Information War

Topics: War And Peace

Within the past five years, election interference has escalated, affecting many countries across Europe as well as in the United States. This has demonstrated that although it has been recurring across different democratic elections globally, the exact definition is still unclear. The 2016 U.S. elections served as a benchmark case in recognizing modern election interference; specifically, the use of social media to influence voters and spread false information. In recent years, there have been multiple instances of interference in other smaller-scale European elections.

(Gilles 2019) An important question in this case study is why is the Russian government is interfering in European elections? How will this interference benefit Russia’s agenda, and to what extent has this impacted the security of Europe, and to a larger extent, the world? The newest focus of Russian efforts to interfere in elections appears to be on the Balkans and West European elections, but hybrid activities in Western and Central Europe, Ukraine, and other countries globally also persist.

The European Union itself has also been the subject of a disinformation campaign from the Kremlin. The Russian government values cyber activity as a key role in how the government and military operations. Troll farms have been established across Russia that exist purely to spread disinformation across different social media platforms.

These troll farms have immense amounts of funding from the Russian military and are constantly putting out new false information intended to disrupt democratic elections across Europe and the world. Within the evolution of cyber activity, the Russian approach to the relationship between information warfare and a traditional state of war is interesting due to the relationship between peace and military action.

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According to an analysis conducted in 2011, the divide between war and peace can be conveniently broken down in cyberspace. This damage, particularly the spread of disinformation through different media platforms, can be done to an adversary without formally crossing the line between war and peace. (Gilles 2019) According to the Rand Corporation, Russia spreads propaganda to Russian speakers in the Baltics, Ukraine, and other nearby states through a variety of means, including traditional and social media. Particularly in Eastern Europe, Russia has used this outreach to inspire dissent against neighboring governments, as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). These information operations, which bring back the Soviet-era “active measures,” appear to be an increasing priority within the Kremlin, as they spent over $1.1 billion on media disinformation campaigns and troll farms in 2014 and increased its spending on foreign-focused media in 2015. The Kremlin’s social media campaigns are intertwined with its information operations that involve traditional media, due to traditional news stories being crafted and disseminated online. (Todd C. Helmus, Bodine-Baron and Radin 2018) The hybrid war tactics that Russia uses today, however, are not identical to those used during the Cold War. Even if Russia used information operations back then, the volume and ambition of Russian information campaigns today are far greater and facilitated by the existence of the Internet, cable news, and especially social media.

The use of cyber operations is also new, as is Russia’s more extensive use of economic levers to influence foreign governments. Because Russia and the world are much more closely interlinked than during the Cold War, it is easier for Russia to penetrate Western societies. (Gilles 2019) Europe has found that it is difficult to prevent interference and foreign meddling operations as there is a functional grey zone where these operations take place. This makes it more difficult to attribute responsibility to one specific government agency. For example, Russia’s military intelligence agency is responsible for the gathering of information and digital spying, however other criminal groups and hacking collectives are responsible for the development and deploying of the malwaincluding, re that is used in election hacking. The relation between these groups is difficult to distinguish, making it difficult to know who specifically is carrying out these attacks. The scope of Russia’s social media disinformation campaigns is shocking. Before the Italian election in March 2018, evidence shows that bots were responsible for 15 percent of Twitter activity promoting far-right and populist candidates.

