From bags of cash secretly delivered to Italian candidates to paid digital propaganda, election interventions are primary foreign policies adopted by large nations. Countries like the US, Russia and China use these tactics to covertly influence governments in other countries. With the cold war between US and then USSR intensifying, foreign policies involved strong friction between allies of the Soviet Union and the US. Here are 5 major reasons why countries meddle in foreign elections.
President Eisenhower introduced the concept of Domino Theory to the world in a 1954 speech. The idea was that if one key nation in Asia fell into communism, other countries would soon follow like toppling dominoes. It was a popular theory from the 1950s to 1980s and laid the foundation for American intervention in many Asian governments and wars.
For example, in the 1950s, when North Vietnam tried to unify the country with Viet Cong under a communist rule, US intervention to prevent that led to the 20-year long Vietnam War.
Similarly, the US meddled in Italian politics in 1948, to bring an end to the communist rule back then. Unlike Vietnam, American involvement in Italy was covert, secretly sending financial aid to the Democratic Party candidate.
During the Arab Spring, the US government, guided by fears of the Domino Theory, aided and meddled in Libyan politics to overthrow dictatorship. However, after the death of Muammar Gaddafi, the newly democratic country entered into another civil war in 2014. Failure of the US to help develop war-torn Libya, lead to Russian intervention; thus assigning more power to Khalifa Haftar, the current Libyan National Army head and making him a pseudo dictator. Despite this, Beida government’s Foreign Minister, Mohamed Dayri has stated that Libya’s political and economic crisis has been prolonged primarily due to external intervention in the country’s affairs. But Russia is still looking for an ally in Libya to gain more control in the Middle-East.
In Syria, Russia’s military intervention was meant to tackle the ISIS and settle the ongoing civil war. However, the real reason for Russian meddling is to support the President, Bashar Al Assad, his close ally against the US.
Some wars and political interventions are guided by policies of territorial control. Russia, for example, has had special interests in Ukraine in the past decade. The country has been in a bad state since the Soviet Union fell, and while some parts of Ukraine have been longing to join the EU, most of the country’s population is pro-Russian. Russia too is looking for both territorial and political control in Ukraine, which is why it has been meddling in Ukraine’s politics and referendums in 2004 and 2014. And for Russia, meddling in foreign elections isn’t a one-time thing. But we’ll talk about the major US election meddling a little later.
Trade And Oil Alliance
Most American citizens are familiar with the ruckus in Arab nations due to oil. US’s interest in oil in Middle-Eastern countries is a widely known and debated issue. In fact, just like the Domino Theory, several wars were started in the Middle East for the resource. For example, in 1979, the Shah of Iran, a formerly pro-western ruler, was sent into exile following a campaign led by U.S. and British foreign policy makers. At the height of Iran’s prosperity, the Shah was bolstered by slander in the western press. The then US president, Jimmy Carter and his government overtly supported Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution to replace the Shah. As a result, the country was pushed into an inevitable war with Iraq, with ended with major sanctions on their oil trade.
In 2017, Australia – US’s close ally – published reports of China’s attempts to influence Chinese students in Australia. Reports also suggested that pro-China businessmen were making donations to Australian senators for political campaigns. Australia being China’s biggest trade partner is significant to the latter’s meddling in Australian politics. Moreover, today, there are more than 9 lakh Australians born in China, which is four times the number of Chinese in the US. This cultural and trade connection between the two countries sparked China’s interests in Australian politics and went on to sneak on other foreign elections too
Political experts have suggested that the second cold war is already here and that the Russian government is covertly trying to reform the Soviet Union. While this may be a far-fetched claim, Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 US elections was intended to tarnish American institutions and question democratic political systems.
In some cases, governments’ personal prejudices influence their decisions to support or oppose other governments. For example, in 2012, the Obama government had publicly announced its support to because the former did not appreciate Benjaman Netanyahu’s policies regarding Palestine.
In 1996, Chinese businessmen planned to intervene in the US presidential elections buy sending funds to Bill Clinton’s election campaign. General Ji Shengde, the then head of Chinese Military Intelligent had said, “We really like your president. We hope he will be reelected. I will give you $300,000 U.S. dollars. You can give it to your president and the Democratic party.” The Wall Street Journal had spoken about the 2016 funding controversy that back then China was to Clinton what Russia is to Trump.
Like these, there have been several other instances where countries’ policies involved interference in foreign politics for financial or strategic reasons. Such involvement usually leads to drastic impacts like civil war, political unrest and trade sanctions on the home countries.
Foreign elections form a great part of world politics. And so no country in the race to becoming a superpower can keep itself away from meddling in foreign elections.