Information warfare: Russia’s weapon of choice


The Handbook of Russian Information Warfare, written by Keir Giles of Chatham House was written for NATO personnel who should understand “current and projected Russian operations in the information and cyber domains.” But it deserves a broader audience, writes David Fidler, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Cybersecurity at the Council on Foreign Relations. Particularly valuable are Giles’ efforts to demonstrate how differently Russia thinks about information warfare compared to the United States and its NATO allies, he notes:

The Handbook shows that, for Russia, information communicated through all media is simultaneously a weapon, target, and operational domain in peace and war. Giles quotes a Russian expert arguing that winning “information confrontations” achieves strategic victory “in the defeat of an enemy’s armed forces[,] . . . the capture of his territory, destruction of his economic potential, and overthrow of his political system.” Here, “information” has no independent value. Facts and lies, truth and deceit are equally valuable.

“The Handbook does not develop a policy agenda for responding to Russian information warfare,” Fidler adds. “However, Giles observes that ‘Euro-Atlantic . . . ‘post-fact’ or ‘post-truth’ political environments’ mean that, for Russian information operations against the West, ‘much of its work has already been done.’”

Anti-Americanism as ideological crutch

“The Kremlin’s ability to shock the world by taking the initiative and trashing ordinary international rules and customs has allowed Russia to play an oversized international role and to punch above its weight,” say analysts Ivan Krastev (left) and Stephen Holmes. “Meanwhile, using anti-Americanism as an ideological crutch has become much more dubious,” they write for Foreign Policy.

Nevertheless, Russia has “demonstrated a particular ability to use the weaknesses of open societies to further its objectives and cast doubt on democratic institutions,” according to a report from the annual Munich Security Conference. “Across Europe, the members of a new ‘Populist International’ rely on so-called alternative media that regularly spread Kremlin-friendly messages or fake news.”

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