The goal of these bots is to create a trend that becomes a headline of sorts, influencing more and more people to believe in a cause or a candidate. (Chertoff and Rasmussen 2019) Methodology This paper analyses the competence of Europe’s Common Foreign Security policy, and how it may hinder future defense policies of the EU, particularly regarding the growing need to address Russia’s increased disinformatiitthe show efforts in Europe. This paper uses intra-case analysis to review different cases of disinformation and election interference within the European Union. using both primary sources as well as peer-reviewed, secondary sources it was possible to grasp the range of Russian interference, most particularly in the Balkan states and Western Europe. These cases show the show effortsLiteratureefforts literature review The European Union (EU) has become more involved in finding methods to combat the destabilization challenges in cyber activity, such as disinformation andtowardcyberattacks. The EU’s response to these hybrid threats can be analyzed by two different types of policy instruments. The first one, according to Giumelli, CusanoCusuano, and Besana is that the EU has responded by using its soft power. This use of soft power has been increasingly adopted by the EU since 2015 in response to misinformation campaigns. The second type is a more traditional, “hard action” that involves the planning and implementation of sanctions and restrictive measures. Strategic communication and sanctions are important aspects of countering hybrid threats imposed by Russian media. Policy instruments, such as sanctions and other strict restrictive measures require especially close cooperation among military and civilian public actors as well as cooperation between the public and the private sector. The authors state that strategic communications and sanctions are crucial parts of the EU’s responses to hybrid threats and the importance of a comprehensive approach to effectively countering them. (Francesco Giumelli 2017) According to Margaret Taylor, European democracies have faced foreign interference in their elections for years, and the primary threat has always been Russia. In the early 2000s, when President Vladimir Putin consolidated his power in Russia, he turned his attention to the former states of the Soviet Union as well as the former Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. He intended to pull those countries away from Western-style democracy and encourage them to return to Russia’s powerful sphere of influence. After many of these countries joined the European Union and solidified their standing as democratic nations, President Putin shifted his focus toward weakening NATO and the EU. He began disinformation campaigns intended to discredit politicians and democratic institutions, such as free and fair elections and independent media. (Taylor 2019) In 2019, President Putin made his opinions on Western-style democracy very clear, stating that “The liberal idea” or the dominant western ideology since the end of World War II which includes things like multiculturalism, the rule of law, and respect for human rights—has “become obsolete” and “outlived its purpose.” Putin intends to weaken democracy across Europe, as well as the world, by installing similarly thinking political allies in the highest ranks of government across Europe. By supporting far-right and nationalist parties and leaders, he has the power to influence European democracy and further his goal of establishing Russia as a global power. (Taylor 2019) The impact of Russia’s disinformation operations globally is difficult to measure.

Russia’s information campaigns appear both modern and sophisticated; pushing boundaries of the digital age, as well as reminiscent of the old school active measures used in the Soviet era. Social media is the most prominent use of spreading disinformation. In 2017, it became clear that Russia had exploited Facebook as part of its instrengthenpromoteformation campaign for the 2016 United States (US) election. Through the Internet Research Agency, Russia created multiple Facebook pages that sought to exploit and expand various social divisions within the United States including racial tensions, religion, political affiliation, and class. (Todd C. Helmus, Bodine-Baron and Radin 2018) These pages used Facebook’s advertising algorithms to target the ads to specific regions and groups that were viewed as most vulnerable to the intended message. Russia created a “Blacktivist” page, an extreme version of the Black Lives Matter movement that was made to divide the already vulnerable democratic party. Posts on this page incited violence and encouraged voters to resort to whatever means necessary to defend themselves against the “corrupt criminal justice system.” Another example is the page “Being Patriotic” which intended to rally Americans against refugee populations seeking asylum in the United States. It also posted attempts to dupe audiences into believing that federal employees were, in effect, seizing land from private property owners. (Taylor 2019) EU action and Europe’s CFSP In May 2019, ahead of the EU’s elections, Europe was doing everything in its power to prevent the spread of disinformation over the internet and stop election hacking from taking place. Security experts claimed that there had been.

The sudden spike in Russian state-sponsored hacking against European governments in the past months. The rise of nationalist and populist groups across Europe, particularly the Eastern Bloc, has increased the potential for Russia’s disinformation efforts through social media outlets. The EU does not have its intelligence service and instead relies on the national government’s information. It is important to note that the hackers in the Russian government work mostly as an intelligence agency for Russia, which means that they are gathering geopolitical data and information that will be shared with the Kremlin. (Foy, Murgia, and Peel 2019) The actions, as well as the implications that come with Russia’s interference, forced the European Union to reevaluate its common foreign and security policies. The Common Foreign Security Policy (CFSP) was established by the European Union to preserve peace, strengthen international security, promotingdeveloppromote international cooperation, and develop and consolidate democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. (European Parliament 2018) The CFSP was built into the Lisbon Treaty, the most recent treaty outlining the fundamental workings of the EU. According to the Treaty provisions, a European External Action Service (EEAS) must be created before a real foreign policy can be enforced. The problem with the CFSP however, is that the EU, instead of attempting to improve relations with its external suppliers through transparency, left it to the member states to act accordingly. The EU has tried to reform voting procedures to facilitate common agreement, but member states have proved reluctant to relinquish this feature of their national sovereignty. (Foy, Murgia,by and Peel 2019) The Treaty of Lisbon retained the use of QMV, however, in two circumstances. First, when the European Council has already reached a unanimous decision relating to the EU’s “strategic interests and objectives,” the Council may use QMV to make a decision based on that unanimous decision. Second, when the European Council specifically requests that a Union action be defined, QMV may be used to define that action. Importantly, there is a safeguard built into Article 31(2) Treaty on the European Union (TEU), which allows a Member State to invoke national policy and refer a decision to a unanimous vote by the European Council. (Wagnsson and Hellman 2018) Because the CFSP is intergovernmental, the normal jurisdiction of the European Court does not apply. However, even in the absence of any legal obligation to act by the treaty stipulations, the political obligation still stands. The difficulty of upholding the treaty is that the larger Member States have little to fear from political sanctions.

