Okay, I don't really think that Google will go to war with China, but as a corporate law professor who grew up as an army brat and remains a military history buff, I can't help but wonder whether we could someday see war between a massive multi-national and a nation-state. The rise of cyber-warfare would seem to make this especially practicable. One could imagine a tech company getting so annoyed at Chinese theft of their trade secrets that the company retaliates via various forms of malware aimed at crippling China's economy.
There's an interesting post over at Columbia Law's blog on this very topic:
Unfortunately, the current state of both domestic and international law leaves a corporation with limited response options. Under domestic law there is no overarching legal doctrine available to private corporations, but rather a myriad of federal statutes addressing various aspects of cybersecurity. Enforcement of this patchwork of statutes is solely within the discretion of law enforcement and therefore a corporation that is a victim of cyber hostilities must rely upon a government agency to respond. This limitation can cause frustration and lead businesses to consider active defense measures in their cyber security systems. However, a corporation’s attempt to use active measures is particularly problematic under international law.
International law categorically prohibits a non-state actor—in this case a corporation—from actively engaging a hostile state, even if victimized by a cyber attack. The right of action against a state actor is exclusively within the purview of states as articulated in the United Nations Charter and the Articles on State Responsibility. ...
Of course international law limits the use of force to states. States make international law and they don't want the competition! The states' monopoly on the use of deadly force protects themselves both from their own subjects and the sort of predation waged over the years by pirates and free-lancing condottieri. (Indeed, arguably we might think of pirates and freebooter condottieri as an historical approximation of state-corporate warfare.)
This raises both an ought and an is question. As to the latter, if state protection remains ineffectual, will corporations continue to rely on it? Or, if we view cyberspace as a sort of failed state, will we see private actors exercising self-defense? As to the former, should private actors have a right of self-defense against nations? If it is true that humans have a natural law right to self-defense, why should that not extend to corporations (who are people too) and to resistance to states?