Dr. Farkhod Tolipov, PhD Political Science, University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Uzbekistan, Director, Non-governmental education institution “Knowledge Caravan”.
The terminology of non-traditional threats and human security are strongly embedded in political and academic lexicon. The concept of ‘information security’ was introduced to define the type of threats emerging from the flow of information produced to affect the security of target-countries. Information security encompasses such issues as ‘information resources’, ‘information environment’, ‘information processes’, ‘information attacks’, ‘information influence’, ‘information weapon’, and others used to work out the state policy in this sphere. At the same time, these notions constitute a subtle matter since they can often be misused when operated by authoritarian regimes for whom national security is related to the regime security.
The main idea behind the concept and policy of information security is that information is securitized and secured. The former means that the spread of information in general and delivering specific messages towards a target audience from the alien sources in particular, could have a negative impact on national security. The latter means that the proper information must be secured and delivered to the same audience in order to prevent or reduce the destructive influence of the alien source. From this perspective, the question arises as to what type of information should be securitized and what secured.
The contemporary security studies and strategic analysis make a firm assumption that modern warfare or any confrontation between rivals is associated with the increasing digitization of forces[i]. Such rivalry, more often than not, begins on the information battleground and takes the form of informational struggle without the use of any physical force. That means that information exchanges act like info-attack and info-response. This is what we see today in many conflict areas of the world, such as the war in Ukraine or geopolitical interplay in Central Asia. It is often a ‘hide-seek-find-process-keep-deliver’ information performance.
Securitization of information in Uzbekistan
In Uzbekistan, the authoritarian regime restrains democratic reforms and is sick with the “Soviet syndrome”[ii] manifested in almost every sphere of the social, economic, cultural and political life, with each sphere containing basic elements of the Soviet tradition. Democracy in this context sounds like Soviet-made slogan of communism, that is, a ‘bright future’, but not the meaning of existing social relations and the type of governance. Surprisingly, Soviet syndrome reveals itself not only in domestic affairs but also in the foreign policy. Information security policy in such conditions is shaped out of assumption of imminent external threat and preoccupation with the maintaining of socio-political stability in the country.
However, the nature of Uzbek authoritarianism is only one side of the coin; another side is the character of the modern global “revolution in information affairs” which yields real or mythical threats on the local level to any individual state. When the individual state is exposed to massive flow of numerous types, sizes and qualities of information, one can distinguish such cases as full and right information, partially right but incomplete, and false information. For example, when one argues that the Uzbek regime controls the religion, it is right information. However, when one notes that some Muslims experience harassment because they practice the religion, it is partially correct but requires exploration that is more accurate because otherwise it can lead to misperception of the problem. Finally, when one states that there is no freedom of confession in Uzbekistan at all, it is a fake information.
The concepts of ‘information threats’ and ‘ideological threats’ are used interchangeably by the authorities of Uzbekistan understanding thereby the ‘ideological threats’ as an activity undertaken through the spread of information and ideas. President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov talking about this emphasized that the “Ideological polygons are even more dangerous than nuclear polygons”.[iii] From everyday TV programs and other media one can see how Uzbek propaganda manipulates such “fashionable” phrases as ‘the era of ideological struggle’; ‘world in turbulence’; ‘wars and conflicts around us’; ‘alien ideas’; ‘alien pop-culture’, ‘moral crisis in the world’, ‘murky and totalitarian past’, ‘greatest reforms and achievements under the President’s leadership’ and so on. From President to TV shows the slogan “We will not allow those who are jealous of our independence to poison the consciousness and pervert the worldview of our youth” became mantra of the information and ideological work. Mass media almost every day point out to psychological and moral harm that Internet, mobile phones and computer games cause in the society. The over-ideololization of public opinion through blocking the “undesirable” Internet sites and infiltration of “desirable” ideas and dogmas– are reminiscent of the Soviet practice of “iron curtain” for fencing and protecting the nation from the external foe[iv].
Information and message in the security policy
Meanwhile, information that is to be securitized and secured is a double-edged sword. Domestic agents of information and ideological policy can wrongly interpret any true information and right messages received from external source. Finally, the true information can become the wrong message. The following example illustrates this thesis.