The Commission and European Parliament have very limited roles in CFSP. The European Parliament has a right to be consulted on the main aspects and basic choices of CFSP, but the Council is not usually obliged to take account of its views. (Archick 2018) It is clear that the CFSP in its current state is not strong enough to combat the election fraud and spread of disinformation that has taken place globally. In countries such as France and the United Kingdom (UK), the rise of populist far-right parties can, and has, created many difficult situations for the European Union. In the 2016 “Brexit” referendum, Russian bots and Twitter account played a large role in the decision making decision-making of the citizens of the UK. Russia’s goal of a de-unified Europe with like-minded leaders that will allow Putin to have a globe but all influence on his policy-making decision is becoming more of a possibility. ( 2018) In its current state, the CFSP has established five goals of the EEAS: Firstly, the EU intends to fully implement the Minsk agreement, as this is a key element of any substantial change that can be made possible amongbetweenamong betweenon the EU and Russia. The second goal is to strengthen relations with the EU’s Eastern partners, particularly Central Asia. Third, the European Union must strengthen its internal EU resilience, especially regarding energy security, hybrid threats, and strategic communication. The fourth principle is the need for selective engagement with Russia, both on foreign policy issues, particularly Iran, Syria, or the Middle East Peace Process, but also migration, counter-terrorism, and climate change. It is also important to focus on other areas where there is a clear European Union interest. This relates to the fifth principle, which elaborates on the necessity of willingness of member states to support the Russian civil society and engage and invest in people-to-people contacts and exchanges and policies that are related to that, with a particular view to the youth of Russia and the youth of the European Union. Three of the EU’s regimes of restrictive measures, including travel bans, asset freezes on individuals and entities, and economic measures, will be subject to review in the coming year. The EU has also stressed the need to challenge Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns.

The current CFSP is not strong enough in its capabilities, especially because of the unanimity clause that prevents important policies from being enacted. (Council of the European Union 2017) The CFSP’s weakness is primarily the member states, who are not a collective contentionstrengthen, but rather 27 individual countries. The basic reason for this is that the national interests of each country transcend the collective vision for the EU. These member states have different perspectives becauseof  world issues and their national interests impede their collective approbecauseof h in international affairs. This is due to the fact that while they share commothereforetheirn goals being a union, they have their national interests which are divergent and diversified in nature. Often when dealing with policy matters and countries with varying interests, member states do not show their willingness to accept the responsibility therefor leaving other member states to bear the burden. Left in its current state, the CFSP will leave Europe divided, unable to create any foreign policy due to disagreements and which challenges therefore third which hird forethird-country loyalty. It will not be possible to pass a strong policy against Russia with Cyprus, Greece, and Hungary’s current relationship with the EU, and their voting power in the CFSP. This could have drastic consequence challenges of between because for Europe, who is facing changing hybrid warfare from Russia almost daily, with challenged such as social media, news sources, as well as election fraud that has already happened in elections across Europe. (Hellquist 2016) The EU Member States must either respond to the fundamental challenges that are seen above together, or they must shape their futures and policies individually. There is a large gap between rhetoric and action that must be addressed before the EU and the CFSP can make any strong actions. (Euractiv 2012)

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Information War. (2022, May 12). Retrieved from

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