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Cyber Warfare and Theories of IR: Cyber Anarchy

RezaMajd4 July 2018

Written by: Alexander Lee

Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the author and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.

A new age of technology has begun; we are experiencing a cyber revolution. This virtual phenomenon has influenced our society unlike anything before, and has entered the arena of security and warfare, as we are now faced with a new threat: the virtual weapon. Who is ‘we’? According to Dr. Lucas Kello (2017a,) the international order is facing varying degrees of threats – ranging from international system disruption, to revision, to change (p. 85-95). The international order can be defined as “…a pattern of activity that sustains the elementary or primary goals of the society of states, or international society” (Bull, 1997, p. 8). Kello belongs to a group of theorists who argue against cyber war skeptics, such as Rid (2013), who calls for us leave the realm of (p. 174) “myth and fairytale – to a degree”, as politically motivated cyber attacks are simply forms of sabotage, espionage or subversion (2011). Skeptics like Rid, are motivated by the Clausewitzian school of war, who claim that cyber operations are not directly violent (Kello, 2017a, p. 31), as Rid states that (2011, p. 6) “Not one single past cyber offense, neither a minor nor a major one, constitutes an act of war on its own”. Is the idea of cyber anarchy a sci-fi fantasy, or is the international order truly being threatened by cyber warfare? Will there be cyber order or could anarchy lead to chaos?

International Anarchy

There was a time when thermonuclear extinction obsessed political scientists (Kaplan, 2001, p, 129). ‘Nuclearmituphobia’ was a rampant topic, igniting key debates within the scholarship of International Relations (IR) theory revolving around international anarchy. War, power, and self-interest are elements of international anarchy which date back to Thucydides’s writing of the Peloponnesian War, a key historiographic account of Ancient Greek interstate conflict between Athens and Sparta (Connor, 1984); to the works of Machiavelli’s Prince, emphasizing self interest over morality and virtue (1961); and epitomized by the Hobbesian state of nature, being war against all (Hobbes, 1651). These accounts showcase the classical realist tradition of state interaction being a “…game that is wholly distributive or zero-sum” (Bull, 1997, p.24-25). This was further developed by the Neorealists, who believed that the main goal of states in an international system of self-help, was survival (Waltz, 1979, p. 105). The school of Neoliberalism, believe cooperation would be achievable under anarchic conditions (Keohane and Martin, 1995; Fukuyama 1992, p. 255). Structural liberals, who describe themselves as ‘strong liberals’, expanded on this believing that international anarchy can be transcended, with anarchy being replaced with hierarchy, emphasizing an international order based on extensive interdependence and shared governance arrangements (Ikenberry, 2011, p. 36) providing us perhaps with a potential to reach Fukuyama’s (1992) end of history, and Kant’s (1985) perpetual peace.

Arguably, we have moved beyond realism. In terms of security, NATO has proved to be more than an ad hoc defense alliance, drawing states into joint force planning, international military command structures and established transgovernmental processes for political and military decision making, promoting security interdependence (Deudney and Ikenberry, 1999, p. 183; Ikenberry, 2011, p. 351). Current developments within the international arena, such as new initiatives of global governance (Hurrell, 2007, p. 2-3), perhaps explain why Westphalian sovereignty, which was how sovereignty was understood by realists (Waltz, 1979, p. 96; Deudney and Ikenberry, 1999, p. 187), has experienced disaggregation (Slaughter, 2004, p. 266) and transformation (Ikenberry, 2011, p. 239), towards more “world” and “global” politics emphasized by convergence and interdependence (Waltz, 2000, p.5-6).

