by Thamindu Devinda
Published on Colombo Telegraph on 31st August 2023.
Political scientist Joseph Nye has explained power as “an ability to affect others to achieve the outcomes one wants” (Pandit,2018). Hence, any method used to control or influence others can be mentioned as examples of different power methods, whether it is soft or hard. As a result of the creation of the United Nations in 1945, and the disfavour for the use of hard power in the international system, states are no longer engaging in military battles to increase their power, except for a few incidents such as Russian – Ukraine war. Yet, is it possible to say that the states, especially the superpowers, are not having power fights with each other? They are clearly engaging in power fights with one another but not using coercive methods anymore. So, what is this change? Power dynamics in the contemporary world remain highly complex and multifaceted especially due to the advancement of technologies. This advancement of technologies including many other soft and smart power strategies have made it very rare to see countries engaging in use of coercive methods to increase and maintain their power. In this article it will be discussing about how the dimensions of power have changed and the power fight between India and China and the predicament of Sri Lanka in this aspect and how it affects the National Security of the island nation.
From Hard Power to Soft Power
The Thirty Years War in Europe, World Wars, and even the war fought between the Sri Lankan government and The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are some examples of the use of coercive power methods to achieve different goals. However, with the end of the Second World War, the dimensions of power began to change. The use of propaganda, misinformation and disinformation, and the use of cyber-attacks to attack the opponent were used even during the Cold War period changing the dimensions of power from hard to soft. As political scientist Joseph Nye has described, soft power is “a country’s ability to influence the preferences and behaviours of various actors in the international arena through attraction or persuasion rather than coercion” (Thomson, 2020). Business, Trade, Culture and Heritage, Education, Diplomacy and the use of Technology (Thomson, 2020) are the most common soft power methods that countries are using nowadays.
Information Warfare: Introduction
Technology is the latest soft power tool that nations around the world use to increase their power and influence over other nations. Many countries around the world, especially the superpowers are often using these Information Warfare strategies to manipulate others. The use of Information Warfare strategies includes the dissemination of false, misleading information, the use of propaganda and manipulating and influencing social norms, political affairs, and public opinion through social media and digital platforms to achieve certain goals (Ahuja and Diwan, 2023) whether it is political, social, economic or any other. Nazi Joseph Goebbels has used, “Repeat a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth” to describe propaganda (Stafford, 2016). This is what exactly happens in information warfare. One country spreads modified, false or exaggerated information about another country through various methods to manipulate the ideas of people and at some point, people tend to believe that the modified, false or exaggerated information is the truth. Anita D DeVries in her article (Information Warfare and Its Impact on National Security, 1997) has stated, “Theoretically, if you can functionally disrupt or destroy an opponent’s information, computer information systems, or infrastructure control systems using information warfare, you may sever the head off from the body of the snake by isolating the leadership from the rest of the nation or armed forces. You can possibly win a victory without physical destruction of national assets”. In other words, information warfare is a cost-effective method and it is easy to disrupt the opponent’s systems, potentially leading to victory without physical destruction. We can never know when Information Warfare between different parties begins, ends, and how strong, effective and destructive it is.
Information Warfare between China and India
In the contemporary context, apart from Business and Trade, both China and India are using their Cyber Power to fight each other and influence other countries around the world. A number of Cyber related attacks between India and China have been reported throughout the years. For example, China, during the Covid 19 pandemic, had been engaging in a disinformation campaign which aimed at undermining the efficacy of India - made Covid 19 vaccines as well as spreading false information about the origin of the virus (Ahuja and Diwan, 2023). India on the other hand, in act of espionage, using state-backed Indian hackers, coordinated a wave of phishing emails targeted at Wuhan organizations and hospitals during the Covid-19 outbreak. (Whitmore, 2021).
Technology of China and its impact on Sri Lanka
The ongoing Cyberwarfare rivalry between India and China has a significant impact on Sri Lanka. It may be direct or indirect. Both India and China have been engaged in the technological development of Sri Lanka and a key example is China’s contribution to the establishment of 5G Technology. In collaboration with Huawei Technologies, Dialog and Mobitel took their first steps towards the implementation of 5G networks, making Sri Lanka the first South Asian country to commercially test 5G (Munasinghe, 2023). In addition, China has a significant influence over the country due to investment projects and loans. Further worsening the situation, the ongoing tension between China and India could lead China’s further involvement in Sri Lanka into a situation where Sri Lanka might have to tackle with its immediate neighbour: India (Uluwaduge, 2022).
We never know what kind of capabilities China has as a technological giant in the world. China has been accused by a number of countries around the world for using its advance technologies to spy on them. For example, the United States has accused China for using its spy balloon to gather intelligence from sensitive US military sites (Kube and Lee, 2023). In the same way, China might even use its technologies to spy on Sri Lanka which can be a great threat to our National Security, if highly confidential and private data were exposed to unknown and unauthorized parties.
Technology of India and its impact on Sri Lanka
The use of technology as a soft-power method by India poses concerns to the National Security and Sovereignty of Sri Lanka. The war between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE group strained relations between Sri Lanka and India. Despite the victory of Sri Lanka in the war, there is a huge propaganda spreading around the world, created by pro-LTTE supporters including those who are in India, saying that Sri Lanka has committed ‘Tamil Genocide’ during the civil war (Eelamview, 2022). Apart from that, certain members with extremist ideologies in the Indian Tamil community as well as some people in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka still commemorate the death of Velupillai Prabhakaran and the Mullivaikal Massacre (Mohammed, 2023), which they falsely claim and believe to be conducted by the Sri Lanka government during the war. In the aspect of National Security, there is a possibility for these commemorations to escalate into violence, posing a significant threat to the national security of Sri Lanka.
As for the conclusion, the dimensions of power have been rapidly changing throughout the time and the methods of power that are being used by countries at present are not the same methods that the countries were using 20 – 30 years ago. The use of technology as a soft power method has increased, especially among global superpowers to achieve their desired outcomes and smaller nations such as Sri Lanka, with or without our knowledge, are being subjected to the power struggle of these nations. Information warfare which at present is highly being used by nation-states as a soft power strategy poses a significant threat to the national security of all the nations around the world especially due to the unpredictable and unidentifiable nature of information warfare and cyber-attacks. We can never know when Information Warfare between different parties begins, and ends, and how strong, effective and destructive it is.
Being at the middle of the two big powers, Sri Lanka seems to be experiencing a tough situation where it has to be very careful when maintaining these relationships. As it has been spoken, written and mentioned in many situations, here as well, it is recommended that Sri Lanka should follow a balanced relationship with China and India as well as with other major powers as it will not result in a good way if Sri Lanka tends to be biased towards a certain nation. Furthermore, as this article has discussed about technology as the latest soft power method, Sri Lanka can also give more priority to advance its technologies, such as the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the governmental sector, as well as for security purposes. It would greatly help in understanding and identifying potential threats to the country’s national security. Policymakers of the country in collaboration with other responsible parties can also provide proper training to those who are in the relevant fields, as well as implement proper policies to ensure the national security of Sri Lanka against modern threats.
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* Mr. Thamindu Devinda is an Intern (Research) at the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), the premier think tank on National Security established and functioning under the Ministry of Defence. The opinion expressed are his own and not necessarily reflective of the institute or the Ministry of Defence.