President Trump unveiled his administration’s National Security Strategy earlier this week, and it’s chock-full of promises to “Make America Great Again” through the utilization of what’s described as “Principled Realism”.
This guiding philosophy understands the world as being in a constant state of competition (p. 2) somewhere between war and peace (28) and marked by the return of Great Power rivalry (27), though one in which US behavior is guided by outcomes instead of ideology (2) and thus reliant on a combination of military, economic, and soft power to achieve its goals.
This never-ending environment of asymmetrical and unconventional conflict could aptly be described as Hybrid War, even though the authors never use that phrase anywhere in the document and refuse to frame the US as engaging in related techniques similar to those that they accuse Russia and China of.
The US’ chief geopolitical priority is to prevent Russia and China from completing the transition from the declining US-led Unipolar World Order to the emerging Multipolar World Order, understanding that so long as Washington can retain control of the existing world system, then it will always remain in a position to shape International Affairs and indefinitely prolong its dominance. In driving home this point, the National Security Strategy very clearly states that the country must retain “overmatch” (28), which is described as never being in a position where it has to engage in a “fair fight” (28). Understanding that the US’ preeminent position in the global economy is one of the key pillars of its power (17), it’s therefore in its national security interests to counter all efforts that endanger this, whether structural, physical, or informational.
It’s this latter point that serves as the lead-in to this analysis, since it’ll be seen just how prominently of a role information warfare (infowar, a component of Hybrid Wars) plays in the US’ National Security Strategy. The connection between infowars and the US’ economic strength is seen when the authors talk about the threat of cyberattacks (of which they include information warfare and disinformation, among others) “undermin[ing] faith and confidence in democratic institutions and the global economic system” (31). Prior to this, different sections of the text describe the supposed cyber/info threat that the US sees from Russia, whether directly naming it in each pertinent passage or clearly implying it.
Examples include Russia “interfer[ing] in [the US’] political processes…(and thereby) threaten[ing] the foundations of the American way of life” (7); “using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies…(by) target[ing] media, political processes, financial networks, and personal data” (14); and “us[ing] technology and information to accelerate [the contest for power] in order to shift regional balances of power in [its] favor” (25). These instances indicate that the US is afraid of the influence that Russian Media might have in eroding “faith and confidence in…the global economic system” that ungirds American power abroad. It’s so afraid of this happening that the authors also remark in no uncertain terms that “no external threat can be allowed to shake our shared commitment to our values, undermine our system of government, or divide our Nation” (14).
The National Security Strategy says matter-of-factly that “experience suggests that the willingness of rivals to abandon or forgo aggression depends on their perception of U.S. strength and the vitality of our alliances” (26), thus exposing another reason why the American military fears Russian Media, and it’s that it might dismantle the aura of invincibility that the Pentagon has tried to establish. Granted, a large part of the Trump Doctrine is to physically beef up American forces and never hesitate to use them, but nonetheless, the revelation that infowars could interfere with the US’ power projection abroad is stunning.
It also correlates with the crisis of confidence that the US appears to be experiencing on both the domestic and international fronts, making the transition from Obama to Trump thematically reminiscent of the one from Carter to Reagan. Evidently, perceptions are so important that they could make or break the self-declared superpower.
In response to what the US believes to be the pressing strategic threat of Russian Media to its national security, several solutions are hinted at. The authors write that the country’s “openness also imposes costs, since adversaries exploit [its] free and democratic system to harm [it]” (7), seeing as how these “repressive closed states…are often more agile and faster at integrating…informational means to achieve their goals” since “they are unencumbered by truth, by the rules and protections of privacy inherent in democracies” (27-28). In response, the document recommends “build[ing] a culture of preparedness, informing and empowering communities and individuals to obtain the skills and take the preparatory actions necessary to become more resilient against the threats and hazards that Americans face” (14), which could be interpreted as indoctrinating the population and censoring the information that it receives.
Ironically, the US earlier criticized Russia and China for allegedly “controlling information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence” (2), thus “shielding themselves from outside information” (34). That, however, doesn’t stop the US from “us[ing] the information-rich open-source environment to deny the ability of state…actors to…degrade America’s democratic institutions” (32), which once again suggests that censorship or state-sponsored intimidation might be in the cards. It shouldn’t be forgotten in this context that many contributors to Russian Media are natives to the US, though this fact isn’t addressed anywhere in the National Security Strategy when discussing ways to counter the country’s (presumably foreign) “adversaries”.
As the clichéd saying goes, sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and it’s with this in mind that several such strategies can be identified within the document even though most of them aren’t directly encouraged for use against Russia and are oftentimes attributed to it in a classic example of mirror imaging.
For starters, the US says that jihadist ideology can be combatted by “exposing its falsehoods, promoting counter-narratives, and amplifying credible voices” (11), which is almost exactly the same as what it directs its diplomats to do when practicing “information statecraft” (34) whenever the government asks them to “activate local networks…amplify credible voices and partner with them to advance alternatives to violent and hateful messages” (35). Given that the next piece of advice is that “the private sector should lend its creativity and resources to promoting the values that inspire and grow a community of civilized groups and individuals” (35), it’s not hard to draw parallels between the Soros Organization’s Color Revolution efforts carried out in partnership with American Embassies all across the world. In fact, the National Security Strategy unambiguously decrees that its “diplomats must build and lead coalitions that advance shared interests and articulate America’s vision in…local levels within states” (33), which basically tells them to orchestrate more “EuroMaidans”.
Russia is accused of “exploit[ing] marketing techniques to target individuals based upon their activities, interests, opinions, and values” in order to “disseminate misinformation and propaganda” (34), but there’s nothing stopping the US from doing this either, nor in crafting the Holy Grail of Hybrid War by “integrat[ing] information derived from personal and commercial sources with intelligence collection and data analytic capabilities based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning” (34) so as to fully maximize its outreach efficiency via algorithm-created infowar packages custom-tailored for each targeted demographic. Just as Russia and China are accused of “us[ing] propaganda and other means to try to discredit democracy” (2), so too could the US do the same against their governing systems by “exploiting information, democratic media freedoms, and international institutions” (37) so as to undermine their legitimacy while championing its own values, principles, and de-facto state ideology (41). This could also have a tangible manifestation too by trumpeting the American economic model as “an alternative to (the) state-directed” one pioneered by China (38).
Actually, the entirety of Pillar IV about the need to “advance American influence” (37-42) can be broadly understood as the US describing the non-military means through which it intends to counter China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, weaponizing the infowar narrative of Chinese investments supposedly being characterized by “corrupt, opaque, exploitive, and low-quality deals” (39) in order to boost Washington’s own competitive appeal when reaching out to “developing countries” and “fragile states” (39-40) in the Global South region that occupies most of the Silk Road. The US also holds back no rhetorical punches when it states that “a geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order is taking place in the Indo-Pacific region” (45) and that it envisions “American goods and services…serv[ing] as an alternative to China’s often extractive economic footprint on the (African) continent” (53).
In wrapping up the review of the US’ National Security Strategy, all of the aforementioned citations and analytical arguments strongly suggest that America is poised to prioritize the waging of infowars all across the world as an integral component of the Trump Doctrine, essentially formalizing a decades-long trend but indicating that it will nowadays focus more on pursuing the Holy Grail of Hybrid War and countering China’s Silk Road designs. The US must restore domestic and international confidence in its economic model in order to protect its global position and indefinitely sustain the fading Unipolar World Order, which is why it’s so important for it to wield the weapon of infowars as the fastest and most effective instrument in attempting to do so.
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