Cyber Anarchy

However, the cyberspace is a domain, in which “we have yet to master” (Kello, 2017a, p. 1). Currently, we do not have any clear indications of what structural liberalists Deudney and Ikenberry (1999) describe as consensus building, cooperation and reciprocity, when seeking to address cyber security dilemmas. The divided consensus around cyber warfare regulation, is more prominent than ever, emphasized by a lack of agreement and cooperation between states, international law, and institutions on global cyber governance (Kello, 2017b, p.212-219). A lack of institutions (especially with regards to cyber conflict), with states maintaining the role of key actor in the cyberspace (Drezner, 2004) suggests that we can apply Waltz’s (2001, p.159) notion of a war bound international system of sovereign states, with no higher governing authority to dictate relations amongst nations to the current state of cyber governance, translating therefore into cyber anarchy.

Current developments in cyber warfare highlight the anarchic nature of this domain. States have looked to enhance their offensive cyber capabilities, showcased by the US’s Stuxnet attack, carried out on Iran’s nuclear facility, and Russian involvement in the Estonian attack and the US elections (however this has yet to be officially confirmed that it was the Russian state itself) (Kello, 2017b, p.211; 2017a, p. 36 & p. 221-228).

This emphasizes the increasing cyber arms race that is occurring (Kello, 2017a, p.212-214), because great powers are aware of the increased militarization of cyberspace (Craig & Valeriano, 2018, p. 88).

Increasing cyber arms could also be a response to the uncertainty element of cyber warfare. This is showcased by zero-day vulnerabilities, which is when computer vulnerability is unknown to anyone but the researcher (and most of the time – hacker) who identifies it, leaving no time to prepare for a suitable defense Gjelten, 2013, p. 39, Kello, 2017a, p. 48).

Such developments fall in line with Mearsheimer’s (2001, p. 30-32) five bedrock assumptions of offensive realism: (1) system is anarchic with no central authority above states; (2) great powers possess offensive military capabilities; (3) states can never be certain about other states intentions; (4) survival is the primary goal of states; (5) great powers are rational actors and think strategically about survival. Arquilla and Ronfeldt (1993) were among the first scholars to argue that cyber war is coming, and realists would agree with such a notion, as an example of unavoidable anarchy.

However, states are currently losing their place in being the key threat to national security, the primary provider of national security, and being able to maintain full control over the dynamics of conflict among them (Kello, 2017a, p. 162), due to the emergence of nontraditional actors: political hacktivists, private firms, militant groups and criminal syndicates (Kello, 2017b, p. 217-219), who have the means and capabilities to carry out cyber attacks at the same level as states, especially with exposing zero-day vulnerabilities. This emphasizes what Kello (2017a, p. 190) describes as the sovereignty gap of cyberspace, as “states are no longer the unquestioned masters of the international system”. This challenges the realists’ assumption that states are the primary actors of the international arena (Waltz, 2001, p. 177-178), emphasizing Kello’s (2017a, p. 92-95) highest degree of cyber revolution: systemic change of the international order. Perhaps the virtual weapon will prove to be even more anarchic – and potentially chaotic.

Beyond Cyber Anarchy?

Can liberal theories of IR provide us with a pathway to tackle cyber anarchy? Kello (2017b, p,219-226) argues that there are prospects for cyber security interdependence, through what he calls “prospective pathways through cyber gridlock”, in which states abandon a Westphalian governance approach in cyberspace, towards more convergence (p.228), through a global governance approach. One of these pathways includes the need to manage the “power diffusion” (p. 207) that these alien players in cyberspace are accumulating. This calls for the fostering of closer ties between the public and private sector, which can be done through states working along actors such as: proxy militia groups, technology firms, and specialized bodies (p. 225). Realism does not account for non-state actors perhaps the way liberal theories do, and therefore a realist approach towards cyberspace would not be an ideal approach, compared to one of cooperation, convergence and order. An approach where states take on the role of being a cooperative actor, among a vast majority of others that participate in a broader social and legal process (Hurrell, 2015, p.4), to generate effective collective problem solving.

