Democracies in a new global competition of ideas


Moscow has made information and asymmetrical warfare central to its foreign and military policy, analyst Fareed Zakaria writes for The Washington Post:

The idea of information warfare is not new. The Soviet Union developed and practiced a strategy of “disinformation” throughout the Cold War, complete with fake news and the penetration of Western political parties and media organizations. But the revival of this approach and the aggressive and sophisticated manner in which it is now being used in a social media landscape mark a new and dangerous trend in geopolitics.

It’s an existential moment for all of Europe’s leaders, most of whom are only just beginning to grapple with the fact that Russia wants to destroy the Euro-American alliance, adds Anne Applebaum.

We once again find ourselves in a global competition of ideas, in which the fate of the world depends in good part on our ability to convince people both at home and abroad of the urgency and nobility of liberal values, argues Yascha Mounk, a lecturer on government at Harvard University and a contributor to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy.

Recent developments suggest a departure from the old order in two important ways, he writes for Slate:

  • First, American leaders have always understood that real responsibility comes with their great power. As Hans Kundnani put it, as a hegemon, the United States set the norms of the international order. But to serve its own interests over the long run, it was also willing to shoulder serious burdens for the globe. This involved straightforward assistance to other countries, as when the United States helped to fortify Western Europe against the threat of communism through the Marshall Plan. It also involved taking on the lion’s share of the financial and military responsibility for projects which might otherwise have been unfeasible because of collective action problems—which explains why it was smart for America to invest vast resources into key public goods like the creation of a system of international law, the protection of its NATO allies, or the fight against piracy in the Indian Ocean…..
  • Second, America has, on the whole, been a great boon to the globe’s other liberal democracies. It is true that the list of America’s foreign policy failings is long. There is Vietnam and there is Iraq. There was complicity with the fascist regime in Franco’s Spain and complicity with the autocratic regime in Pinochet’s Chile and complicity with the theocratic regime in today’s Saudi Arabia. And yet, it is just as clear that America’s closest allies are liberal democracies, and that even the most cynical of recent presidents preferred to work with governments that protected human rights and held free elections.

“Yes, our political system has real failings at home. And yes, the West has at times abused its power abroad,” adds Mounk. “But the right response is neither to abandon democracy nor to dismantle the liberal world order—but to help both live up to their noble aspirations.” RTWT

But the current clash of ideas is not a re-run of the Cold War, argues Peter Pomerantsev. author of ‘Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible.’

“So as long as both Russia and the West were involved in these maybe warped but essentially Enlightenment projects, whether it was communism or democratic capitalism, and each was trying to prove that the place he was going to was better than the other one and he was getting there quicker, they needed facts to support their myths,” he contends. “Now there’s no idea of the future anymore. In Russia I think they lost any sense of the future after the mid-1990s, when the reforms failed.”

“In the West I think the nail in the coffin was 2008. This idea of globalization being the default future was suddenly economically insecure, and I suppose in terms of identity politics threatening to a lot of people,” Pomerantsev tells Radio Prague. “So both sides lost an idea of the future and I think that was deeply connected to the fact that the Cold War, which was this great engine of producing the future, ended.”

The Arab Spring was a critical factor in catalyzing the current backlash, analysts suggest.

Roland Dannreuther of the University of Westminster in London points out that the “crises in both Libya and Syria coincided with the rise of opposition to the re-election of Putin, with unprecedented large opposition rallies in Moscow and other cities in Russia during 2011-12,” Zakaria adds:

He argues that the Kremlin watched these countries as street protests morphed into broader opposition, created instability, and then attracted the attention and intervention of Western powers. Moscow was determined that no such scenario would play out in Russia or in any of its close neighbors, such as Ukraine. ….. In any event, as Dannreuther writes, “for conservative Russian elites, the evidence of the Arab Spring confirms that such factional divisions in the guise of democracy promotion only lead to internal disorder, societal conflict and the loss of the sovereign integrity of the state.” RTWT

Hacking tools appear to be just one means for Russia to exert its global agenda, The Christian Science Monitor adds:

Moscow is also relying on its economic powers, traditional propaganda, and espionage campaigns to compete with the US for influence in Europe, according to a joint report released last year by Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies and Center for the Study of Democracy in Bulgaria.

“In certain countries, Russian influence has become so pervasive and endemic that it has challenged national stability as well as a country’s Western orientation and Euro-Atlantic stability,” according to the study.

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