For 25 years, open societies saw themselves as the uncontested winners and expected that the remaining autocracies, with the help of western pro-democracy actors, would be relegated to the dustbin of history. So it is with disbelief that we are facing a thrust reversal, argue Thorsten Benner, co-founder and director of the Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi), and Oxford University’s Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, a non-resident fellow at GPPi.
Not only have authoritarian state capitalist regimes such as China and Russia stabilised; they use sophisticated strategies to influence the internal affairs of liberal democracies, just as domestic populist forces are weakening them, they write for The Financial Times.
The spell of anti-Western propaganda espoused by Russian media and politicians must be broken, notes analyst Robert Schwartz. It is not the West that sought this new polarization. But it must be the West that finally comes up with coherent policies if Europe’s 60-year success story is to be kept from failing.
Open societies need a comprehensive strategy to limit and counter authoritarian influence, Benner and Oliveira contend:
- As a first step, we must secure their critical infrastructure: political parties and other democratic institutions all need first-rate cybersecurity protection. But some leaks and hacking will happen despite the best defenses. We must therefore nurture broader societal and political resilience against authoritarian propaganda and kompromat leaks in order not to be caught unprepared when these happen.
- Second, countering authoritarian influence means raising the costs for western enablers who currently have little to fear from the court of public opinion. Leveraging public knowledge through better data, transparency and advocacy is crucial. For this, a full audit of authoritarian influence and investments is needed…..
- Third, transparency will allow for a robust public debate but it is not a panacea. It needs to be underpinned by stringent measures in the economic and financial sectors. While the west should remain open for investments, the authoritarian takeover of companies in systemically important sectors, especially the media, must stop. Much more must be done to weed out authoritarian dirty money and the complicity of western financial players in its laundering, especially through the uncovering of hidden ownership and other vehicles used by authoritarians to shield their assets.