The war in Ukraine disrupted the illusory peace in Europe. Illusory, because Russia has always been a looming threat to the integrity of the continent, albeit in a less tangible way than a full-on war. Russia has been exercising its soft power and cyber capabilities on the European Union, and let’s not forget that it has invaded parts of Ukraine and Georgia a couple of years before the current situation.
Despite the warning signs not enough has been done to counter Putin, but now, liberals can regain the upper hand. After years of stupor when liberal democracies having won the cold war lost the reason to live there is a renewed chance to reestablish a healthy dose of confidence and will to fight. Here are five recommendation for liberals to win the current battle of ideas:
1. Inspirational, Not Inefficient
The American dream was alluring because the USA was the first and foremost liberal democracy that gave a chance in theory at least to all people to get rich, comfortable, and live a peaceful life. This opportunity became a hallmark of all liberal democracies unfortunately not in all cases for all people. Nations are welcoming to a various degree.
In order to be a place where people all over the world dream of living in, red tape and senseless regulations have to be cut back. Anyone wanting to live here should have an opportunity to do so and given hard enough work should be able to live comfortably.
Illiberal regimes are pointing fingers at the EU and the United States for their inefficient bureaucracies and overregulation that entrench poverty rather than provide opportunities. Let us not fit into this image. It however requires liberal democracies to step up against disinformation as well.
2. Information, Not Indoctrination
There is a never-ending debate whether objective journalism exists. It is truly difficult to maintain objectivity and some biases always slip into reports.
When, however, the aim is to disinform we are dealing with fake news, Something Putin’s propaganda machine is very adept in.
More effort and a more unified approach is needed to counter deliberate and malicious disinformation, while not curtailing the freedom of speech and opinion. This can be done through public education and through more action against foreign state actors in the information space, differentiating between opinions and mistakes, and deliberate acts of disinformation.
3. Peaceful, Not Defenseless
Taking action against information warfare as well as cyberwarfare is an important aspect of retaining the sovereignty of liberal democracies. They might not seem as harmful as armed conflicts, yet they can cause great damages.
Stepping up against less tangible threats is only one side of the coin. It is important to maintain a peaceful diplomatic approach bit a strong military is needed to project power. It is right that liberals are grabbing on the idea of peace but that doesn’t mean there should be no military to maintain it and deter attacks.
4. Independent, Not Insecure
The EU rightly yearns for energy independence from Russia. For too long has Putin used the threat of turning off the taps and the West has thus too often turned a blind eye to Russian aggression.
We should learn our lesson and diversify the energy sector. No more energy from dictators and illiberal regimes. There should be more research into alternatives which shouldn’t only mean green energy but making mining resources, such as shake gas greener. At least an effort should be made to do so.
5. Principled but Pragmatic
Liberals are often accused of being overly idealists who are stuck in their ivory tower. If not, politicians are sometimes corrupt and under their policy of realpolitik they often, inadvertently, or not serve the interest of Putin and other illiberal nations, if not by anything else but by not stepping up to the authoritarian strongmen. Liberals must find a fine line between being pragmatic yet principled.
Liberals have a historic chance to come out stronger from the current crisis. Let us hope they can seize the opportunity.