For a long time a sacred (and therefore honored in the breach) principle of international relations was that of non-interference in other countries internal affairs.
Indeed, when NATO intervened in the Balkans, many, including progressives, were deeply worried about the violation of this principle, and the precedent it might set for the future.
Of course, these days, we understand that as a practical matter there are multiple ongoing ways of engaging with and interfering with other countries political system, yet no real coherent intellectual structure for describing, let alone regulating it. What we do know that the last election has gotten us to the point where we realize the extent of the threat to democracy and democratic principles in the way this game in evolving. In the package of such techniques are stealing data, publicizing true or false data, undermining confidence in communications, creating confusion, and falsifying communications in such a way that the parties do not even know it.
That countries are interfering in each others’ processes more and more is just a reflection of how deeply and continuously their interests intersect, and of how much more that is case that ever before.
Rather than just panic, I would urge that we should see the globalization of politics implicit in this interventionist paradigm as an opportunity both to advance democracy, and the integration of our world.
The core imbalance is between transparent engagement and non-transparent interventions. Examples of transparent engagement are public information campaigns, people from other countries urging policy choices, explanations of the other countries points and view, needs, and alignment with the interests of the country sought to being influenced. Remember that to suppress information about such things means that the overall process of global vision integration is held back.
Such transparent engagements actually provide more information for those who make the decisions about how to vote and how to lead. Such transparent engagements only work if they are seen to be advocating for policies that are in the real interests of those with the actual voting and decision-making power. Otherwise, they have the opposite effect of moving people in the opposite effect (as may already at least be happening with Putin’s US adventures.)
In contrast, non-transparent interventions, as we will continue to see in the US, undermine stability in “target” countries, at least in the short term, tend to destabilize the international system, and are likely to result in escalations of interference that may spill over into other realms of force.
Now, therefore, somehow non-transparent interventions have to be banned and actually so strongly de-incentivized that they they do not occur. Interestingly, most countries probably have in place rules that prohibit all such interventions. So the prohibitions need to be generally narrowed to apply only to non-transparent interventions.
This would also require specifying the requirements and conditions of transparency. Such conditions would include full disclosure of financing, means, scope, intent, and engagement with groups in the country targeted. Moreover, systems of monitoring would be needed to ensure that non-transparent influencing attempts, and purportedly transparent ones that are in violation of the requirements, would be identified and publicized. Of course, the model for this exists (although far too weakly) in current rules governing in-country regulation of improper attempts at persuasion. Finally enforcement mechanisms would include shaming, sanctions, and ongoing additional monitoring — in other words reflecting the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for other violations of international norms, such as the development of nuclear capacity in violation of treaties.
Given that the most insecure countries are the most fearful of such non-transparent interference, they might be willing ultimately to accept an international regulatory structure. Countries like the US would have to abandon frequently use non-transparent techniques (except those justifiable in self-defense terms) in order to persuade the more insecure countries to accept such a structure.
Just not this year, I suspect. If it happens, however, it will be because a consensus develops in the US and beyond that the risks of the current escalation are too great. If so, we will be able to thank Putin and Trump, and this may be their greatest legacy.