The purpose of this panel is to critically evaluate modes, typologies and vulnerabilities emanating from the challenge of foreign interference. It brings together a number of specialists working on cyber security, propaganda, hybrid war, public policy and comparative politics to accomplish its objectives.
Often research of this kind is considered within narrower conceptual confines. For instance, debates around the extent and nature of alleged Russian interference in US elections tends to be viewed in light of the literature on democratic institutions. Similarly, the ability of states to attack electrical grids is generally understood in terms of technological implications or governance challenges related to critical infrastructure protection. Online radicalization is embedded in terrorism studies, criminology and harnessing metadata to empower law enforcement organisations. And the employment of population maneuvering techniques or use of diaspora populations for messaging can be interpreted via identity politics, cyber security or nationalism in a digital age.
Although understandable in terms of seeking practical outcomes, we disagree with narrow depictions of the challenges associated with foreign interference. Instead, we aim to encourage a cross-disciplinary approach that examines the issue under the broad rubric of ‘security’, but taking into account its political, social, economic and technological dimensions. We note also that it represents an ‘intermestic’ challenge for states that crosses traditional boundaries between external and local threats.
Each individual paper then takes on a specific aspect of this thinking. The first, by Matthew Sussex, examines the conceptual and empirical landscape of foreign interference in terms of information operations, in order to provide a broad overview of the subject area. The second paper by Tim Aistropp and Tim Legrand then focuses on digital decision-making as a public policy challenge, but one that will transcend cyberspace if robust solutions are to be found. Third, Rory Medcalf offers an analysis of China’s ‘United Front’ campaigns, utilizing a soft power lens. Jennifer Hunt then takes on the issue of disinformation campaigns in US elections. Finally Michael Clarke examines how non-democratic regimes attempt to manage internal discourses on security and terrorism, with a focused case study on China’s response to the Uighur challenge.