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Title: Digital Disruption and Revisionist Statecraft: How Revisionist Powers Shape their Adversaries’ Domestic Politics
Authors: Foster, Noel
Advisors: FriedbergBessinger, AaronMark LR
Contributors: Politics Department
Keywords: Fake News
Grand Strategy
Great Power Competition
Influence Operations
Information operations
Subjects: International relations
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: How do revisionist states influence domestic preferences in target states to shape thetargets’ foreign policy? My dissertation tests three novel theories through the lens of revisionist statecraft: the “hybrid” use of the non-military domains of information, influence, and cyber operations to shape domestic preferences in the target state and from that their foreign policy. At the level of the international system, I posit that certain authoritarian states contest not only their national interests, but their role in the international system and the norms of an international order they deem structurally disadvantage them. These revisionist states, lacking superiority in the determinants of superiority in great power competition, seek relative, rather, than absolute, power gains, in a policy of balancing by off-balancing opponents. Unable to influence elites, revisionist states circumvent them using new technologies to shape foreign audiences’ political attitudes and preferences directly, with the goal of polarization to block winning coalitions. The introductory chapter argues that technological innovation empowers revisioniststrategies aimed at disrupting their adversaries’ decision-making processes. Revisionist powers seek to maximize the disruption of the adversary’s decision-making processes and minimize the likelihood of retribution through attribution manipulation. Finally, within the subset of information and influence operations, the objective of information and influence operations is polarization of the domestic audience, not persuasion. Rather than persuading skeptical audiences, the goal instead is to turn receivers against one another and the state, and to sow epistemological nihilism that weakens belief in any shared truth. The dissertation tests these theories through three empirical chapters. Chapter 2, “UnboundedWar,”critically examines Russian strategic thought, its lessons and its influence. Chapter 3, “Propaganda Gone Viral,” relies on Russia and China’s reaction to the COVID- 19 pandemic to test how these revisionist states react to crises and turn them to their advantage in the informational sphere, polarizing audiences and sowing epistemological nihilism. Chapter 4, “Polarization for Paralysis,” shows the mechanisms behind Russian online information operations in Estonia, providing evidence for the theory of polarization, rather than persuasion, as well as intentionality in the Kremlin’s use of strategic narratives.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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