Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Interference Operations from Putin’s Kremlin and Xi’s Communist Party: Forging a Joint Response

Laura Rosenberger, John Garnaut,; original article contains footnotes

image (not from article) from

Defining the Problem

This article is not concerned with all forms of authoritarian influence. We are not concerned with ordinary diplomacy and transparent public diplomacy [JB emphasis], nor traditional intelligence collection operations, in which all established states engage. Nor are we concerned with “soft power” as defined by Joseph Nye—as an attractive force. Rather, this paper is concerned with a subset of malign foreign influence which sits between the poles of diplomacy and soft power on one side and “hard” military power on the other. Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig describe this category of problematic behavior as “sharp power”:

Authoritarian influence efforts are “sharp” in the sense that they pierce, penetrate, or perforate the political and information environments in the targeted countries…seeking to manipulate their target audiences by distorting the information that reaches them. Sharp power likewise enables the authoritarians to cut into the fabric of a society, stoking and amplifying existing divisions…. Above all, the term “sharp power” captures the malign and aggressive nature of the authoritarian projects, which bear little resemblance to the benign attraction of soft power.


The differences in Beijing and Moscow’s operations, tactics, and methods derive from their historical traditions and their current strategic positions and trajectories. Putin acts as a wounded animal: declining in power, with little to lose. Moscow has a far greater tolerance for being “caught” and suffering reputational damage than Beijing. In the longer-term, however, Beijing’s more incremental, nuanced and strategic play for the center of democratic societies is more insidious and difficult to counter. In both cases, their interference operations are growing too brazen and aggressive for sovereign democratic nations to ignore. The challenges presented by each will be amplified to the extent that there is coordination between them.

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