Democracy is under attack. China and Russia are pursuing strategic campaigns to undermine liberal values and US leadership. Authoritarians from Belarus to Burma are brutalizing their citizens in order to stay in power. The debacle of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and our national search for souls after the 20th
The hard truth is that a world that is less free is less safe, stable and prosperous. The greatest dangers to the American way of life come from hostile autocracies. There are no quick fixes, but the best antidote to the challenges of great power conflicts, terrorism and the mass migration of desperate refugees is to build inclusive democratic institutions – and to work with allied democracies to maintain the free and open order that China, in particular, wants through replace a world safe for autocracy.
The conventional view that authoritarianism has popular dynamism is wrong. Nobody takes to the streets to demand more corrupt governance, the establishment of one-man rule, a stronger surveillance state, or stronger intervention by vicious foreign powers.
Democratic freedoms are undoubtedly under attack in many countries. Autocrats are aggressive precisely because of the growing demands for change in their more modern, networked societies – and the increasing danger that middle classes in countries like China and Russia are not forever ready to lose political rights for prosperity.
American cuts and isolationism add to the danger. It would be nice to live in a world where failed states and dictatorships would be a problem for others. But rather than creating stability, Western withdrawal is only encouraging the autocrats in ways that heighten threats to American national security.
We know that violent extremism thrives under state failure and dictatorship. Broken states become breeding grounds for extremist groups because they leave a vacuum that terrorists are only too happy to fill. In countries without democratic accountability, citizens are drawn to the only forms of expression at their disposal, which are often violent and extreme.
The good news is that we have billions of allies around the world: citizens on every continent who seek freedom and dignity. They don’t want a nation-building led by the US military. They want peaceful support for their independent efforts to create democratic space in systems distorted by excessive state scrutiny, dangerous government loopholes, and malicious foreign influence.
The free world cannot be neutral in the face of the resurgence of autocracy. Rather, it should show its strengths. The attraction of democratic opportunity is a strategic asset to the United States, despite our own shortcomings, because people around the world strive equally to live in societies that guarantee justice, rights and dignity.
America’s closest allies are democracies. Democracies do not fight each other, do not export violent extremism, or produce the conflicts that drive mass migration. Democracies are better partners in fighting terrorism, human trafficking and poverty, and in building reliable trade relationships.
Open societies hatch the technologies that will help solve the world’s most pressing problems, including climate change. Citizens can hold leaders accountable when they come up short, and democratic institutions are stronger than anyone – as America saw itself after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
The resilience and self-correcting capacity of democracies offer a unique competitive advantage. Authoritarian people know this, which is why Chinese propaganda and Kremlin disinformation attack democratic principles so aggressively. Your goal? Protect their irresponsible regimes, weaken democratic unity and split democracies from within.
The fight against the authoritarian upswing requires that the democracies of the world act as a community of action in order to maintain a free and open order. That is the logic of the Summit for Democracy, the President BidenJoe BidenBiden recalls General Odierno: “Part of some of our most poignant memories” Building better by investing in workers and communities Internal struggles are heating up MORE over Biden’s agenda will meet in December. It is the impetus for new democratic coalitions such as the Defense Alliance Australia-Great Britain-USA (AUKUS) and the Quadrilateral Partnership (Quad) of India, Japan, Australia and the United States.
The strategic imperative of defending democracy requires standing with those struggling for democratic empowerment around the world. Supporting free and fair elections, competitive political parties, resilient civil societies, independent media and the rule of law costs far less than military intervention – and has far more lasting effects.
Supporting the development of successful societies that can rule and invest in their people, grow their economies, and secure their sovereignty is the opposite of military-led nation building; it builds self-reliance so that nations can solve their own problems.
The fact that resurgent authoritarians are on the rise and that democracy is difficult to achieve in many countries is not an argument for turning away from the defense of freedom. It is a reminder of how much democratic dignity it is worth fighting for.
Daniel Twining, PhD, is President of the International Republican Institute. Follow him on Twitter @DCTwining.