US: Resist Covert Information Warfare Against China and Russia
It Would be a Mistake For Democracies to Imitate Authoritarians
Over the past decade, China and Russia have spent tens of billions of dollars using information warfare to exploit the openness of democratic societies, a phenomenon known as “sharp power,” which stands in contrast to what Harvard University Professor Joseph S. Nye Jr. calls the “soft power” of persuasion. Writing for Foreign Affairs, Nye warns against adopting sharp power tactics.
“To respond to the threat, democracies should be careful about offensive actions,” he writes. “Information warfare can play a useful tactical role on the battlefield, as in the war against the Islamic State (or ISIS). But it would be a mistake for them to imitate the authoritarians and launch major programs of covert information warfare. Such actions would not stay covert for long and when revealed would undercut soft power.”
Nye concludes: “It is true that the openness of democratic societies provides opportunities for authoritarian governments to employ age-old techniques of information warfare. But openness is also a key source of democracies’ ability to attract and persuade. Even with the mounting use of sharp power, they have little to fear in open competition with autocracies for soft power. By reducing themselves to the level of their adversaries, democracies would squander their key advantage.”