Fighting Foreign Interference

‘It might look contradictory, unless you understand that their strategy is chaos, the Russian strategy; absolute chaos, that is the goal,’ said Glucksmann.

China was trying to increase its investment in critical infrastructure in several European countries.

‘It’s an increasingly aggressive actor, not to the level of Russia yet, but still quite worrying.’

China’s People’s Liberation Army was sending personnel to the best European universities to study science and technology so that they could add value to Chinese technology and its military effort, Glucksmann said. Europe didn’t want its universities to become dependent on the income from Chinese students as had happened in Australia.

Awareness was growing in Europe about the economic pressure Beijing applied to Australia over the past two years, he said. That understanding increased after China’s treatment of Lithuania over its relationship with Taiwan.

When Estonia was subjected to extensive cyberattacks by Russia, it warned that other European nations would be attacked in turn. ‘The Estonians told us to be careful because it’s a laboratory for what’s going on next, and nobody listened to them. What they told was the absolute truth and it came to other countries next.’

Glucksmann said the committee’s job was to be alert to the fact that the pressures applied to Australia and Lithuania could be applied to any other like-minded democracy and it was important for such countries to show solidarity.

‘Australian solidarity with Ukraine now, even if it’s far away, it’s showing us the path.’

Many in Europe did not take the foreign interference threat seriously until Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 24 February invasion of Ukraine: ‘a full-scale war on European soil’.

The committee’s first report came out a few days after the war began, Glucksmann said. ‘It’s amazing how quickly our recommendations were taken seriously. I’m sure that without the invasion, we would have been like cats and dogs shouting in the emptiness.’

European nations were already subjected to a form of hybrid warfare from Russia with cyberattacks on hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic, attacks on public institutions, attempts to corrupt leaders and financing of political parties.

‘It’s not open war, we don’t have military confrontation, but it’s not peace either. It’s a state of conflict that should not, and will not, because of nuclear deterrence, materialize in an open military confrontation.’

This was part of an international conflict, Glucksmann said. ‘And the truth is that we didn’t want it; we even did everything we could not to accept and delayed and postponed, and found ways not to see what we had in front of us.’

Russia was applying pressure on European nations to reduce their support for Ukraine. Political parties that received Russian funding were now loudly supporting Putin’s war.

Russia had weakened the EU by supporting the Brexit campaign in the UK, Glucksmann said.

While they had different views on authoritarian systems, European nations had to be aware that they must never be fully dependent in any area on China.

Russia and China were out to change the international order and eliminate democracy.

‘We are facing the same threat,’ Glucksmann said. At an international level they set out to change the meaning of human rights. ‘They go inside our democracies, to use our problems, to exacerbate them and to wreak havoc in our democracy.’

Their goal was to ensure the democracies no longer functioned and gave way to authoritarian regimes.

In the days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s Xi Jinping and Putin demonstrated their common purpose by signing an agreement to work together.

‘Our response should be common, and it should be swift, because otherwise we are not winning this battle.’

Brendan Nicholson is executive editor of The Strategist.This article is published courtesy of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).