Sean Garrett is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Bath in the Department of Politics, Languages, and International Studies. His PhD project asks how Russian disinformation has come to be an important part of the British state’s threat perception of Russia. To achieve this, he applies insights from Foreign Policy Analysis, particularly role theory, and an interpretive narrative methodology. Sean seeks to describe the British experience of Russian disinformation, explore disinformation at the level of foreign policy, and to develop role theoretical approaches to understanding state behaviours in new, novel, or evolving contexts.
The British Foreign Policy Narrative of Russian Disinformation
This paper maps the evolution of the British state’s beliefs about Russian disinformation and shows how these beliefs shape British foreign policy (FP) behaviour towards Russia. The British state’s FP narrative of Russian disinformation articulates a segment of the United Kingdom’s evolving threat perception of Russia. This threat perception has shifted from rare and indirect recognition of the potential for malign information interference, to framing Russia as “the most acute threat to our security” and labelling disinformation as one of the “state threats to the UK” in the 2021 Integrated Review. So how has the UK come to foreground disinformation in its perception of Russia? Applying theoretical frameworks from Foreign Policy Analysis, namely role theory and problem representation, this research conceptualises the British state’s beliefs about Russian disinformation as part of the repertoire of the UK’s understanding of its own and Russia’s place in the world. In doing so it will reveal the intrinsic beliefs about Russian disinformation held by the British state and provide an alternative interpretation of disinformation’s impact on FP from existing accounts. An interpretive narrative methodology is applied to provide a richer description of the British state’s experience of Russian disinformation. By analysing a combination of policy documents, press releases, and speeches by the British state and its FP elites between 2011-2022, this research maps the evolving British narrative of Russian disinformation to reveal what the British state believes about Russian disinformation and how it shapes the UK’s understanding of its own and Russia’s place in the world.