The very nature of this virtual weapon, such as the inability to identify the attacker, its location, and even prepare for a cyber attack (Kello 2017a, p. 199 & p. 48) represents a domain in which anarchy doesn’t appear to possess much potential in being transcended. However, we must consider if the threat of the system in which states are operating in, will call upon collective effort to tackle this growing phenomenon, or will states look towards stemming their loss of power by enhancing their cyber capabilities, in Machiavellian fashion of self-interest over morality (Vasquez, 1995, p. 27-32), in the face of such uncertainty in cyberspace. Without any clear enforcement mechanisms in place at the moment, cyber chaos seems to be where we are at – for now. More needs to be done, with regards to creation of treaties, generating regimes of international law and newly formed norms (Sinopoli, 2012), if we are to tackle cyber anarchy. However, Neoliberals such as Axelrod and Keohane (1985, p. 226) recognized that anarchy has varying degrees, and since total cyber arms deterrence is currently unlikely (Kello, 2017a, p. 197-205), we may find a way to assure that, despite the anarchical nature of the virtual weapon, a cyber war does not occur, and threaten the international order.

 

Arquilla, J. and Ronfeldt, D. (1993). Cyberwar is Coming!. Santa Monica, CA: RAND https://www.rand.org/pubs/reprints/RP223.html.

Axelrod, Robert, and Robert O. Keohane. (1985). ‘Achieving cooperation under anarchy: Strategies and institutions’. World Politics 38(1): 226-54.

Bull, H. (1977). The Anarchical Society. New York: Columbia University Press.

Connor, W. (1984). Thucydides. Princeton University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46n426

Craig, A. & Valeriano, B. (2018). ‘Realism and Cyber Conflict: Security in the Digital Age’, in: Orsi, D., Avgustin, J. R., & Nurnus, M. (eds) Realism in Practice: An Appraisal. [ebook] Bristol: E-International Relations. Available at: http://www.e-ir.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Realism-in-Practice-E-IR.pdf. [Accessed: 19th February 2018] pp. 85-102.

Deudney, D., Ikenberry, G. (1999). The nature and sources of liberal international order. Review of International Studies, 25(2), 179-196

Drezner, D. W. (2004) ‘The Global Governance of the Internet: Bringing the State Back In’, Political Science Quarterly, vol. 119, no. 3, pp. 477-498.

Fukuyama, F. (1992). The End of History and the Last Man. New York: The Free Press.

Gjelten, T. (2013). FIRST STRIKE: US Cyber Warriors Seize the Offensive. World Affairs, 175(5), 33-43. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43554737

Hobbes, T. (1651). Leviathan. London: Andrew Cooke

Ikenberry, G. (2011). Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order. Princeton University Press.

Hurrell, A. (2007) On Global Order: Power, Values and Constitution of International Society. Oxford: Oxford University.

Hurrell, A. (2015). Can the Study of Global Order be De-centred? PRIMO Working Paper No. 2/2015. Available at: http://www.primo-itn.eu/PRIMO/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/WorkingPaper-2_AndrewHurrell.pdf.

Kant, I. (1985). To Perpetual Peace A Philosophical Sketch. Perpetual Peace and other essays on Politics, History, and Morals. Translated by T. Humphrey. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company. p. 107-143.

Kello, L. (2017a). The Virtual Weapon and International Order. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Kello, L. (2017b), ‘Cyber Security: Gridlock and Innovation’, in: Hale T. and Held, D. (eds.), Beyond Gridlock. UK:Polity Press.

Keohane, R., & Martin, L. (1995). The Promise of Institutionalist Theory. International Security, 20(1), 39-51. doi:10.2307/2539214

Machiavelli, N. 1961. The Prince. Translated by G. Bull. New York: Penguin Books

Mearsheimer, J. (2001) The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Rid, T. (2011). “Cyber War Will Not Take Place”, Journal of Strategic Studies. Vol 35: p. 5-32. doi:10.1080/01402390.2011.608939

Rid, T. (2013). Cyber War Will Not Take Place. London: Hurst & Company.

Sinopoli, A. F., “Cyberwar and International Law: An English School Perspective” (2012). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. Retrieved from: http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/etd/4404

Vasquez, J. (1986). Classics of International Relations. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. Inc.

