For Americans, the good news from the NATO summit in Washington, D.C. is that President Joe Biden managed to read a stirring speech from a TelePrompTer without too much stammering or gargling noises. While the threat of Donald Trump’s return to the White House looms darkly over the 75-year-old transatlantic alliance — Trump isn’t NATO’s biggest fan — for the moment, at least, the United States is NATO’s bedrock power. That’s all to the good.

But from here on in, the picture is going to get foggier. A lot of people are finding it hard to know who or what to believe. That’s because Moscow, Tehran and Beijing are fighting on fronts that institutions like NATO aren’t used to fighting on.

For Ukrainians, it wasn’t great news that NATO is still stalling the grant of membership, but it wasn’t all bad news. The United States will be leading a push to send Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s besieged and bomb-cratered republic several new air defence systems, including Patriot missile batteries.

F-16 fighter jets will finally be patrolling Ukrainian skies this summer, thanks to the Dutch and the Danes. Those aircraft will be the first of more than 80 F-16s that NATO states have pledged so far to help Ukraine repulse the full-scale invasion and war of conquest that Russia’s Vladimir Putin launched more than two years ago.

For Canadians, this has been an exceptionally embarrassing week. The “world stage” spotlights that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once relished like a new-on-the-scene teen idol have lately become for him like flames to a moth, and the NATO summit in Washington cast the Liberal government in a particularly unflattering light.

A key focus of the summit was the Trudeau government’s signature indifference to the 32-member alliance, and Ottawa’s inattention to Canada’s defence generally. That indifference may well illustrate a fogginess by which Trudeau’s Canada, since 2015, has become acutely enfeebled. Certainly no less enfeebled than Trump’s America, anyway.

Canada’s inattention to NATO’s expectation that its member states should be spending two per cent of their Gross Domestic Product on defence was drawn into sharper relief by a Parliamentary Budget Officer estimate this week suggesting that Ottawa has wildly inflated its projections that military spending will rise to 1.76 per cent of GDP by 2030. The PBO reckons that even if Ottawa accomplishes the rarely-achieved objective of following through with its defence funding commitments, total spending will amount to only 1.42 per cent of GDP six years from now.

But 2030 might as well be a lifetime away. By then, the United States may be roiling in disarray from a second tumultuous Trump presidency.

While direct cause and effect lines are difficult to discern in all the statistical noise, a constant hum of Russian propaganda and disinformation incubated in the Moscow-Tehran-Beijing axis had clearly contributed to an erosion of the resolve of the liberal democracies even before columns of Russian tanks first crossed Ukraine’s borders on Feb. 24, 2022.

After the tanks rolled in, that erosion soon became readily evident. In the U.S., only nine per cent of Republican voters told Pew Research pollsters that they thought the U.S. was providing “too much” aid to Ukraine. By this past spring, the proportion of Republican respondents answering that way had risen to 49 per cent. Over roughly the same time period, the Angus Reid polling firm found Conservative voters who said Canada was being too helpful to Ukraine rose from 19 per cent to 43 per cent.

The advent of Artificial Intelligence has accelerated what was already a digital cyberwar waged by foreign dictatorships, aimed at confusing and confounding open societies. And it’s getting harder for democracies to cope with it.

Just this week, the U.S. Justice Department unsealed court documents in an investigation of a Russian “bot farm” behind almost 1,000 social-media accounts impersonating Americans. The operation, carried out on Twitter (now known as ‘X’) was intended to circulate Kremlin propaganda and “fake news.” The Justice Department seized two websites associated with the accounts, and ordered Elon Musk’s massive platform to turn over information related to 968 fake accounts controlled by a division of Moscow’s RT News.

“Russia intended to use this bot farm to disseminate AI-generated foreign disinformation, scaling their work with the assistance of AI to undermine our partners in Ukraine and influence geopolitical narratives favourable to the Russian government,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement released by the Justice Department.

Beijing has expended enormous resources in capturing conventional, digital and social media platforms in order to advance propaganda lines crafted by the Chinese Communist Party. In Canada, the platform WeChat, which hundreds of thousands of Chinese-Canadians rely upon for news, is closely censored and manipulated by a vast bureaucracy of party-state controllers.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has assessed that WeChat was an important conduit for interference operations mainly in aid of Liberal candidates and targeting mostly the Conservative party during the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

Hybrid-war information operations run out of Moscow and Beijing are increasingly cross-pollinating with Khomeinist efforts to incite hostility to Israel, meanwhile, most noticeably in the agitations and “activism” purporting to support Palestinians in the current Gaza war.

This week, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines launched the first of what is expected to be a series of regular updates in advance of the U.S. presidential and congressional elections later this year. The first update focused on Iranian influence activities that have sought to “opportunistically take advantage of ongoing protests regarding the war in Gaza,” Haines said. It’s a “playbook” other malign foreign actors have been using in recent years, she said.

“We have observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests, and even providing financial support to protesters.”

In Canada, antisemitic violence, “anti-Zionist” histrionics and anti-Israel incitements based on Khomeinist propaganda have become commonplace in the left-wing activist milieu. However, despite the Conservative party’s rock-solid support for Ukrainians in their efforts to defend themselves against the Kremlin’s war of aggression, Russian disinformation tends to get noticeably more traction among self-identified “conservatives” than among Liberals or New Democrats.

DisinfoWatch and the Canadian Digital Media Research Network have found that most Canadians have been exposed to Russian-origin foreign information manipulation and interference, and many have believed the Russian “narratives” to be true, or plausible. Conservatives voters, who consistently poll as the most skeptical of conventional media, also showed themselves to be most susceptible to Kremlin “narratives.”

A strategic objective of the Kremlin’s cyber warfare is to exacerbate existing social divisions in order to undermine trust in governments, the news media and civil society. Beijing plays a similar game. So does Tehran.

This is what Ukraine is up against. It’s what Israel is up against. It’s what Canadians are up against, too, every time they sign on to the anarchy of memes and foreign bot projects that used to be called Twitter.

National Post