Influence operationsRussia’s and China’s Political Warfare Campaigns: How the West Can Prevail

Published 23 August 2019

The United States and its allies are facing an unprecedented challenge: Russia and China, two authoritarian states possessing substantial human, economic, technological, and other resources; armed with conventional and nuclear forces which, in many respects, rival those held by the Western allies; and working actively to undermine the core interests of the West. Their operations are designed to subvert the cohesion of the Western allies and their partners; erode their economic, political, and social resilience; and undermine the West’s strategic positions in key regions. The Russian and Chinese regimes have made substantial progress towards these goals during the last two decades without conducting conventional military operations. Rather, Moscow and Beijing have employed sophisticated political warfare strategies and a wide range of mostly non-military instruments.

Editor’s note: In his testimony last month before a congressional panel, Special Counsel Robert Mueller warned, once again, of the “sweeping and systematic” way in which Russia meddled in the 2016 US election. Asked about the prospect of Moscow interfering in future elections, Mueller issued a stark warning, telling Congress: “They’re doing it as we sit here.”

On 10 January 2010, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a lengthy and detailed report, written by the Committee’s minority staff, titled Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe Implications for U.S. National Security. Here is one paragraph from the Executive Summary of the Senate report:

Mr. Putin has thus made it a priority of his regime to attack the democracies of Europe and the United States and undermine the transatlantic alliance upon which Europe’s peace and prosperity have depended upon for over 70 years. He has used the security services, the media, public and private companies, organized criminal groups, and social and religious organizations to spread malicious disinformation, interfere in elections, fuel corruption, threaten energy security, and more. At their most extreme, the Russian government’s security services have been used to harass and even assassinate political enemies at home and abroad; cheat at the Olympic Games; and protect and exploit cybercriminals in Russia who attack American businesses and steal the financial information of American consumers. Mr. Putin resorts to the use of these asymmetric tools to achieve his goals because he is operating from a position of weakness—hobbled by a faltering economy, a sub-standard military, and few followers on the world stage.

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) has just published an important report, written by Ross Babbage, focusing on one aspect of Russia’s – and China’s – campaigns of sustained attacks on the West: Political warfare.

Babbage writers:

The Putin regime has made clear that it aims to force Western acquiescence in Russia’s reemergence as a great power…. The leadership in Beijing, for its part, aims to equal, if not surpass, the United States in global power and influence.