On Tuesday July 5th, all 30 NATO allies convened in Brussels to sign off on the NATO accession protocols for the defense alliance’s two Nordic candidates. Although Sweden and Finland both have a long history of neutrality on matters related to security and defense — their doctrine of non-alignment dating back to the 19th century and the end of World War Two respectively—, the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia has prompted the two countries to apply for NATO membership. As recently as November 2021, Swedish Minister of Defense Peter Hultqvist assured attendees at the Social Democrat Party congress that there would “be no application for membership.” Yet, the unprecedented aggression by Russia has motivated an unintended NATO renewal, including a new round of enlargement.
The Russian war on Ukraine has come with a plethora of NATO-related disinformation. In Bulgaria, for example, many assert that NATO is responsible for the invasion of Ukraine. A May 2022 opinion poll by the European Council on Foreign Relations found that 27% of Italians believed it were NATO countries and Ukraine that were primarily responsible for the outbreak of the war, and 35% of Italians believed these countries were the biggest obstacle to peace between Russia and Ukraine. Meanwhile, in the United States, anti-NATO narratives have spread through media outlets on both the left and right, sometimes under a “pacifist” label. The “American Influence” narrative evaluated by Limbik purports that the United States has pressured Sweden into deciding to join NATO. It is a narrative that depicts the United States as a war hawk that operationalizes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to further its imperial agenda. Some variants of this narrative portray the United States as a Russophobic agent that coerces European countries into compliance with its foreign policy pursuits.
Potential for Impact
Limbik started evaluating the “American Influence” narrative in light of Sweden and Finland’s application for NATO membership on May 18th, 2022. The Potential for Impact (PFI) of “American Influence” assesses how this narrative will resonate with the U.S. adult population week-over-week.
The average PFI, high narrative PFI, and low narrative PFI lines all refer to other NATO-related MDM narratives Limbik is evaluating.
If the PFI for a particular narrative is greater than 100, this means the narrative has an increased likelihood of resonating with the U.S. adult population (and therefore poses a higher risk). If the PFI for a particular narrative is less than 100, the narrative has a lower likelihood of resonating with the U.S. adult population (and therefore poses a manageable risk).
The PFI of “American Influence” has fluctuated significantly since the start of Limbik’s evaluation. In the monitoring period of the last week of June, “American Influence” garnered the highest PFI of all NATO related disinformation narratives, indicating both high Believability and Virality among U.S. adults.
Limbik has quantified the PFI for “American Influence” among Swedish adults and found similar results, with a peak in PFI during the monitoring period in the last week of June.
The consistency in PFI among Swedish and U.S. adults demonstrates an inclination to disinformation narratives that conform with beliefs held about U.S. foreign policy and/or the successful framing of the United States using NATO as a war alliance by Russia.
Limbik has quantified Foreign Influence (FI) to understand how much of the artifact volume purporting the "American Influence" narrative originated from outside the United States. As seen in the figure above, the week-over-week FI for "American Influence" has decreased since the beginning of June. However, most of the artifact volume for this narrative originated outside the United States throughout the monitoring period. In the May 23rd to July 3rd period, the majority of artifacts coming from outside the U.S. originated from Sweden, where public opinion remains divided about whether Sweden should join NATO.
With NATO allies set to ratify the membership of the two Nordic candidates —only after which Finland and Sweden can draw on the common defense clause—, the renewal of NATO will likely continue to be at the center of Ukraine-related disinformation. On June 29th, Putin threatened Russia would mirror any actions undertaken by NATO to deploy troops or infrastructure in Finland and Sweden. As Putin finds voices within the United States that willingly amplify his disinformation, narratives like “American Influence” that purport a fundamentally Russophobic and imperial United States wielding its power within NATO to pursue its global interests will likely have significant staying power and growing resonance with the American public.