Are Russia and China deliberately undermining democracies in order to replace the Western-led liberal international order with their own authoritarian model? This is the central claim by the recently released US defence strategy, the most important in a generation. And it’s a belief that is driving the Turnbull government’s tougher response to foreign interference.

In a thinly veiled reference to China and Russia, Defence Minister Marise Payne has accused both countries of undermining the postwar global order using proxies, covert and paramilitary operations, economic coercion, cyber-attacks, misinformation and media manipulation.

Examples are not hard to find. Allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US elections have dominated international news, culminating in the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller to lead a Department of Justice investigation with wide-ranging powers. France and Germany have joined the US in criticising Russia for meddling in their elections and domestic affairs, while Chinese interference has been a hotly debated issue in Australia over the past year.

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