Waltz, K. N., (1979). Theory of International Politics. Reading, Mass, Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.

Waltz, K. (2000). Structural Realism after the Cold War. International Security, 25(1), 5-41. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2626772

Waltz, K. (2001). Man, the state, and war. New York: Columbia University Press.

Can computers understand human emotions? A sentiment analysis of economic news

RezaMajd4 July 2018

Written by: Nicole Watson and Henry Naish

Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the author and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.

Can a computer be taught to understand human emotions? Proponents of sentiment analysis would argue that they most certainly can. Put simply, sentiment analysis is the use of algorithms to extract emotional meaning from a large number of texts. From its roots in market research, sentiment analysis is emerging as a promising technique in fields ranging from social science to stock market analysis. It allows us to process the emotions expressed in vast amounts of text more quickly than a human ever could. That is, if it really works. To put sentiment analysis to the test, we investigated how the results of a sentiment analysis algorithm measured up to human judgements when ranking news articles about the US economy.

For this project, we used a dataset provided by the platform Crowdflower, consisting of thousands of articles about the US economy. Human contributors ranked each article on a scale of 1-9, 1 being the most negative and 9 being the most positive.

Before we look at some findings, we should remind ourselves of an important point when using computers to do our reading for us. When it comes to text, humans are always right. Words have meaning for us, not computers, and these techniques are a shortcut to understanding a large volume of documents that we might not have time to read properly ourselves.

We found that even when instructed to rank articles on a scale of 1 to 9, humans still tend to see sentiment in binary terms: optimistic and pessimistic. The red plot shows human responses: the two peaks cluster around moderately pessimistic and optimistic sentiment. Humans don’t like extremes – we’re always thinking the next article could be even better or even worse than the last.

By contrast, our algorithm clusters articles around a moderately pessimistic level. Working off a ‘sentiment lexicon’ – a dictionary mapping words to scores based on how positive or negative they are – it scores each word and aggregates the results to determine how positive the article is overall. It produces a distribution of articles around the most frequent level of optimism. In other words, computers think in distributions while we think about how an article makes us feel.

When comparing how the algorithm and humans scored each article, we found that for positive articles, the computer was more often wrong than right. The graph below shows the accuracy of the computer’s scores: blue for agreement with human judgment and red for disagreement. Whilst the blue streak down the middle shows some agreement between human and machine, the red in the top left indicates that the algorithm struggles to pick up positivity. Clearly, humans communicate optimism in ways that can’t be captured through analysis of single words.

 

Whilst the power of sentiment analysis cannot be dismissed on the basis of our simplistic model, it’s clear that there’s a long way to go before our computers are doing our reading for us. By focusing solely on the use of specific words, the computer misses nuance that humans understand effortlessly. Although computers will always surpass us when it comes to reading speed, what is this worth when they just don’t get it?

 

 

Machiavellian Middle East: A Review of Recent International Relations

RezaMajd11 April 2018

Written by: Andreas Beckwith

Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the author and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.

Subtitle explainer: Examining the Machiavellian influence in the Middle East in a time of covert action, proxy wars and switching alliances

 

Photo Source

In the middle ages, King Francis I of France embodied the architype Prince that Machiavelli envisaged when he wrote his pièce de résistance the Prince. King Francis was shrewd, cunning and utterly ruthless. As Niccolo Machiavelli said “Men rise from one ambition to another: first, they seek to secure themselves against attack, and then they attack others.” King Francis was an expert at this, surrounded by the powerful Hapsburg empire of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, he was utterly ruthless in making alliances to undermine the Holy Roman Emperor, he continued the wars of Italy, aiding Lutheran German princes, particularly the Duke of Wurttemberg in the budding protestant movement against the Catholic Charles V, and most devilishly of all, making an alliance with the Ottoman Turks to destabilise the Holy Roman Empire. While Francis aided protestants abroad, his policy at home was of staunch Catholicism and Protestants were treated as heretics and at times burned at the stake, the Muslim Ottoman Empire was officially even worse than the Protestants as they were not Christian. And yet, Francis was able to forge these alliances with the Protestant and Muslims to undermine Charles V, his fellow Catholic.

