IN the cold world of realpolitik both democracies and authoritarian states use propaganda and psychological warfare to discredit and dishearten opponents. As the US presidential election approaches, there are growing voices emerging from the American intelligence community that point to Russian, Chinese and Iranian ‘interference’ in the November polls. Recently, the FBI chief claimed that there was a “steady drumbeat of misinformation” emanating from Russia targeting Donald Trump’s Democratic challenger Joe Biden, as well as the legitimacy of the American political process. American intelligence agencies have also alleged that Moscow worked to support Mr Trump in the 2016 polls and discredit Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton.

Unsavoury as these claims are, the fact is that states all over the world employ such underhand methods to influence events and populations beyond their borders. For example, during the Cold War, the exchange of propaganda between the US and the Soviets was intense, as both sides worked overtime to demonise each other in the public view. However, this is not to say that these methods are legitimate; sovereignty should be an inviolable principle in the realm of international relations, and foreign interference in elections cannot be tolerated. Moscow should not be meddling in Washington’s internal matters and the American people should be the ones deciding the future of their country. Yet as the past few decades have shown, America has used the very same tactics that many within the US establishment are criticising their foreign rivals of deploying. Across the mostly developing world, the US has worked hard to help tinpot dictators keen to serve it, while bringing down democratic governments that refused to toe its line. This has been a steady pattern in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Whether it was the 1953 overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddeq’s elected government in Iran — an Anglo-American adventure — or the invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983 by the US to get rid of a leftist government, America has long meddled in the affairs of sovereign states, all the while throwing international law to the wind. More recently, there were claims that Mr Trump wanted to “take out” Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad, before the plan was vetoed by the then US defence chief. Indeed, all states must respect the bounds of international law and the principle of non-interference, especially those powerful states that have a history of flouting such conventions.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2020

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