Saturday, May 05, 2018

Communications NATO: Psychological Defense of the Status Quo

defenseone |  Fending off disinformation will get even harder when a new Russian news outlet launches in the United States this month. Going by the unwieldy name of “USA Really. Wake Up Americans,” this private counterpart to the Russian government’s RT is owned by the media company RIA FAN, which previously resided at the St. Petersburg “troll factory” the Internet Research Agency.

“Why do we even allow RT to broadcast in our countries?” asked Ilves. Why, indeed. But as “USA Really” shows, even if EU or NATO member states collectively revoked RT’s broadcasting licenses, Russian disinformation would not go away. The EU is trying to provide some sort of coordinated response. According to an April 26 statement, the European Commission will introduce a Code of Practice for online platforms; it will, for example, require the platforms to be transparent about political advertising and to identify and close fake accounts (“bots”). The EU also runs the three-year-old East StratCom Task Force.

That’s an excellent start, but it’s dwarfed by Russia’s massive and highly sophisticated information operations. Though the East StratCom Task Force does a valiant job documenting mostly Russian disinformation, it consists of only 14 people. In a new report on Russian disinformation campaigns, the RAND Corporation advises governments to increase their populations’ media literacy. That’s a laudable goal, but a long-term one. So who will go head-to-head with Sergey Lavrov, the way NATO would confront, say, Russia’s armed forces if they made aggressive moves? And what if other countries or entities (say, ISIS at its zenith) attack us with propaganda campaigns? We can’t hang the job on our own news media. “You can’t press news organizations into the service of the nation,” noted Prof. Robert Picard, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

And yet our citizens consider disinformation a serious threat. In a Eurobarometer poll conducted in March, 83 percent of EU citizens called fake news a problem for democracy. NATO has proven that a defense alliance can withstand severe military threats, but because today’s national security threats no longer involve only armed forces, our defense most be more wide-ranging too. Indeed, earlier this year Sweden announced that it will establish an Agency for Psychological Defense.
What we need now is a cross-border defense alliance against disinformation — call it Communications NATO. Such an alliance is, in fact, nearly as important as its military counterpart. (And militarily non-aligned countries such as Sweden and Finland could join too.)