Recent events in Russian-American relations are often compared with events during the Cold War. Indeed, relations between the two countries are facing the most serious crisis since the end of the Cold War. However, the system of international relations has transformed significantly during the last 20 years. If the worst happens and the world enters a new era of global confrontation, it will not look like soviet-union era confrontation. There is no doubt that, along with other factors, information will play a key role in the new form of Russian-American confrontation.

On the one hand, propaganda is becoming the ultimate tool of Russian-American conflict. Many actors are engaged in Russian-American information warfare in 2014, including governments, the military, and society. Social networks and other popular social media play a special role in disseminating information in cyberspace.

The Russian government has imposed a number of regulations aimed at countering foreign propaganda, including a number of national internet-related regulations that have given western leaders additional grounds to criticize Russia’s nondemocratic policies (as a pack of antiterrorist measures).

As the critical importance of the internet grows, national governments are adopting more regulations in this field. This process develops in accordance with legislative practice and legal traditions of each different country.

However, due to cyberspace’s international nature, the more national regulations are adopted, the more contradictions will appear in international internet governance.

In the age of information, such steps signify the creation of a "digital iron curtain," which leads the world closer toward a new Cold War between Russia and the West.

On the other hand, different technological instruments today define power in international relations. The American government considers technological policies a very important part of national security strategies. Of all the destabilizing factors of polycentric international relations, special attention should be paid to military offensive cyber capabilities. Unlike other military technologies, the development and use of cyber capabilities requires much less expenditure than, for example, nuclear weapons, or the means of delivery of any other weapon system.

Cyber weapons are usually developed out of open and commercial off the shelf (COTS) available technologies. A regular technological or engineering degree is enough to be able to create such technologies. Unified international standards of cyberspace make any actor vulnerable to cyber-attacks. So the technologies of cyber offense are theoretically available to all actors in the international system, superpowers and non-state actors.

International cooperation is critical to addressing this global threat, especially due to the fact that such weapons may be used by non-state actors.

Russia has been pursuing the idea of an international information security system; however, this initiative has come to unite Russia, China, and some other nations against Western cyber coalitions, such as NATO, or U.S.-EU agreements on cybersecurity.

Combined, the media contents and cyber capabilities form the "smart power potential," which is brilliantly described in Joseph Nye's recent book. The new international political environment creates many problems. Traditional problems, such as nuclear nonproliferation, arms control, and mutual assured destruction remain unsolved. New problems related to information have appeared. Deterrence strategies are not applicable toward information or cyber weapons.

Pavel Sharikov is head of the Center for Applied Research at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Science.

  • Pavel Sharikov