This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
A bipartisan U.S. task force has published a road map for a foreign policy and national-security strategy prioritizing the advancement of democracy and the fight against authoritarianism in China, Russia, and elsewhere.
In a report published on April 14, the task force convened last year by Freedom House, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and the McCain Institute said that “the rise of authoritarianism, coupled with the erosion of democracy, threatens global stability, America’s economic and security alliances, and respect for human dignity.”
“This alarming confluence requires an urgent, bold, generational response,” the task force — comprising leaders, experts, and former policy makers — insisted, saying “increasingly repressive and aggressive China” is using “economic, military, and diplomatic coercion to undermine democratic governance and advance its influence in Asia and beyond.”
Meanwhile, Russia “foments division and insecurity in established and struggling democracies, especially those close to its borders, viewing the spread of democracy as an existential threat,” according to the report.
Both Beijing and Moscow “seek to advance their interests by undermining the rules-based liberal international order that the United States and its allies have superintended for three-quarters of a century, and which constrains their ambitions,” it said.
“We are living through a historically unprecedented rate of technological, economic, demographic, and geopolitical change, and that instability has created space for authoritarians around the world to flourish,” said Freedom House President Michael J. Abramowitz, who urged the U.S. administration to “reverse this frightening trend before it’s too late.”
In its annual report released in March, Freedom House said that the coronavirus pandemic, economic uncertainty, and conflicts across the world contributed to the decline of global freedom in 2020. The Washington-based human rights watchdog said that the number of countries designated “not free” was at its highest level in 15 years.
In its inaugural report, the Task Force on U.S. Strategy to Support Democracy and Counter Authoritarianism recommended seven “interrelated strategies” to reverse “the rising tide against freedom” that would include making democracy and countering authoritarianism a priority for U.S. diplomatic engagement by “galvanizing an international coalition to push back against authoritarian threats and reinforce democratic governance.”
“The United States and its democratic partners should make clear that authoritarian governments in China, Russia, and elsewhere seek to divide and undermine democracies while denying their own citizens’ fundamental rights,” the task force said.
Viewing democracy as “a threat to their authoritarian model,” China and Russia “seek to prop up like-minded autocrats in other countries, especially those facing popular pushback.”
The report called on the United States and its partners to “dramatically increase investment in the pillars of open, accountable, inclusive, democratic society: free and fair elections; independent media; and a vibrant, active civil society.”
That would include investing in “a large-scale Enterprise Fund for Independent Media to promote free expression and quality journalism internationally.”
The United States should also develop a strategy to counter intentional disinformation, state-sponsored propaganda, unintended misinformation, online hate, and harassment whose “rampant spread” is interfering with basic democratic processes.
“State actors like Russia and China have been using disinformation globally for years as part of a broader malign influence strategy to sow chaos, amplify internal divisions, discredit critics, and decrease trust in the democratic process,” according to the report.
For instance, the Russian government uses traditional outlets such as the state-owned multilingual news services RT and Sputnik, as well as social media, to “exploit divisions” in Europe — especially the Balkans — and in Africa, Latin America, and the Asia- Pacific region.
The task force called the fight against corruption and kleptocracy a “fundamental pillar” of the U.S. national security strategy.
Foreign aid and security assistance should be distributed in ways that help reduce corruption and promote private investment in countries showing progress in countering corruption, which “harms effective governance, undermines economic growth, and weakens the rule of law.”
The report noted that corruption in Russia “plays an increasingly large role in regime stability,” with President Vladimir Putin being able to consolidate his power by allowing key political elites to benefit from graft. The Kremlin also uses corruption to “undermine democracy in Europe and counter U.S. influence in the world.”
Washington should also negotiate economic agreements that set high standards for governance and democracy, as well as use development finance and U.S. leadership in multilateral development banks to “boost inclusive growth and a sustainable recovery; incentivize democratic governance; and avoid debt traps, while demonstrating that democracy can deliver,” the report concluded.