The modern Middle East bears many similarities in the ways that alliances change, strange alliances formed based only the balance of power, where ideological enmity is cast aside for strategic gain. One of the similarities with Middle-age Europe is how often alliances change. Francis I would sometimes make peace with Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and then the Protestant Lutheran princes would be his enemies, and then they would fall out and he would be back to aiding them. And so it is with the modern Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and Iran being pitted against each other. In the tragic ongoing war in Syria, the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, alliances change rapidly with states between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the ongoing proxy wars between them. Religious divides of Sunni and Shia, are not the simple demarcation of alliances and there is often divergence between the two. I will explore this relationship in detail in my next publication, Shifting Alliances, where few alliances are set in stone, and there are constant shifts and changes that take place that distort the balance of the region between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Tags

Saudi Arabia, Iran, proxy wars, Machiavelli, Machiavellian Middle East, Realism, Realpolitik, Middle East, changing alliances, Sunni, Shia

 

Through the looking glass: How western countries are likely to react to the migrant crisis through International Relations Theory

RezaMajd23 March 2018

Written by: Aashna Chatterjee

Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the author and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.

Syrian family receiving clothes and other items at their arrival in Canada (CTV News, 2016)

Over the past few years, the refugee crisis in Syria has reached an unavoidable level, greatly impacting its neighbouring countries as well as the Western World, especially in Europe. The reactions of these countries is still being debated about and discussed throughout the international community. Through a broader analysis using the three main International Relations Theories (Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism), it might be possible to understand and clarify the opinions and reactions of western states in the best manner possible.

Refugees and refugee movements are more than just human rights issues. They are and have always been an inherent part of international politics owing to the “way” an individual receives refugee status- conflict and war in the country of origin, which requires them to seek “refuge” in another country (Loescher and Betts; 2011). In the case of the Syrian Refugee crisis, some of the countries that these displaced people have fled to, are those belonging to the European Union. International Relations theories on the other hand, help understand the International arena and provide various “lenses” or perspectives through which one can study it. Thus, an operative theory might help in breaking down the crisis and the debates surrounding it and might help clarify which perspective suits the dynamics a world in crisis, the best.

Realism suggests that the protection of national security is of utmost importance and in this anarchical setting, every country must act out of its own self-interest and thus strive to remain in power. If it is not in the interest of a developed, western country to aid developing nations, then they won’t. For instance, it would be difficult for a realist leader in the western world, like the United States to justify the entry of thousands of Syrians without insinuating terrorist activity or general domestic discord. In this way, a Realist would not allow a nation to risk its security, when it is already at risk by other foreign powers. This however, is not true of the current world dynamics. Countries have taken in a number of refugees and are working towards rehabilitating them. It is taking time and policies are being shaped around recent events, especially in the EU, but this goes against realist thought which would essentially close its gates to all refugees. While this may be the case for a very few countries, it is not a statement that can be generalised. Furthermore, International Organisations have been prevalent in the dialogue surrounding refugees and this would not have been possible in a realist world. Thus again, Realism only explains a part of the situation but is unable to encapsulate it as a whole.

In this case, why not look at the opposite side of the spectrum and see what Liberalism has to offer? Liberalism suggests that the best way to describe state behaviour is through an interdependent drive for peace. In other words, states are more likely to cooperate and establish a peaceful international community. A liberal perspective might look at the crisis and suggest that international cooperation would be the best way to tackle the crisis and that interdependency is what is needed to bring Syria back to life. Furthermore, a refugee coming into a new country would bring in economic advantage over time. A Liberalist would see this as a welcome development, which would help in the process of global, economic cooperation. This again, however is an ideal scenario as the current rhetoric of western states suggests that refugees are seen as people taking away jobs and physical space. Countries are actively rejecting refugees and suggesting a “cap” to the number of people they take in. This is further exacerbated by referring to refugees as “migrants” and thus stripping them of the rights given to them by the 1951 Human Rights Convention, an international treaty, created by an international organisation. This goes against Liberal thought as (a) International Institutions are very important in a liberal world and states comply with regulations set by these IOs and (b) it goes against the “law” of interdependency and cooperation.

