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Discussion on a Grand Strategy of Democratic Solidarity

Date & Time

Mar. 29, 2021
3:30pm – 4:30pm ET


Throughout the history of U.S. foreign policy, American leaders have been forced to weight support for democratic values against realpolitik calculations of national interest. Most recently, the Biden Administration has adopted a foreign policy that places democracy and human rights at its center, with many discussing a possible “Summit for Democracy.” Yet questions remain as to the best means of incorporating support for democracy into American grand strategy, especially related to issues that demand cooperation with authoritarian regimes.

Dr. Hal Brands and Dr. Charles Edel lay out 8 pillars crucial for defending the world’s democracies from rising authoritarianism and discussed their forthcoming article in The Washington Quarterly,A Grand Strategy of Democratic Solidarity,” with discussant Dr. Kori Schake and moderator Abraham Denmark.

Selected Quotes

Hal Brands

“The time for this is right because democracies are increasingly threatened by illiberal influences within their borders and also by autocratic regimes, principally China and Russia, that are increasingly ambitious in their efforts to change world orders.” 

“The historical irony here is that after the Cold War, the strategic premium on democratic solidarity seemed to decrease because the democracies were so utterly dominant and because the world’s remaining autocracies often seemed like they were destined for historical oblivion. It became relatively common I think to believe that globalization and liberalization and economic integration were going to tame and ultimately transform autocratic regimes.” 

“A strategy focused on cooperation with democracies, if it is paired with efforts to fortify American democracy itself, can help mitigate that damage, by showing that America can still provide principled leadership on behalf of a liberal world order.”

Charles Edel

“Democracies can forge productive, if somewhat mercenary, relationships with illiberal countries even as they cultivate—at the heart of the strategy, as Hal talked about—geopolitical and ideological unity of the democratic community. The fact that NATO was an alliance explicitly rooted in shared democratic values didn’t prevent it from including necessary partners such as Portugal or Turkey at certain points during the Cold War. Similarly, the United States can pursue democratic solidarity while also cooperating with partners such as Singapore or Vietnam today.”

“Too early of a summit of democracies could backfire if democratic states are economically dependent on China, think of Indonesia and Malaysia for instance. Yet, the approach that we took to advocating for, seeks to focus instead on a more flexible approach that prioritizes concrete cooperation over high-profile public signaling […] it allows more reticent members to participate selectively at first and hopefully expand their involvement over time.” 

“Democratic perfection at home has never been a prerequisite for democratic leadership abroad. If we think of Truman, when he spoke to congress in 1947, the U.S. was still practicing state-sponsored segregation in large parts of the country. During the Cold War in fact, an ideological struggle against the Soviet Union created the exact pressures for the United States to improve its own democracy and thereby decrease the perceived hypocrisy of its diplomacy.”

Kori Schake

“The first thing I really like about Hal and Charlie’s article is that they don’t treat the international order as though it’s a status thing, in fact they outline the metric that should show us whether it’s succeeding or failing, and I want to quote it from the article, ‘Its measure of success should be progress in expanding democratic collaboration against concrete problems.’”

“They didn’t mention the West’s self-congratulatory hypocrisy, the times where we pretend we are doing this, but are not. The reason I think it’s significant is because it looks to me like a lot of the way our authoritarian challengers are picking up ground in opposition to this idea is by playing the gap between what we say we are going to do and our actual risk tolerance. The most egregious example might be President Obama on Syria—drawing a red line that we wouldn’t honor. There are a dozen examples from the Trump administration as well […] The Chinese and the Russians are really good at delegitimizing the liberal international order by playing into those gaps with their own interventions.” 

“We are treating democratic difficulties as fixed constraints on ourselves and the other strongest powers in the international order, but we’re expecting countries like Indonesia and Malaysia or smaller middle-way countries that run much greater risk than we do of countering China to make big brave choices before we do.”

Hosted By

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