Two recent stories, both on CBC News, caught my eye:
- First: Alicia Wanless, who is the Director of Strategic Communications at The SecDev Foundation, wrote a very informative article about Russian propaganda which aims to wage “an invisible battle for hearts and minds will be happening back at home … The goal [of which is to] destroy public support for the mission in Canada … [and, while] … Russia isn’t likely to engage in conventional warfare anytime soon, but it does have a number of information warfare tools it can use.” Ms Wanless explains that “The real power in modern information warfare is what I call “participatory propaganda,” in which a propagandist seeks to influence unsuspecting people in order to get them to actively start spreading a certain message, for free, without them even knowing what’s happening … [and] … In this Russian example, not only would it sow ill-will toward Canadian troops among Latvian hosts, but it will also aim to delegitimize the mission in the eyes of Canadians at home;” and
- Second, Murray Brewster reported that “While Canada remains on the outside of ballistic missile defence in North America, it is contributing cash toward the development of a similar, somewhat less sophisticated NATO system in Europe, federal documents reveal.” Mr Brewster notes that the policy of not participating in the current US ballistic missile defence shield was made by Paul Martin, back in 2005, was reaffirmed by Prime Minister Harper in 2010 and has reaffirmed again by Justin Trudeau in 2015. He quotes Mike Cohen, a former senior advisor to Peter MacKay as saying ““I could not understand the government’s aversion to this. Of course, it’s tied to the reluctance of all governments to go into North American [ballistic missile defence].”” Then Mr Brewster notes that “Russia has been increasingly vocal in its criticism” of missile defence in general and the NATO system in particular.
Propaganda is one of a number of tools in what might be called the “weaponization of information,” something that ever our Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff, in another context, discussed. Propaganda ~ literally just spreading (propagating) information ~ is as old as war itself. Sun Tzu said …
Let’s not blame Vladimir Putin’s Russians for having actually bothered to read “The Art of War” and for applying its lessons in the 21st century.But they did it in the 20 th century, too. That’s why Michael Cohen said he noticed a “reluctance of all governments to go into North American [ballistic missile defence].” It all goes back to Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” (Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI)) and a masterful Soviet propaganda campaign that made it politically toxic.
Strategic defence has been the public policy “brass ring” for millennia … the notion that there is some simple, sure fire way to defend oneself has been the dreams of princes, emperors, sheiks, doges, prime ministers and presidents since time began. What could be more of a strategic defence initiative than building great (impregnable, one hoped) walls that stretched for miles, even thousands of miles across already forbidding terrain? The Chinese and the Romans both sought safety for their peoples through such “strategic defence initiatives.”
The Elizabethean English discovered that a maritime strategy could provide both strategic defence and a simultaneous “active (operational level of war) defence” ~ think about the attack on Cadiz in 1587 that delayed (but did not cancel) Spain’s attempted invasion of England. The idea that a strategic defence initiative could also be an offensive or, at least, destabilizing force remains strong today.
In fact, in 1983, when President Reagan launched the Strategic Defence Initiative it was countered by a massive Soviet propaganda attack that stressed that it:
- Threatened to destabilize the existing (and nihilistic) MAD-approach (Mutual Assured Destruction) to strategic deterrence (that President Reagan had described as a “suicide pact); and
- Would re-ignite “an offensive arms race”.
That was all it took to energize a media that was, broadly and generally mistrustful of President Reagan’s intellectual depth and was easily persuaded to attack the project’s technical achievability (hitting a bullet with a bullet), costs and risks. The US Congress, for both partisan reasons and under public pressure ~ the propaganda worked ~ repeatedly cut the budgets of the SDI and no matter how the US military tried to massage the project ~ smart rocks became brilliant pebbles, for example ~ the project was doomed because, in some part, the Soviets won the propaganda war. President Clinton put paid to “Star Wars” in 1992 but the Republicans revived it, in the Congress, and, today, the US has a workable missile defence system ~ it has many, many critics, still, and many of them are still parroting the old, Soviet party line. But my point, today, is not to advocate for missile defence nor for Canadian participation in a continental strategic defence in initiative (aimed at protecting us from North Korea’s insane leader); rather it is to remind readers that Soviet propaganda worked then and Russian proaganda will be used against us, in Canada, today.,