Electoral espionage is ‘political warfare’


Russia “is up to all sorts of no good,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said today, two days after announcing a plan to visit Moscow.

“They are, I’m afraid, engaged in cyber-warfare, they’re engaged in undermining countries in the Western Balkans — you saw what happened in Montenegro — to say nothing of Russia’s actions in Ukraine which are, as everybody knows, completely unacceptable,” he told reporters in Brussels on Monday as he headed into a meeting of European Union foreign ministers.

However, a Foreign Office official said that Mr Johnson was not prepared to “reset” the relationship until Russia changes course “on issues such as Ukraine”. “This is absolutely not about cosying up — in fact the opposite,” the official told the FT. “He intends to say the same things face to face as we do in public . . .  Boris has always said we can’t reset but we must engage when in our interests.”

The Dutch government’s approach to dealing with the fear of Russian election hacking is to scale back the use of computers to count votes and opt for an all-paper, all-manual election this month, POLITICO.EU reports. It is one of the more drastic responses to a threat that France and Germany, which also hold elections this year, have also started to grapple with.

International electoral espionage is relatively inexpensive and easily replicated in other countries, by other countries and to some degree by private interests, notes Pat Merloe (right), a senior associate and the director of electoral programs at the National Democratic Institute, a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

“Addressing international electoral espionage will require identifying points of leverage that will punish and deter it – and mustering the will to use that leverage. The failure to do so will embolden authoritarians even further,” Merloe contends:

While the considerable shortcomings of democratic governance here and elsewhere must be vigorously addressed, democratic ideals must be defended and promoted. Abandoning democratic norms and principles, rather than fighting for them – leaving democratic allies and aspirants around the world to fend for themselves, rather than strengthening our solidarity – or embracing inaction by accepting arguments that authoritarian and democratic methods are equivalent, rather than reading the long “arc of the moral universe” and taking action – will weaken this country and make the world a worse place. Democracy makes it possible for the world to become more peaceful, prosperous and just – and its defense requires strong efforts by us all.


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