TSG IntelBrief: The Greatest Threat to Western Stability
March 14, 2017
Bottom Line Up Front:
• Amid fears of Russian interference and right-wing exploitation, the Netherlands will hold a general election on March 15, with other European elections to follow in 2017.
• Numerous intelligence agencies continue to warn that Russia and its proxies are determined to undermine confidence in the EU as a social and political construct in hopes of peeling off member states.
• Both within Europe and in the U.S., right-wing anti-globalist groups are also seeking to dismantle the EU, encouraging distrust of government and social policies.
• The centrifugal pressures—ranging from real demographic concerns to fake news and cyber network hacking—threatening to pull apart the EU are significant and difficult to counter.
As Western countries continue to grapple with a rising wave of populist sentiment, it is more than institutions such as the UN, EU, and NATO that are under immense pressure. Indeed, the very concepts and beliefs that form the foundation of these post-World War II constructs are under attack. A mix of state-sponsored active measures and disinformation campaigns in Western countries—which Russia is widely believed to be behind—and far-right political groups have merged in a common rejection of the belief that fervent nationalism is less appropriate in a world that has long been trending towards globalization. Labels such as ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ are increasingly irrelevant in terms of the efforts to dismantle the current international order—an order that, despite significant flaws, has provided enormous benefits and stability to the West.
The March 15 general election in the Netherlands has become a focal point in this gathering of opponents to the EU and its policies, particularly as it relates to immigration and the refugee crisis. It is important not to underestimate how volatile the issues of immigration and refugees are, and the deliberate intertwining of these issues with fears of terrorism. Dutch authorities have been very clear in their concerns about Russian efforts to influence the election; they also believe Russia previously meddled in an April 2016 EU-related referendum that failed. The level of concern in the Netherlands over the possibility that Russian-backed cyber units would ‘hack’ the election results is significant enough that the country is reverting to an all paper election to avoid any appearance of interference. In February, the Dutch Interior Minister wrote to Parliament that, “The cabinet cannot exclude the possibility that state actors might gain advantage from influencing political decision-making and public opinion in the Netherlands and might use means to try and achieve such influence.” Fears of Russian interference in national elections in France and Germany have also been openly discussed by each countries’ respective security agencies and governments.
The far-right campaign of Geert Wilders, whose Party for Freedom (PVV) has run on an anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim platform, has received notable financial support from similarly-minded individuals and groups in the U.S. As noted in The New York Times, in 2015 the ‘David Horowitz Freedom Center’—a right-wing foundation with a mission statement to work against “the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values”—was the single largest individual donor to all of Dutch politics. The group gave over €108,000 to PVV. Between 2015 and 2017, only three foreign donors gave money to Dutch political parties; two of those were American, and both essentially funded the PVV.
The combination of Russia, which is determined to undermine the EU and NATO through its massive disinformation and cyber campaigns, and right-wing nationalist groups that are exploiting concerns over immigration, demographics, religion, and terrorism, has the EU on the ropes. Once a pattern of mistrust in all aspects of government intentions and policies takes root—whatever the instigator or cause—it becomes exceedingly difficult to use facts to counter the arguments. The upcoming 2017 European elections will be a test to see how countries can counter these converging trends.
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