The title may be a bit misleading, because each of these three examples of soft power have a mix of both three. I’ll highlight some of each, but there’s plenty more that could be drawn from them. First example is the use of recent (relatively) Russian tactics against its “near abroad”, its old sphere of influence if you will, from USSR times. Second one is the lack of soft power that China wields, which is self-inflicted. And the last one is the recent trend in the US, which if facing the loss of soft power by the government, but not by the popular culture.
Recently Edward Lucas tweeted a series on the changes in Russian military doctrine, which signified a change away from physical combat and towards information domination in the form not seen since mid-90’s. That Russians always preferred, and are extremely skilled on, the battlefield in the cognitive domain is not new. But this new view of the recently requested new Russian military doctrine (Putin requested a new draft in 2013, having been dissatisfied with the 2010, strictly defensive doctrine that Medvedev signed off) shows just how forcefully information warfare is making a comeback.
Keir Giles’ wrote a good paper that you really should read on the Russian view of the information warfare/operations (cyber warfare) legality. This is a fairly neglected aspect of information warfare studies and is completely ignored by cyber warfare experts in the West, who consider the Western view to be the sole view. It is because they are largely WEIRD. The West is largely in introspection around diversity, where diversity now means that everyone has the same values, shares same culture and is working towards the same goals in the similar fashion.
The narrative that Snowden was an FSB asset is gaining traction in the mainstream media ready for new soundbites and more importantly for a different narrative that the audience isn’t getting bored with. Cue in omnipotent, yet still second fiddle to the good guys (this is Hollywood story, folks), supervillain, the FSB. According to the new narrative Snowden never worked alone, never talked a number of other NSA analysts and staff into giving him their username and password. Oh, no. He wasn’t just another disgruntled government employee that got emboldened by the leaks by Manning to WikiLeaks.
Another poll, another breathless doom and gloom prognostication. This time cyberwar is seen as top threat facing US: Cyberwarfare is the most serious threat facing the United States, according to almost half of US national security leaders who responded to the inaugural Defense News Leadership Poll, underwritten by United Technologies. If we skip over the details of the poll, some of it questionable due to the self-selection of the respondents (out of all the subscribers asked to respond to the survey only 9% did) and the slightly dubious truthfulness of the respondents to their actual ranks:
What we know about LiveJournal … - LiveJournal is extremely popular in Russia; - some of the opinions by Russian bloggers on LiveJournal aren’t to the liking of Putin’s “siloviki” (ex-KGB, now FSB people); - president Medvedev is an avid user of LiveJournal; and most importantly - whilst it seemed years ago that Medvedev is just a body keeping the presidential seat warm until Putin can return this doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. And that other news from Russia makes it clear that at least one side is positioning itself for information supremacy as part of overall supremacy.