Technology-enabled influence operations, including disinformation, will likely figure prominently in adversary efforts to impede U.S. crisis response and alliance management in high-risk, high-impact scenarios under a nuclear shadow. Both Russia and China recognize their conventional military disadvantage vis-à-vis conflict with the United States. As a result, both nations use sub-conventional tactics and operations to support their preferred strategies for achieving favorable outcomes while attempting to limit escalation risks. Such strategies include an array of activities loosely identified as influence operations, focused on using and manipulating information in covert, deniable, or obscure ways to shape the strategic environment.
This report presents eight scenarios—four focused on Russia and four focused on China—that invite potential escalation risks and demonstrate how the tools and tactics of influence operations could be employed to challenge detection, response, and crisis management. It explores a range of potential escalatory pathways and destabilizing consequences if adversary influence operations engage strategic interests and targets in high-risk scenarios and identifies key takeaways and recommendations for policymakers to better identify and defend against adversary influence operations.
Rebecca Hersman is director of the Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) and senioradviser with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Eric Brewer is deputy director and senior fellow with the Project on Nuclear Issues at CSIS.
Lindsey Sheppard is a former fellow with the International Security Program at CSIS.
Maxwell Simon is a former program coordinator and research assistant with the Project on Nuclear Issues in the International Security Program at CSIS.
Executive Summary V
1 | Project Objective and Scope 2
2 | Influence Tactics, Techniques, and Trends 5
3 | The Information Ecosystem and Digital Influence Technologies 11
4 | Exploring the Connection between Influence Operations and Escalation Risk 19
5 | Key Findings and Recommendations 28
Appendix A: Russia-Focused Scenarios 32
Appendix B: China-Focused Scenarios 42
About the Authors 51