Additionally, given the amount of time taken to address the crisis and the fact that it has broken more relationships between countries than it has possibly unified, it can be suggested that Liberalism only addresses one small part of the crisis. It can be used to describe not how the countries are acting currently but how they want to be seen as acting. Countries from the west have indeed banded together to help solve the problem in Syria and have cooperated a great deal to ensure the best possible outcome, however a liberal perspective still cannot be applied to this as each country acts based on their own context and not as a collective team.

This brings us to the last major International Relations theory: Constructivism. Constructivism as a lens is an interesting one: rather than trying to define the world, it seeks to analyse how one thinks about the world (Laffey, 2013 in Oezel, 2015). In constructivism, norms define everything and the world is socially constructed through discourse and practice. This incorporates linguistic practice and rhetoric, institutions and borders (Weldes et al, 1999; 16). It seeks to study how the world forms its assumptions and what the consequences are. Thus when it comes to the refugee crisis and the idea of security, constructivism looks towards a reality constructed through context. A country is likely to think of the “pros and cons” of taking in refugees based on a sense of collective discourse and context (Weldes; 16). In other words, the concept of security and insecurity comes from how individuals, state officials and media outlets describe the world they live in and how that constructs their identities and what they collectively deem as threats to their security. furthermore, the 1951 human rights convention explicitly states that it is a member state’s responsibility to protect refugees and some countries have indeed opened up their borders to welcome those in need. Constructivism would suggest that the convention created a norm for countries to follow. Through this lens, it is possible to gauge and analyse the reactions and policies made by western countries towards refugees. If we were to look at the context and the general discourse of how identity and security are defined in a country, it would help identify the way states are likely to react to the crisis.

The reactions of countries in the western world have varied from being welcoming towards refugees to closing their borders outright. International Relations scholars seek to generalise the phenomenon in order to best study this major crisis and one of the best ways to do this for them is use International Relations theories. This article hoped to shed some light on how the major theories in IR would define the reactions of western states towards the refugee crisis in Syria. Based on the discussion above, it can be suggested that Liberalism and Realism would only be able to explain certain parts of the crisis as opposed to being able to view the crisis as a whole. The crisis is far to complex to fit into a didactic framework set up by these two theories, especially realism. On the other hand, Constructivism, owing to its nature of studying discourse and context, might be the best out of the three to understand the situation and that is far more important than merely explaining it. Understanding the norms and discourse would enable one to understand the situation as a whole and thus be able to work towards a solution to this very large and important crisis.

 

Bibliography

 

Betts, A. and Loescher, G. eds., 2011. Refugees in international relations. Oxford University Press.

 

Oezel, Y.,2015. Providing Security? Border Control and the Politics of Migration in the EU.

 

Weldes, J., Laffey, M., Gusterson, H. and Duvall, R., 1999. Introduction: constructing insecurity. Cultures of insecurity: States, communities, and the production of danger, pp.1-33.

Check out the New IPPR Podcast!

RezaMajd19 March 2018

Check out the 1st Episode of A Cup of Poli-Tea

Episode 1: UCU Strike by A Cup of Poli-tea on #SoundCloud

Link to Episode 1!

