The Straits Times says

Deterring interference in elections

American President Donald Trump had essentially two options to deal with the alleged Russian interference in the election that brought him to power last year. He could have chosen to ignore the conclusions drawn by his own intelligence agencies that Moscow had meddled in the election, as well as the outrage of Americans expressed in a Senate vote to impose new sanctions on Russia. A possible justification - though a weak one - for such action would have been his desire to reset bilateral relations with Russia after they had fallen to new lows under the Barack Obama administration. Going down this road, however, would have opened Mr Trump to charges that he was seeking to gloss over accusations of possible collusion between his election campaign and Russia. A congressional rejection of the presidential veto would have exposed further rifts in the American polity and the blame for that would fall on him.

By adopting the other option of signing the sanctions into law, Mr Trump sent a clear message that America is a vigilant democracy that will not tolerate foreign incursions into its domestic processes, let alone into something as critical as the presidential election. Also, since the sanctions further punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea in 2014, they make the point that Moscow cannot act with impunity on a world stage that is occupied by the countervailing presence of Washington and its partners, which are set against territorial expansion achieved through the use of force.

Russia has denied charges of cyber interference and engaged in diplomatic tit-for-tat by announcing the expulsion of American diplomats and other measures. This behaviour was fully expected. Unfortunately, the European Union has found itself caught between its geographical proximity to Russia and its ideological affinity with the United States. The former appeared to take precedence when it threatened to retaliate against new US sanctions because they would harm the bloc's energy security by targeting projects, which include a planned new pipeline to bring Russian natural gas to northern Europe.

Yet, the US must persevere in drawing the boundaries of blatant interference in the territories and affairs of other nations. Fears that a new Cold War would erupt thereby should not undermine the only real deterrence which liberal democratic societies possess against incremental encroachment by autocratic powers: the ability to say that resistance will follow. Appeasement did not work in stopping Nazi Germany in 1938. Post-Soviet Russia today is not that Germany, but the interests of America and its liberal internationalist partners remain the same. These include ensuring that democratic processes, which already face threats such as harmful social media campaigns, are not undermined by the Kremlin.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'Deterring interference in elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe