The response to authoritarianism should be threefold. First,
democracies must boost their domestic resilience. Divisions in liberal
democracies have allowed authoritarian states to shape international
norms and influence Western rivals. Addressing the political and
economic problems at the root of these divisions is the most effective
way to defend against authoritarian challengers. But other steps are
necessary in the short and medium term.
•Protect the core components of
electoral competition. Liberal democracies need to safeguard their
critical democratic infrastructure—elections, political parties and
electoral commissions—by forming a consensus on the threats they face
and considering deterrent as well as defensive measures.
political vulnerabilities created by economic openness. Liberal
democracies should deepen their scrutiny of authoritarian-led
investments and protect Western companies and organisations better from
•Defend against threats to democratic
infrastructure. Authoritarian states thrive on falsehood, distortion
and confusion. In response, liberal democracies need a renewed focus on
civic education, more aggressive efforts to counter disinformation and
sustained investment in credible journalism.
Second, liberal democracies must renew their alliances. Western
democracies are bound together in the closest set of institutions
anywhere in the world. They should harness these ties to meet the
authoritarian challenge, even as they manage widening differences over
issues such as trade.
•Rekindle US-European ties. Europeans should
continue to build up their capacities in foreign, security and defence
policies. However, this should form the basis for a renewed
transatlantic partnership, including greater coordination on the
challenge from China, even if that requires waiting until a more
conventional US administration assumes office.
in the West. Democratic alliances are of little use if illiberal forces
erode them from within. In the EU, mainstream leaders should isolate
backsliding governments by suspending their voting rights and
withdrawing support for them in European institutions.
coalitions. When liberal democracies cannot reach consensus in the face
of authoritarian challenges, they should act in smaller and more
flexible diplomatic coalitions.
Third, liberal democracies must compete for international norms. The
threat to the liberal order is directed not only at established
democracies but also at other regions and international institutions.
In response, liberal democracies need a positive agenda that embraces
global competition for influence.
•Compete for influence. Liberal
democracies need to provide an alternative to the presence of
authoritarian rivals, by renewing their commitment to a global presence
and increasing spending on support for democracy, human rights and the
rule of law overseas.
•Influence international institutions. Liberal
democracies should push back against authoritarian efforts to downgrade
human rights. They must also collaborate in shaping the rules and norms
on emerging technologies.
•Engage democracies beyond the West. Liberal
democracies need to nurture the new coalitions that are emerging
between old and new democracies. They should also deepen their
engagement with non-Western partners through greater support for
reforms to global governance
RS Wood <email@example.com>