So Barack Obama expels 35 Russian diplomats because Moscow apparently hacked the American election campaign. Big deal. The gesture is, as Moscow replies, “the death throes of political corpses”. In another bout of this archaic ritual, Russia threatened to close Moscow’s Anglo-American school and expel a batch of Americans from Moscow – though Vladimir Putin eventually said he would not stoop to such ‘irresponsible diplomacy’. The next thing we know, Britain will ban Russians from Harrods. It is like reacting to Pearl Harbor by not eating sushi.
The essence of cyberwarfare is precisely that it needs no diplomats. They are little more than bureaucratic flotsam. Just as defence policy is passing to bombardiers sitting thousands of miles from the action, so foreign policy is moving from cocktail parties and embassies to hackers sitting in their own attics.
Washington’s FBI and Homeland Security report into Russian government-sponsored interference in the recent US election is unanswerable. Russian hacking has been widespread and multifarious, as during the Olympic doping scandal. Why Moscow felt it worth the risk of meddling in a presidential election is puzzling. Did Putin really think he could fix the outcome? The reason was probably hackers’ hubris: “We did it because we could.” Rather than tell barefaced lies, Moscow should perhaps boast – and warn the world – of its new-found proficiency.
American policy towards Russia since 2000 has been a catastrophe. It misjudged Moscow’s visceral response to cold war defeat. It failed to learn from its disastrous adventure in Afghanistan. It recklessly pushed Nato and the EU into eastern Europe, where Russian sensitivities have always been strong. Finally America allowed itself to be humiliated by Russia in Syria.
Back in 2009, Obama promised to “reset” relations with Moscow. In this too he failed. The US has taunted, provoked and sanctioned Russia to absolutely no advantage. It has merely forestalled the role that trade and contact should play in opening up Russian society to outside influence. It has diminished opposition to Putin and driven Russia back to autocracy. America (with western Europe) has encouraged Moscow’s worst inclinations, and made Europe more dangerous as a result.
That said, Putin has made his friend, and comrade in mendacity, Donald Trump, look a fool just when he might use his favour. A president-elect can hardly trust Moscow’s word before the entire Washington security apparatus. Trump would be wise to move on, perhaps proposing a new international treaty regime to police inter-state hacking and curb the threat of cyberwar.
Except, what is the point? As Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks have showed, an electronic secret is a contradiction in terms, whether personal or governmental. There can be no such thing. Perhaps we shall need those diplomats after all.
Source : The Gaurdian