The Charlie Hebdo caricatures and Muslims’ reaction to them inside and outside of Europe, as well as the recent adoption of laws in France and Ireland regarding gay rights, have not only fostered immoral image of Europe in the eyes of Central Asians but also negatively impacted its foreign and security policy. Indeed, many in Uzbekistan think that Europe does not provide the best example of compliance with the norms and values that it promotes in other parts of the world. It is argued that freedom of speech, for example, should not mean freedom of any speech, especially if it insults a huge community of believers. One of the popular messages that the authoritarian Uzbek propaganda eagerly sends out to the public concerns the “back side” of freedom and democracy in the West. Citing what is perceived as a moral crisis of the West, the regime points to “Europe’s sunset” (to use Oswald Spengler’s phrase) as an excuse of its non-European path and non-European value system. The axiomatic proposition that “freedom has its limits”, which supposedly has a relativist meaning in Europe, is ascribed an absolute connotation in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek regime propaganda might therefore say that before teaching us democracy and human rights, Europeans must display them in their own region. The analysis of this case reveals how the (mis-)impression and (mis-)interpretation of certain fact or event (caricatures) shapes broader mindset by extension (on freedom of speech and democracy). Moreover, as we see, specifically orchestrated discussion of this topic turns into a part of the ideological work.
Finally, such issue as the gap between the requirements of information era and modality of state activity need to be considered. The “revolution in information affairs” may have yielded an impression that the state operation and policy-making became open to public and that the civil society is involved in one way or another into that operation. However, political practice of all Central Asian states displays that with all plural social environment and plural identities and values that the new information era brings about, the inherent features of state’s life and state official’s behavior, especially in strategic realm, often just reinforce the seemingly old-fashioned realist platform of political analysis.
More often than not, the mechanism of decision-making in foreign or domestic affairs, including security matters, remains almost the same as it was during the “pre-global” era (that is before the revolution in information affairs) and the cold war period. It is state-centric in terms of institution, non-transparent in terms of procedure, slow in terms of efficiency, elitist in terms of occupation, and biased in terms of qualification. Ironically, the conservative state utilizes all innovations of the information era for the same state purposes of the old era. The contrast between new requirements of the information era and conservatism of the state operation is reflected in what can be called ‘twitterization’ of politics and clip-type public consciousness, when the policy is made and the public comprehends that policy not so much on the basis of knowledge of facts and truth but rather out of assessments and impressions.[v] As a result, the notion of ‘official information’ is being eroding and substituted by irresponsible statements. Never before, as argues one analyst, did the state propaganda of a certain country admit in peacetime such amount of information fakes.[vi]
Often, the state agents intentionally or unintentionally produce fake messages and reproduced them from external sources of information; thereby, damaging the state of information security. For instance, the stereotypical perception of the tragic Andijan events of May 2005, widely spread and supported by the Uzbek authorities is that terrorists’ uprising in Andijan was a part of the “color revolution” attempt instigated by the US or US-based organizations. As the result, the Uzbekistan-US relation deteriorated significantly. Afterwards, such a perception proved to be founded on false information and the interstate relations began to improve.
Is the information environment of Uzbekistan free from information threats, influences and attacks? Clearly, it is not. Does the government undertake measures to strengthen information security? Clearly, it does. Is the state policy in this sphere efficient? Paradoxically, yes and no. It is more efficient in tactical and less efficient in strategic terms. On the tactical level, we see a reactive policy addressing immediate information challenges. However, as was said above, information streams can be dealt with differently depending on qualification of security professionals, state agencies’ narrow interests, ideological climate in the country, nature of political system and others. On this level, in Uzbekistan, too much information is securitized and too ideological information secured.
On the strategic level, it seems, the state’s information policy lacks forward looking proactive elements. Strategic actions require not simply measures against the perceived enemy (real or mythic) but also a motion towards conditions that make the nation more prosperous and stronger. On this level, less information should be securitized (because not all information is security-related) and less ideologized information should be secured (because too much ideology can create prejudice towards strategic perspectives).
[i] Lonsdale, D. Clausewitz and Information Warfare, in Hew Strachan & Andreas Herberg-Rothe, eds., “Clausewitz in the Twenty-First Century” (Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 236.
[ii] Tolipov, F. Pre-Soviet, Soviet and Post-Soviet Central Asia: the Case of Uzbekistan, in Anita Sengupta and Suchandana Chatterjee, eds., “Communities, Institutions and ‘Transition’ in Post-1991 Eurasia” (Kolkata: MAKAIAS, 2011), pp.97-107.
[iii]Каримов И.А. Жамиятимиз мафкураси халқни халқ, миллатни – миллат қилишга хизмат этсин. – Т., 1998.
[iv]Толипов Ф. Электронный «железный занавес» и виртуальная демократия // Центральная Азия и Кавказ, №3, 2012.
[v]Евстафьев Д. О мифах и реальностях влияния информационного общества на международную безопасность. / Индекс безопасности. – №4, 2014. – С.71-76.