Russian hackers have been implicated by the CIA and FBI in an audacious effort to sway voters in the recent U.S. presidential election in the direction of Donald Trump. Like other key events in U.S. history, such as Pearl Harbor or 9/11, the revelation of the Russian cyber intrusion is a wake-up call. It signals that a new “code war” is underway through the weaponization of information.
The irony can’t be missed, of course, that the CIA, which itself sought to influence democratic elections around the world from the earliest days of the Cold War, is calling out the Russians. Former CIA director Bill Colby once regaled me with tales of his years as a young operative in Italy, paying off journalists and channeling laundered funds to the Christian Democrats in elections during the 1950s to (successfully) defeat the Communists at the polls. The CIA also clandestinely funded the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan to oppose leftist forces there during that same era. It also intervened to sway voters in elections from South Vietnam to Chile. As one top U.S. intelligence official said to me this week, we are seeing “old tactics with new tools” ― but this time turned against America.
How the outrage against Russia will affect the pragmatic accommodation to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime already signaled by President-elect Trump and his appointed secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is unclear. Troublesome as it has once again become for the West, Russia remains a major nuclear power with whom it is no less necessary to deal with than during the height of the totalitarian Soviet state. A thawing of hostility would break the steady drift of Russia and China aligning as an axis against the West. Trump’s “America First” policy, which promises to disengage from the liberal interventionism that presumes to tutor mankind on its pilgrimage to perfection, could, on this score, make the world more stable.
In response to the hysteria in America about the Russian hacking, writing from Moscow, Fyodor Lukyanov contends that Putin is giving America a taste of its own political-meddling medicine. Alina Polyakova believes we will likely see similar clandestine efforts by Russia to sway voters in upcoming French and German elections. Russian journalist Maria Snegovaya surveys the view from Russia on the alleged hacks and finds that despite the uproar they’ve caused in America, Russians are generally unconcerned by the revelations.
But to Nina L. Khrushcheva, writing from Moscow, the similarities between Trump’s cabinet and the Cold War-era film “The Manchurian Candidate” ― about a plot to use a brainwashed man to upend American politics ― are too close for comfort. As she suggests, influence meddling is of an entirely different order when done to America ― the iconic democracy, world’s largest economy and most powerful military ― by the humiliated successor to its old Soviet adversary. Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis argues the U.S. must stand up firmly to this new challenge with a “robust, rapid and proportional” response.
From London, Julian Baggini asserts that a consolidating “populist international” binds the anti-establishment revolt across Western democracies together with the strongman approach to governance favored by Putin. Writing from Singapore, Kishore Mahbubani and Danny Quah contend that the populist upheavals across the West reflect the rise of the emerging economies, especially in Asia, that are placing stress on the old trans-Atlantic powers that once ran the world on their own terms.
Russia has returned as a player in the new world disorder on another stage ― Syria. Moscow facilitated a brutal blow in eastern Aleppo this week against the opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad. As Maha Sarfraz laments, “never again” has happened once more. Rabeh Ghadban describes how deadly and heart-wrenching the persisting hope among Syrians has been.
Meanwhile, relations between China and the U.S. since Trump have worsened. Earlier this month, Trump’s call with Taiwan predictably stirred tensions. This week, China held its first ever live-fire drills with an aircraft carrier and warships, and a Chinese warship seized an American underwater drone in the South China Sea. Writing from Hong Kong, Jun Mai reports that Chinese President Xi Jinping has called on professors and students at China’s universities to increase their allegiance to the Community Party.
On the climate change front, the filling out of Trump’s cabinet with climate deniers presents a daunting challenge to the environmental movement. Bill McKibben argues that it would now be most effective to shift the focus from politics toward a strategy of pushing investors to divest from fossil fuels. This week, the Future of Life Institute’s Ariel Conn discusses the “King Midas problem” of how to create artificial intelligence with goals and values that align with those of the people it interacts with. Finally, our Singularity series examines the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, comprised of more than 60 nongovernmental organizations working to ban fully autonomous weapons.