Several NATO officials and member military leaders have called cyber the fifth operational domain of warfare after land, air, sea, and space at a cyber conference Wednesday and also expect the upcoming NATO Warsaw Summit in July to recognize this fact.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, one of the first speakers at the 8th International Conference on Cyber Conflict (CyCon) held in Tallinn, Estonia this week, highlighted the importance of cyber as a domain.

NATO CCDCOE Cyber Conference Logo June 2016

“In the world of cyber, geography ceases to play a role, all distances are equal,” Ilves said. As cyber conflict becomes seemingly inevitable, democratic countries must cooperate in this realm, he added.

The conference was hosted by the Tallinn-based NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence (CCDCOE), a NATO-accredited knowledge hub based that focuses on interdisciplinary applied research and development concerning cyber security. It includes consultations, training, and information-sharing among NATO members, allies, and partners in cyber defense.

“The NATO Warsaw Summit next month is likely to recognize that cyber has evolved into a domain of warfare next to air, land, sea, and space,” Sven Sakkov, director of the CCDCOE, said in his opening remarks.

“We should be prepared for more and more allies to be targeted with greater intensity and frequently,” Czech Minister of Defence Martin Stropnicky said in his statements Wednesday. If cyber will be fully designated a fifth domain at the Warsaw Summit, then the allies must take critical steps and develop appropriate defense capabilities, he added. This includes increased defense budgets.

Adm. Manfred Nielson, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, emphasized in his comments the need to guide attention to cyberspace as a separate domain besides land, sea, and air while also considering the importance of people, processes, and technologies.

Separately, before the conference began, the CCDCOE hosted a forum of cyber commanders from 11 countries, including French Vice Adm. Arnaud Coustilliere, United Kingdom General James Hockenhull, and Gen. Hans Folmer of Dutch Defence Cyber Command.

“International cooperation can only be based on trust, particularly in an area as all-encompassing as cyber defense. Bringing people together is fundamental to building this trust, so this meeting is imperative in building future relationships that keep our cyberspace safe,” Coustilliere, said at the meeting. He added that he hoped using this conference as a way to have this side event would become a tradition.