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2018 Haaga Lecture: Russian New Generation Warfare and the Threat to the Free World

November 02, 2018

By Caroline Harris

On November 1, Penn Law welcomed former National Security Advisor and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, United States Army. McMaster delivered this year’s Paul G. Haaga, Jr. Lecture in Law, Government, and Public Policy on the threat Russian new generation warfare poses to the free world.

McMaster served as National Security Advisor from 2017 to 2018, and served as a commissioned officer in the United States Army for 34 years before retiring as lieutenant general in June 2018. His wartime experiences included holding command positions in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he also led assessments of military strategy and stabilization efforts.

Currently, McMaster is the Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Bernard and Susan Liautaud Visiting Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University. He is also lecturer at the Stanford School of Business and Perry World House Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Penn.

McMaster quoted a recent RAND study that characterized Russia’s new generation warfare as a “firehose of falsehood that spreads rapid, constant and repetitive misinformation.” According to McMaster, the United States and other democratic societies are the sustained targets of misinformation. The motive behind this “warfare” is to “disrupt, divide and weaken” American democracy.

“The world’s democracies are in the crosshairs of determined, capable adversaries,” McMaster said.

McMaster identified Russia and China as two specific adversaries in what he perceives to be sustained campaigns of misinformation. He concentrated his lecture on how the United States can triumph over attempts to destabilize democracy.

He proposed deepening the country’s ties to like-minded democracies to “isolate Russia from the sources of strength it uses to undermine free and open societies,” and suggested strategic partnerships to help the United States resist military aggression and propaganda.

He proceeded by highlighting the “toxicity” of the Russian brand and advancing the argument that “Putin acts against the U.S. even when it’s not in the best interest of the Russian people.” McMaster recommended imposing costs on Russia to emphasize the benefits that can emerge from acting in accordance with United States interests.

McMaster advocated for galvanizing the features of democratic societies, such as freedom of the press and open communication. By bolstering these aspects of democracy, he said he believes “democratic ideals will prevail.”

McMaster argued that the United States should invest in cyberinfrastructure to protect data against espionage, sabotage and threat. He associated political polarization with identity politics and the phenomenon of people becoming more connected electronically, but less connected socially. He shared his conviction that “[w]e need to regain confidence in our common identity as Americans.”

“Strategic confidence is the fountainhead of protecting American democracy from Russian new generation warfare,” he said.

Following McMaster’s lecture, Penn Law’s Algernon Biddle Professor of Law and Penn Professor of Philosophy Claire Finkelstein moderated a question and answer session. At issue were propaganda efforts — for example, websites encouraging the United States to return Alaska to Russia and urging California to secede. McMaster discussed the role of social media in disseminating Russian influence and creating fractures in American democracy.

Professor Finkelstein closed the session by asking McMaster a final question: “Will American democracy survive and recover from these foreign threats?”

“Absolutely,” McMaster said. “We all have a responsibility for bringing our society together and engaging in an informed discussion about the future of American democracy.”