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Research Program

Political Warfare in the Digital Age

Thomas Paterson and Lauren Hanley – two leading scholars in the Strategic Defence Studies Centre at The Australian National University – have a new, must read journal article on political warfare in the Australian Journal of International Affairs. Here’s the abstract:

The digital age has permanently changed the way states conduct political warfare—necessitating a rebalancing of security priorities in democracies. The utilisation of cyberspace by state and non-state actors to subvert democratic elections, encourage the proliferation of violence and challenge the sovereignty and values of democratic states is having a highly destabilising effect. Successful political warfare campaigns also cause voters to question the results of democratic elections and whether special interests or foreign powers have been the decisive factor in a given outcome. This is highly damaging for the political legitimacy of democracies, which depend upon voters being able to trust in electoral processes and outcomes free from malign influence—perceived or otherwise. The values of individual freedom and political expression practised within democratic states challenges their ability to respond to political warfare. The continued failure of governments to understand this has undermined their ability to combat this emerging threat. The challenges that this new digitally enabled political warfare poses to democracies is set to rise with developments in machine learning and the emergence of digital tools such as ‘deep fakes’.

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Research Program

Developing Australia’s Political Warfare Capabilities

Australian MP Andrew Hastie – Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security – has called in a new paper published by the Henry Jackson Society and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung think tanks for Australia to develop political warfare capabilities. Hastie contends that this is necessary for Australia to counter great and rising power competition (which is also a focus of ‘fourth generation’ scholarship on strategic culture) and its potential threats to Australian liberal democracy. In particular, Hastie focuses on the impact that sophisticated disinformation, misinformation, and hybrid warfare strategies can have. Hastie’s stance illustrates a military-informed, realist approach for Australia – and one that will lead to further academic, policymaker, and public debate.