Without going into the details of the report which can be found here, I would rather focus my commentary on key indicators/observations;
- The Warm War: It is clear to me with the amount of materials I have read thus far on Cyber Threats & Information Warfare that the mindset of Old Cold War mentality does us more harm than service. A Cold War has in the past implied indirect threats through espionage either for technological advancement or to assess political trends. The Information Warfare at the time was less significant and directed more towards local consumption. This is no longer the case, where Information Warfare is increasingly directed towards undermining democratic governance while at the same time encouraging internal conflict within society. This is a new threshold which I may call “Warm War” which essentially raises the stakes extensively. It is no longer about talking tough, increasing military budgets and sophisticated weaponry-it is more about demonstrable willingness to take action on the ground to fight back this trend. Weak leadership continues to be part of our ongoing story and our fascination with charisma over hard core experience.
- Loopholes & Poor Judgements: Our democratic/liberal values served us well since the end of WWII and even during the cold war. But it is becoming increasing apparent that these values & supporting structures in this new Information age can produce very critical vulnerabilities that need to be addressed urgently through regulation, education and more capable intelligence. These vulnerabilities include;
a) Consumption-Driven Mindset: It is a fact that we as a society have become more consumption driven and less inclined to focus on anything that may affect this trend-an effortless quick buck is more attractive than the proposition of sacrifice given to ensure long term security/stability. Even the approach of becoming cynical about our own democratic/liberal credentials as well as our capabilities feeds into this “do-nothing/negative” mindset.
b) Nationalism Gone Astray: When we talk about growing nationalism, there seems to be a convenient trend to focus on immigration as the ultimate quick (buck/win) proposition. Well it isn’t and never was a quick win proposition and the only way it was framed as such is merely to promote racist policies/politicians. Here are some clues;
Focus on Simplistic Messaging rather than Workable Policies on Immigration/Integration: The thrust of policy promoted by nationalist parties is to focus mainly on controlling migration and less on addressing Integration failures. The control of migration promoted in some cases are blunt in terms of the (ethnic/religious) criteria of people allowed in-does that not remind us of similar nazi ideology in our own history? There is also no effort to shine the light on people of diverse backgrounds who have successfully been able to integrate into our society and contributed to its development-why complicate the picture, make it a simple “Message” for people to digest. But when it comes to actual workable policy the picture is much more complicated because migration feeds into vital services and helps develop talent in different areas of business/society. The other side of the coin is Integration policy which is as crucial (if not more so) as the Immigration policy-but again these ultra nationalist parties do not provide a vision of any kind to address this issue, why because they do not have the appetite to work with ethnic minorities to develop such a strategy-so the only path is likely to be imposed solutions that are highly unlikely to work.
Disengaged Foreign Policy: One of the key contributors to economic migration is the escalation of foreign conflicts and economic disparities in many region of the world. A key policy of ultra nationalist parties is the concept of protectionism and the disengagement from foreign conflicts, which in many cases we’ve helped create. Again this sounds nice as a simplistic message but makes no sense if we are serious about “Protecting” our own security and strategic economic interests around the world. Geographic protectionism, if you haven’t noticed no longer works in this day and age.
Neo-Nationalism: It would have been interesting to hear some protectionist logic from these parties when it comes to protecting key national industries from being overtaken by foreign businesses or protecting our national sovereignty when it comes to meddling of foreign powers into our electoral system/information space-but the story is quite different here too. So this becomes some kind of Neo-Nationalism the likes of which we’ve never seen before-and rightly so because it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
So to wrap up on this point let me make this comment; when we reach a stage where we are willing to look the other way when there is real threat of undermining our form of democratic governance, we need to step back and assess how we got here and how these trends; consumerism, political divisiveness and ultranationalism contributed to this result and the trajectory moving forward if we fail to address these issues. We also seem to buy into the notion that we can take our democratic/liberal values/credentials for granted, and that there is no need for sacrifice/effort to maintain them-well we’re so wrong there too and our sacrifices will probably need to be doubled if we maintain this course.
3. The US intelligence report focuses on the threat of Information Warfare mainly in the west where there is a vibrant/sophisticated media space. Now consider if you will the effects of this Russian media campaign on less sophisticated media space in regions around the world, particularly conflict zones like the Middle East. It would be interesting to assess influence levels of such media campaigns in these regions which I would suspect are much higher. In brief we definitely have a bit of catching up to do if we are to protect our strategic interests around the world and our credentials. More importantly there needs to a multilevel/multiagency holistic strategy moving forward.
At difficult times like these we need strong leadership with clear vision and mandate to take us through these dangerous times. We also need to be mindful of the political landscape we face internally and externally so that our judgment is better directed through applying Critical Thinking rather than total reliance on Political Messaging irrespective of ideology.
A final and equally important note to say that despite this critical view of Russia, it is also true to say that we in the west contributed to the escalated tension due to poor policy that sidelined Russian interests. Once the situation is deescalated we need to find better ways in working with Russia and setting standards on strategic cooperation. More importantly I hope that a big chunk of our future is dedicated towards development/cooperation rather the conflict/destruction.