4 August 2020

Touch not the cat but with a glove

Democracy’s survival, indeed, the survival of our society is built on the ability and willingness to protect it.

Recent reports point to the influence of external actors on the domestic politics of the West. It’s critical to our society that we recognise the danger that such activity poses.

In order to recognise its importance, we must first understand why any country – Russia, China, Iran or any other would seek to do so.

Consider first the internal political process we deal with on a regular basis. The process ultimately aims at gaining domestic power in order to fulfil the promises made during a political campaign. If a party is successful – they will seek to fulfil these promises. With that power comes the ability to influence and shape the deployment of resources and which set values and societal priorities are given precedence.

These are significant gains for those who wish to steer the ship of democracy. Of course, if a party fails to deliver on its promises, they will likely face a reckoning at the next election.

Those are the general benefits to those involved legitimately in a state’s internal democratic process. However, why would an external actor – i.e. a foreign state wish to influence this process?

In simple terms, internal politics shapes the international political order. Those in power domestically express themselves internationally. This is done through trade, humanitarian aid, military deployment among other things.

Therefore, external actors may believe that there is some benefit to ensuring one result over another in order to assist them with an over-arching international goal. Of course, simply being able to undermine the democratic process in another country – and to act with impunity may be a sought-after result in and of itself.

Obviously, it is thought that such action should not take place if there is to be respect for the laws and conventions of other countries.

However, it is clear both throughout history that such actions do take place. Indeed, the evidence is suggesting that such things are taking place at this very moment. External actors may be having a direct influence on the politics of the West and thus our democracies. If this is even a possibility, then our democracy is in peril. Unfortunately, recent reports suggest that no one is adequately prepared to face this issue with the rigour it requires.

If we are to protect democracy, it is essential that such actions are not allowed to continue. We must respond to these issues by strengthening the defences that we deploy to protect the integrity of our domestic political process. Furthermore, there must be consequences for those countries that choose to engage in such behaviour. Otherwise, they will continue to take greater strides towards trying to influence foreign elections and the democratic integrity of our own nations will crack from the ensuing chaos.

Failure to do so shall not only impact the domestic politics of the West but will badly damage the West’s role in the international political order – a situation that I would suggest we have already begun to witness and very likely the primary purpose of any such activities.

Stewart Stevenson
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