Shelley Whiting, Director-General of Global Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Canada
Evidence suggests that foreign actors have undertaken efforts over the past decade to shape public opinion and perceptions around the world with the intent to sow dissent towards democracy as a successful form of governance, to promote political narratives which favour their own autocratic systems, and to challenge democratic and international norms. In this context, foreign interference seeks to establish ‘platforms of influence’ within all open societies around the globe, mainly targeted at three key spheres: the media, political systems, and the economic and financial sphere. In recent years, we have also heard reports of major western democratic elections and voting processes that have been targets of foreign interference.
We have seen areas that are susceptible to foreign interference include political party funding, political advertising campaigns, and persons in positions of leadership (political, media, and private sector) through bribery, blackmail, and corruption. Interference has also included processes meant to manipulate various social and demographic groups, including diaspora, by using polarising issues, infiltration, coercion and other means. Over the last few years, we have noted the impact of foreign interference has grown, along with its scale, speed, and range, particularly as a result of the powerful combination of the internet, social media platforms, machine learning, and the availability of cheaper and more accessible cyber tools. Tactics have included using the media and online spaces to exploit existing divisive political fractures, target individuals, and manipulate social and demographic groups. The concern is that the intent is to erode citizen confidence in the democratic process, exacerbate divisive political fractures, and sow distrust between governments and civil society.
As the global community becomes more informed of the threat, what can we do as governments and the international community? In Charlevoix, G7 leaders announced the creation of the Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM). This mechanism aims to strengthen G7 coordination to identify and respond to diverse and evolving threats to G7 democracies, including through sharing information and analysis, and identifying opportunities for coordinated response, in a manner that is consistent with universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. We all need to continue to increase our understanding of the threat environment, share information and lessons learned and tactics used, and augment our capacity to anticipate and respond in a coordinated manner that is inclusive of government, society, private sector, and various actors working to protect democracy and the international rules-based system.