Imagine you’re the smart authoritarian ruler of a hypothetical ex-superpower. You burn with a desire to revenge the triumph of your former rival superpower but prefer not to start a messy war that you would lose. But there is a better option anyway: information war! You have already perfected the methods for duping your own citizens into voting for you. Merely by controlling the news and TV content, and eliminating a prominent journalist or political foe now and then, you have achieved approval ratings of 80 percent and electoral landslides.
And what sweet payback is possible now! Your enemy’s democracy is failing. All their presidential candidates have been eliminated except a populist deal-making demagogue and the wife of precisely the ex-president who sent spin-doctors to help your predecessor, a drunken megalomaniac, win his own re-election. Now’s your chance! No bloodshed is required—only a few hundred hackers in an office of “dis-information” and the citizens of that enemy state will elect the demagogue, who will eat out of your hand like a pet squirrel.
They call it cyberwar, but it doesn’t look like war at all. You don’t need to blow up electric grids or satellites. You don’t even need to control voting machines. You just control the information that the voters receive—and voila! You will soon have your man in the White House, and the world will still cheer for democracy.
But stop imagining this, reader. Get back to reality. And send good wishes across Canada’s southern border, for If our neighbors don’t solve this problem, it will affect us all.
But unfortunately, the US can hardly complain about it, since their government has also interfered in the elections of other countries. Now it is their turn.
And, even more ironically, this scenario may be more favorable for the prospects of peace than the outcome of a fair election, which would have brought a hawk to power.
But can we call a cyberwar “peace”? And are we just watching as non-combatants? No. You and I have been hacked too. So how can anyone defend against this?