Opinion | Hybrid war on China (Part III)
By Laura Ruggeri, an Italian-born writer and scholar
Judging by the selection of these and other key people in Biden's foreign policy team — NSC, State Department and Pentagon — the US intends to pursue an aggressive policy based on the rigid assertion of liberal ideology. In this framework, China and Russia are deemed the main adversaries, and countries that maintain good relations with them could become candidates for regime change, even if they are NATO members, because the US is now hellbent on strengthening the ideological cohesion of NATO.
If the goal is the destabilization and isolation of "deplorable regimes" we should expect an even tighter control of the narrative and the use of smear tactics to undermine the power and reputation of political and business leaders who maintain relations with them. The information war will get hotter as Americans will try to use their digital advantages to the maximum — after all they control the majority of international media agencies and social media platforms. DIMEFIL (diplomatic, information, military, economic, financial, intelligence and legal) instruments of national power will continue to be used in hybrid warfare. However the importance of non-military instruments will increase, with the information domain asserting the most influence.
But as many societies have developed antibodies against the messianic promotion of US-style liberal democracy as a cure-all, especially in developing countries, disruptive covert operations and cyber attacks could be intensified.
Since hybrid warfare blurs the lines between war and peace, military and civilian, domestic and foreign, public and private, physical and digital, we see clear evidence that NGOs, media and tech companies have become de facto global contractors and the information-industrial complex is supporting the military-industrial complex in both a defensive and an offensive role. That's why the control of this highly integrated complex is vital for the US.
The level of interpenetration between state departments, NGOs, think tanks, media outlets and universities has increased so much that the revolving door model, whereby roles were performed in sequence, have been replaced by an updated version: now players occupy more roles than in the past and at the same time, and they can easily structure their overlap to create a coincidence of interests.
The composition of the current NSC is a case in point. Most members of the NSC honed their skills in Atlanticist think tanks where the line between intelligence, media and academia is blurred. These "experts" have internalized exceptionalist narratives so thoroughly that no atrocity, however shocking, can shake their faith in the West's moral and civilizational superiority. Theirs is a veritable Moral Superiority Complex, a belief that their actions are justified by having a higher moral value than others'. This delusion makes them extremely arrogant, unreasonable and detached from reality.
Many of them are skilled in digital influence operations, a range of activities in the information space that include psychological warfare, fake news, disinformation, propaganda, coordinated inauthentic behavior, defamation campaigns, cyberwarfare. These deeply networked malign activities are designed to manipulate, censor, and degrade the integrity of the information space for strategic purposes and they are not limited to "bots," or automated online programs. In fact, digital influence efforts leverage all elements of the information space, including through ownership of online media outlets and tech platforms, business and advertising pressure, and traditional censorship techniques.
NSC members have suggested further supporting and developing investigative journalism and civil society institutions, including not only in Russia and China, but also in countries that cooperate with them. In effect, this is a call for global and local civil society organizations sponsored by the West to interfere in the affairs of other countries.
They have made it clear that the promotion of liberal democracy will be their top priority.
This new generation of American "China Experts" shares a profound prejudice against China and believes that although the Trump administration appeared to be aggressive, it was still essentially defensive. In their opinion, the US should increase offensive tactics and use subsidies and other incentives to reduce the US overdependence on Chinese imports, while continuing to use human rights issues, the World Trade Organization system and allies to put pressure on China.
Washington has a long tradition of weaponizing foreign aid in order to exert pressure and control over countries desperate for humanitarian assistance. Foreign aid is regarded as just another tool for subordinating other countries politically and economically. This trend will continue and receive new impetus with Samantha Power in the NSC.
It is likely that the Biden administration will devote more energy to thwarting Russia-China cooperation because the Pentagon and the CIA are aware that the synergy that this partnership generates is going to amplify the impact of both actors, which is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Compared with the previous generation of China experts, the new generation focuses on "today's China" and "possible China" rather than historical China. Not only is their research output coloured by a strong ideological prejudice, their entire careers were built on misrepresenting rather than understanding China. If they display a distinct tendency towards confrontation it is sadly because they have a superficial knowledge of China and Chinese history. Otherwise they would know that China is unwilling to export its ideology and governance architecture to the world, recognizing that just because "socialism with Chinese characteristics" works for China, it does not mean that framework would work elsewhere. China, in fact, encourages other countries to find a model that fits their circumstances or realities.
ALSO READ: Opinion | Hybrid war on China (Part I)
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