‘Review, Refresh, Respond’: Democracies in a contested, volatile world


The intensification of systemic competition is now the dominant geopolitical trend and main driver of the deteriorating global security environment, according to a new report.

“[U]nless democracies … do more to build our resilience and out-cooperate and out-compete those that are driving instability, the global security situation will deteriorate further, to the detriment of all states and peoples,” the UK Cabinet Office contends in Integrated Review Refresh 2023: Responding to a more contested and volatile world:

A growing convergence of authoritarian states are challenging the basic conditions for an open, stable and peaceful international order, working together to undermine the international system or remake it in their image. [China’s ruling] CCP is increasingly explicit in its aim to shape a China-centric international order more favorable to its authoritarian system, and pursuing this ambition through a wide-ranging strategy – shaping global governance, in ways that undermine individual rights and freedoms, and pursuing coercive practices.

China poses an ‘“epoch-defining systemic challenge” to the world order, said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

“It’s a country with fundamentally different values to ours, and I think over the last few years it’s become increasingly authoritarian at home and assertive abroad,” Mr. Sunak told The Wall Street Journal. “Its behavior suggests it has the intention—but also its actions show it is interested in reshaping the world order and that’s the crux of it.”

However, the “international system cannot simply be reduced to ‘democracy versus autocracy’, or divided into binary, Cold War-style blocs,” the Cabinet Office report insists. Systemic competition is “a highly complex phenomenon that we must navigate with an understanding that not everyone’s values or interests consistently align with our own,” it notes…

….an expanding group of ‘middle-ground powers’ are of growing importance to UK interests as well as global affairs more generally, and do not want to be drawn into zero-sum competition any more than the UK does. We will need to work with these countries to protect our shared higher interest in an open and stable international order, accepting that we may not share all of the same values and national interests.

Democratic and wider societal resilience is an area of vulnerability that has come into sharper focus and which will be addressed by at least three initiatives, the report adds:

  • The Defending Democracy Taskforce is a new, enduring government function with a particular focus on foreign interference. Its purpose is to make electoral processes and infrastructure secure and resilient, ensure elected officials at all levels are protected from physical, cyber and other threats, and counter disinformation efforts aimed at disrupting our national conversation and skewing our democratic processes…..
  • In addition, the National Security Bill will create a more challenging operating environment for states who seek to undermine UK interests, our political system and our institutions.
  • The upcoming Anti-Corruption Strategy will detail medium-term efforts to strengthen the UK’s institutional integrity, including building the capability of central government to assess the resilience of our democratic institutions to corruption and influence. RTWT

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD) will hold an in-person public meeting on “The Role of Public Diplomacy in Democracy Promotion” with online (Zoom) access on Thursday, April 13, 2023, from 11:00 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. PT (2:00 p.m. until 3:15 p.m. ET).

A distinguished panel of experts, including Larry Diamond, Michael McFaul, and Kathryn Stoner, will discuss how USG public diplomacy programs can most effectively promote and defend democratic values in an increasingly authoritarian and illiberal global context.

This meeting is open to the public and will take place at the Philippines Conference Room, Encina Hall, Third Floor, Central, C330, 616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305, Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, Stanford University. Please register HERE.


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