From Kyiv to Honolulu and from Ottawa to Buenos Aires the West is under attack. This is a non-kinetic war except for Ukraine, which is a theater of combat operations. But we cannot doubt that Moscow, which has believed itself to be at war with the West for over a decade, is waging unceasing and far-ranging information warfare against the entire West.
This war never sleeps or stops. And information warfare in all of its many chameleon-like manifestations may well have become Moscow’s most potent weapon in this war. Certainly it is the instrument of Russian power that we most see being deployed daily across all Europe, North America and now Latin America. Indeed, about 30 percent of the Twitter accounts that magnified the Catalan issue in Spain were registered in Venezuela but were Russian. Now there are new concerns that Moscow might use the tactics it has employed throughout Europe and the U.S. in next year’s elections in Mexico and Italy.
Thus information warfare is a global threat. While Moscow is hardly the only purveyor of such warfare; its wholesale resort to it has galvanized Western societies and states to establish numerous institutes to expose and counter Russian information warfare. This is a logical response as we have learned that Moscow tailors its attacks to individual country’s conditions, e.g. exploiting the race card in the U.S. or Catalan independence issues in Spain, etc. While it makes sense to have multiple institutions exposing threats tailored to their own country and the more general threat, we also need to coordinate and unify these efforts and institutions on behalf of Western civilization, Moscow’s real target.
Coordinating these efforts without sacrificing the benefits of converging multiple insights into Russian information warfare requires concerted action to thwart Moscow, expose the threat and counter it effectively, however it manifests itself.
Such coordination entails developing a shared threat assessment. In other words, we must awaken every European and Western government to the scope, ubiquity and constancy of the threat posed by Russian information warfare even if it is tailored to particular conditions in each country. The threat assessment in Mexico City should closely resemble if not be identical to that in Kyiv even when allowing for the differences between states. Sharing a common assessment enables everyone to speak the same language regarding the threat and countering it through the action of specific institutions.
Only when governments acknowledge the threat and that they are not alone in being targeted will they take concerted policy steps at home and hopefully together against it. This commonly held threat assessment is a necessary prerequisite to any kind of domestic policy to meet the threat in individual states or to an alliance-wide policy to resist and even turn the tables upon Moscow. This shared threat assessment is a necessary prerequisite for moving to the next step — a truly strategic response.
That strategic response, in both its national or multilateral forms, must confront the aggressor openly and politically. This means making Moscow pay a steep price for its attacks on Western political systems.
An attack upon the integrity of the electoral process in the UK, Germany, France, Italy or the U.S. is an attack upon the vital interests and foundations of our societies and civilizations. Key U.S. officials like UN Ambassador Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyGOP primary in NH House race draws national spotlight China's Xi likely to invite Biden to Beijing Olympics: report Nikki Haley calls for cognitive test for older politicians MORE and former Vice-President Dick Cheney have even called it an act of war. And according to Russian literature on information warfare that is exactly what those writers and Russian leaders define as acts of war. We should impose even tougher sanctions on those leaders and firms engaging in such belligerent acts and if possible even hold them to legal account.
Information warfare offers its users the great advantage of being cheap to use. That cheapness makes it a seemingly attractive way to wage war. But once the costs grow and hit the leaders of Russia personally it becomes much less attractive.
Finally, Western authorities must devise a counter-information strategy that exposes the truth quickly, even proactively, and also reveals the truth to Russian speakers in Russia and elsewhere.
Modern technology can overcome Putin’s laws and decrees in helping make Western programs and institutions that rebuff Moscow’s lies constantly accessible to Russian speakers just as Russia enjoys relatively unfettered access to our media.
If we take our values seriously as Moscow obviously does — since it is attacking them — we owe Russian speakers nothing less than the truth. Indeed, that may turn out to be our strongest weapon just as information warfare is Moscow’s most potent weapon.
Stephen Blank, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. He is the author of numerous foreign policy-related articles, white papers and monographs, specifically focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia. He is a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College.