Responding to Russia’s Information Warfare

Mark Galeotti is a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations in Prague. He has penned an interesting New York Times op-ed on responding to Russia’s information warfare. He also actively tweets and blogs at In Moscow’s Shadows.

 

In his NYT op-ed Dr Galeotti has several suggestions for his readers. First, strengthen cybersecurity including for targets such as domestic media outlets and political parties. Second, educate the public about disinformation and propaganda, such as how to critically evaluate media and news sources. Third, use multilateral agreements to target Russia’s finances. Fourth, use economic statecraft measures such as asset freezes and sanctions. Fifth, strengthen and uphold collective security treaties. Sixth, target Vladimir Putin’s psychological vulnerabilities such as his fear of failure.

 

These suggested policy actions reflect an on-going debate in international relations circles. University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer has advanced an offensive realist approach: (1) the international system is anarchical; (2) great powers seek asymmetric military strength over other nation-states; and (3) great powers in a defensive stance will use alliances and other means as buck passing to prevent the emergence of threatening rivals and competitors.

 

Dr Galleotti’s suggestions reflect a liberal internationalist approach that differs from Mearsheimer’s offensive realism. The domestic populace is educated and key institutions are secured from other great powers who seek to influence them. Alliances and treaties that impose a rules-based liberal order on the anarchical international system are prioritised and strengthened. Foreign policy is broadened from diplomatic and military responses to include cybersecurity, economic, and sociological dimensions. As part of this policy shift, insights from political psychology are used to understand foreign leaders, politico-military institutions, and the decision elites who mobilise them.

 

At the end of his NYT op-ed Dr Galeotti observes:

 

All of this requires a new mind-set. It means accepting that Russia has chosen to be at war with us – albeit a special and limited war. Russia needs to be treated as a political combatant.

 

Understanding limited, special warfare that has economic, psychological, and sociological dimensions does need new thinking. This is the shadowy realm of disinformation, information warfare, propaganda, and psychological operations. These are areas that Russia has sophisticated conceptual / theoretical and applied expertise in. The United States and its allies need to gain a similar level of knowledge. Policymakers need to better appreciate what living in a possible multipolar world (rather than a neoconservative ‘unipolar moment’) is like. Other great powers and strategic actors (such as those in Adam Segal’s recent book The Hacked World Order) do not necessarily have a liberal internationalist worldview.

 

Dr Galeotti’s policy advice is a first step. More can be done.

3rd January 2012: John Mearsheimer on the Death of US Grand Strategy

 

University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer gives an overview of United States grand strategy, its four major traditions, and current debates regarding the international order. Mearsheimer covers a lot of topics including Bush and Obama administration policies, and the realist debate about offshore balancing.