Democracy key to “Building ‘Situations of Strength’”


World politics took a sharp turn for the worse over the past five years as two decades of great power cooperation gave way to a new era of geopolitical competition, according to a new report from the Brookings ‘Order from Chaos’ Task Force, a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts.

“To succeed in the coming decades, the United States needs a strategy that begins with the setting of a clear goal: the renovation and reinvigoration of the postwar international order,” they contend in “Building ‘Situations of Strength.’”

“We believe that the United States is strongest when it builds what President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson called ‘situations of strength’ with like-minded nations and then negotiates collectively with rival powers,” they contend:

What Acheson understood was that America’s most important diplomatic asset was the fact that major democratic powers saw their interests as largely aligned with those of the United States…There is no doubt that the United States has the capacity to continue to play a leadership role. And the reward for Americans—of prolonged peace, an open and prosperous global economy, and capable democratic partners—would far outweigh the costs.

Maintaining values of democracy and human rights has a vitally important role to play in American diplomacy:

Not only do they distinguish the United States from hegemons and imperial powers of past eras but it also advances our long-term interests—the United States has benefited immensely from the success of democratization and human rights in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. It is often tempting to abandon these values in a moment of convenience but this comes at a great long-term cost. There will surely be inconsistencies but the president of the United States must always be a steadfast friend of democracy, freedom, and human rights.

But the West’s democracies face a countervailing power in the shape of Russian and Chinese authoritarianism, the authors add.

While the West has sought an international order that promotes democracy, human rights, equality of sovereign states, and free trade, the report adds, Russia and China “reject the notion that the order should promote liberal values of democracy, human rights, and sovereign equality and the idea that alliances are a part of it. For Russia, China, and perhaps some other nations, the international order must advance three goals”:

  • The first is the order must be safe for authoritarian states and not seek to democratize them over time. The system of government a country chooses is up to its government alone.
  • The second is that the international order should impose constraints on Western power, especially American power.
  • And the third is spheres of influence: Russia and China believe that the heart of the order is a Westphalian concept expressed through the U.N. Security Council. In this view, major regional powers have certain legitimate interests, including a dominant role in their neighborhood.

“Russia will act unilaterally to defend its interests and to gain leverage over the West, including by means of military intervention; active measures against Western democracies; greater reliance on Russia’s nuclear arsenal; and cyber-warfare,” it adds.


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