4. Existing Forums for Cooperation
Leadership engagement: The Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity (TCEI), a non-governmental panel established in 2018 to contribute to the efforts against election interference, is a promising initiative attempting to mobilize policymakers and bridge political divides to protect democracy. Joe Biden is a co-chair of the group, which also includes former NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen and former US homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff. The group has called for US and European political candidates and parties to sign a pledge not to ‘aid and abet’ foreign election interference. Calls for politicians to pledge not to use disinformation for domestic campaigns have also surfaced from US independent parties and politicians concerned that influence operations might become the ‘new normal’. The growing number of states affected by disinformation and the professionalization of political manipulation indicate their concerns are justified.
Training ground: Another crucial forum for tackling disinformation is the Hybrid CoE in Helsinki, which operates as a hub of experts in the field and facilitates a dialogue between NATO allies and EU member states. Its work is practical, focusing on capacity-building through research, open source intelligence and countering election interference training sessions, and educational projects. In 2019, the Hybrid CoE is also hosting a workshop on legal resilience to disinformation.
Training, analysis and multi-stakeholder dialogue have also been at the core of the operations of the NATO-accredited StratCom Centre of Excellence in Riga, putting Latvia at the forefront of disinformation research and engagement.
Emergency mechanism: The EU Commission’s Action Plan highlighted the need for the EU to work closely with NATO and the G7. During the Charlevoix Summit in June 2018 the G7 committed to establishing a Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), tasked with defending democracies from foreign threats, by coordinating efforts in identifying, analysing, understanding and responding to those threats, with disinformation being one of the key issues identified. Canada will be coordinating RRM on an ongoing basis to ensure continuity, its Coordination Unit will work closely alongside G7 presidencies, and following assessment procedures, decisions to implement specific actions will be at the discretion of national decision-making bodies. RRM’s collaboration with the RAS will be coordinated through the EU Focal Point (EU’s designated official).
Drawing on experience: NATO approaches disinformation through the lens of hybrid threats and has intensified its efforts to address them, especially after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the disinformation strategy it employed in Ukraine. Following its ‘Enhanced Forward Presence’ posture in Baltic States and Poland and in order to protect those deployments from disinformation NATO set up a system of social and legacy media monitoring. According to Piers Cazalet, deputy spokesperson at NATO, the organization’s strategy of monitoring, verifying and responding directly from senior level to disinformation has been effective. For instance, claims by the Russian embassy in the UK, in November 2018, of NATO aggression at Russian borders were addressed head on by NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu, and the number of the debunks far exceeded the disinformation the embassy was pushing online. At the same time, strategic silence is being deployed when a story does not get traction. Cazalet noted the organization tries to avoid the pitfall of wasting resources and instead tries to maintain them for proactive strategic communications: ‘There is a point to be made about the use of disinformation to try to distract and divert resource from your opponent.’ NATO has also committed to working with the EU on hybrid threats.