 

 

Luke Harding- How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House

RezaMajd19 March 2018

Written by: Liza Kinnear

Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the author and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors

Luke Harding, author of “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win,” lived and worked in Moscow, Russia as a foreign correspondent for The Guardian from 2007-2011.

https://www.poynter.org/news/woodward-and-bernstein-data-crunching-geeks-lessons-explosive-paradise-papers

 

Luke Harding, a foreign correspondent working for The Guardian, gave a talk at UCL on February 8th. Since working in Moscow between 2007 and 2011, Harding has become well-known for his reporting on Russian affairs- perhaps driven recently by his unceremonious expulsion from Russia in 2011. That year, Harding released “Mafia State: How One Reporter Became an Enemy of the Brutal New Russia,” shedding light on his experiences living in Russia and his eventual eviction from the country. The talk, however, covered a more recent scandal, and was premised on Harding’s latest book- “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.”

The talk detailed Harding’s life in Moscow, which illuminated his stance on the alleged Russia-Trump collusion before the 2016 US election. Harding spent much of the talk focusing on Russian KGB (now FSB) scare tactics, which he argued played a major role in Trump’s rise to power. To explain the plausibility of this collusion, Harding insisted that we must go back many years- to Trump’s first visit to Russia in 1987. At this time, the Soviet government invited Trump to visit Moscow on an all-expenses-paid trip. “The people who arranged this were Intourist [the Soviet Union’s official state travel agency],” however according to Harding, it was considered common knowledge that the agency was essentially run by the KGB. Harding went on to suggest that this demonstrates long-term Russian interest in Trump, with leaked papers revealing why Trump might originally have become a person of interest- there was a need at the time to recruit Americans. A KGB personality questionnaire that was circulated around the agency highlighted the need to find people who matched certain characteristics. The KGB were looking for someone “vain, ambitious, narcissistic, adulterous… and Trump ticked every box”.

6 weeks after Trump’s trip to Moscow, Harding notes that Trump “took out a series of front page adverts in various newspapers, criticising Raegan and announcing that he is running for president.” To Harding, this demonstrates the subliminal power of KGB tactics. The journalist argued that the KGB identified Trump as a target decades ago, before embarking on a “journey of courtship” that would eventually help him into the White House. Harding thus suggests that a long backstory of courtship is an important factor in the alleged collusion.

In 2013, Donald Trump attended the Miss Universe contest held in Moscow, a moment which Luke Harding believes is significant to his eventual assent to presidency. He insisted that typical KGB monitoring techniques were used on Trump during his stay, which may have given Russia significant leverage over Trump. “Why is Trump always nice about Putin?” Harding questioned the audience. “Why will he never criticise him? Does Russia have compromising material on Trump?”

To demonstrate the influence of KGB tactics, Harding paused to tell an anecdote from his own life in Moscow. Working as a foreign journalist, Harding became a prime target for surveillance, particularly due to his critical stances on major Russian political issues. After a break-in at his Moscow flat, Harding became aware that secret cameras had been installed and the FSB were carefully monitoring his private life. Harding noted several instances when his phone connection was disrupted during conversations regarding sensitive matters, and recalled a time when he came home to find the previously closed window beside his son’s bed left wide open- a gesture which he understood to be a warning from the FSB. More amusingly, Harding spoke of a time when a small gift was left on his bedside table after a family holiday- a sex manual, with a section about orgasms earmarked. Although Harding appeared to see the humour in these scare tactics, he insisted that his own personal experience of surveillance demonstrates the proficiency of the Russian security services in finding a person’s vulnerability and using it against them.

Thus, according to Harding, a combination of the 2016 hacking, economic ties between Trump and Putin, and possible surveillance by the Russian security agency all assisted Trump in winning the presidency. However, Harding insists that “Putin didn’t think Trump would win”- rather, he was used to discredit Hillary Clinton and weaken her power, leaving Russia to do what they wanted in the global arena. Millions voted for Trump and “we can’t say Trump won thanks to Putin, but Putin did push him over the finish line.”

While some suggestions may seem slightly far-fetched (what information could Russia have on Trump that would damage his international reputation even further?), Harding’s talk gave an interesting insight into his own experiences living in Russia and provided ample material for a lively debate about the likelihood and effect of any collusion.

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