’s visit to Asia in November.

“If 80 percent of life is just showing up, then I think this trip delivers the other 20 percent in terms of substance, in terms of getting things done, pushing the agenda forward, and driving toward progress and outcomes that directly benefit us — the U.S. and the people of the U.S. — but also the people in the countries in the Asia Pacific region,” he told reporters.

Also in the running for the key State post is Kathleen Stephens, the former U.S. ambassador to South Korea who also is a career Foreign Service officer. One U.S. official politely described Ms. Stephens as “not a strategic thinker.”

The Asia post at State is being closely watched by U.S. and foreign Asia specialists because it likely will signal the future for the new Asia pivot under Secretary of State John F. Kerry, whom aides say is less interested in pushing a shift to the Asia Pacific than promoting his personal top priority: climate change.

Pacom on threats

Speaking of climate change, U.S. Pacific Command leader Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III surprised many in the Pentagon and national security community with his comments last week that he regards climate change and resulting sea level rises as the greatest long-term challenge in the Asia Pacific.

The comments come amid growing fears in Asia over North Korea’s nuclear threats and China’s large-scale military buildup, growing bellicosity and bullying of regional states in maritime disputes, including a standoff with key U.S. ally Japan.

Adm. Locklear told academics in Boston that climate change “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about,” The Boston Globe reported last week.

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