Disinformation and the balance of power or the reason why Russian information warfare is rampant in democratic states.

Politics - January 25, 2023

During the past year, governments, and citizens of member states of the European Union had to adapt to a new reality, that of the ongoing war on the eastern flank of the European Union and NATO. On February 24th, 2022, the Russian Federation launched a war of aggression against Ukraine, which it called a “special military operation” and forced democratic countries to react, which they did. The direct support given to Ukraine and the nine sets of sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation have had a significant impact on the economies of countries that have joined the effort to get Russia to cease hostilities.


Much has been written and widely reported about the ongoing debate both in Europe and overseas, in the United States of America, regarding the most effective ways to support Ukraine without triggering a widespread armed conflict. Another debate, no less important and with long-term implications, is that of the actual state of affairs in the relationship between the European States and the Russian Federation. The Kremlin narrative has vehemently argued, since the first days of the war, that the military intervention came about because of Western pressure on the security situation of the Russian Federation. In simple terms, the Kremlin claims that NATO’s defense posture and the attitude of the European Union towards a possible accession of Ukraine to the structure, creates a direct threat to its national security and integrity. Although, at the moment, there is no armed conflict between NATO or EU member states and the Russian Federation, we can easily see that for more than 10 years the two sides have been in a conflict fought in an environment different from that of theaters of war, namely, the information environment. The main weapon used, disinformation.


For more than 10 years, the Russian Federation has used all the tools at its disposal to create social tensions in countries that it considers to be unfriendly, going so far as to try to interfere with democratic electoral processes, both in the case of the presidential elections in the United States of America in 2016 as well as in the case of the Referendum for leaving the European Union in Great Britain (Brexit). To better understand the mechanism by which and the reasons why, for more than a decade, the Kremlin has besieged the minds of the citizens of Western countries with false information, manipulation and narratives designed to upset democratic societies, it is necessary to first look at the phenomenon of disinformation as a tool in the dynamics of the balance of power between states.


Bernd Carsten Stahl, defines disinformation as “inaccurate or misleading information intended, presented and promoted to intentionally cause harm to the public or for profit”. Going further, another author, Professor Eric Cheygitz, describes disinformation as “the process of erasing history, culminating in a disruption or blockage of critical thinking” or a “constant unlearning of the facts”, the ability to think critically being linked deeply of the ability to think historically.


Today’s world, with its complex way of interdependencies and conditionalities is difficult to understand and explain. However, for centuries, scientists around the world have been developing theories in the sphere of international relations intended to be used as tools in the effort to decipher the dynamics of relations between states. One such theory is that of the balance of power, not at all new and whose usefulness is contested today. Despite the fact that more and more scholars in the field of international relations argue that nowadays, geopolitical conditions are not favorable for expressing the world order in terms of balance of power, this remains a fundamental concept in the theory of international relations and is the predominant pattern in world politics.


The theory of the balance of power is based on the assumption that power is relative, and the power of a state is measured in comparative terms with that of rival states, thus, an increase in the power of one state necessarily means a decrease in the power of another and represents a threat to former. The balance of power is constantly changing, and the factors that influence it are always multiple and complex. The dynamism of contemporary society, globalization and the significant technological advances of recent decades have had significant effects on the dynamics of the balance of power. This dynamic, evermore intense, and often volatile, calls for the need, both in theory and in practice, to consider not only the current assessment of power but also the potential power of the adversary. The current era of information technology has generated significant transformations of the concept of balance of power. If until the industrial age, power was largely the result of the ability to exercise military force, the current age of information technology has generated significant transformations of the concept of the balance of power, for example, “it firmly establishes a relationship between communication and information technology and power a situation due to which the components of the balance of power operate in a different manner” (Sahar Afshan, Balance of Power in the Era of Technological Globalization, p.83). Traditionally the most important way of expressing power was territorial conquest which over time generated a larger population, a more extensive market, and increased opportunities for economic and military growth. The last decades have marked a significant change, namely that technology has become an extremely important indicator of a state’s power. Therefore, in today’s international politics, a powerful state has high technological capabilities and potential, as well as financial resources to develop, acquire and operate advanced technologies.

How could disinformation be used as a tool in influencing the dynamics of the balance of power? Starting from the definitions expressed above, we can state that the organized distribution of inaccurate or misleading information in the information ecosystem of the adversary’s population, with the aim of undermining its ability to make favorable decisions, is a real weapon, which if used together with other soft and/or hard coercion tools can tip the balance in favor of the user. Going further than that, the use of this tool over a long period of time, with a well-developed strategy and successful implementation, can turn it into a destabilizing factor, likely to weaken the population’s attachment to its own national identity and erode its confidence in the state and the decision-makers in charge.


The ability of a state to diminish the adversary’s ability to act or react by undermining popular support, especially necessary in democratic states, for activities with a high impact on public opinion, such as supporting an armed intervention, or providing economic and military aid to an ally, according to the line of argument so far, falls into the category of activity intended to influence the dynamics of the balance of power.


In the effort to tilt the balance of power in its favor, Russia’s strategy has always had the countries in its vicinity in mind. Romania, a country located on the eastern border of the European Union, felt, and still feels, the effects of decades of Russian disinformation campaigns. In the past 33 years this country went through a difficult period of national reconstruction both from a political, economic and identity point of view. A former communist country, Romania successfully passed the test of democratization and is today an important pillar in the European security architecture. Thus, through a series of articles to be published, I will explore the phenomenon of using disinformation as a weapon in the struggle for power on the international stage, exploring the complicated relationship between the Russian Federation (along with its predecessor, the USSR) and this small country in Eastern Europe, called Romania.