How to Fight Authoritarianism: To manage the rise of china and other illiberal forces, the U.S. and Europe need a new kind of alliance.

AuthorClark, Wesley K.

As he spoke from the sunny steps of the U.S. Capitol during his inauguration, Joe Biden acknowledged that this will be "a time of testing." He enumerated the crises we face--"an attack on democracy and on truth, a raging virus, growing inequality, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America's role in the world." He vowed to "repair our alliances and engage with the world once again."

Despite the president's strong vision, the events of January 6 remain at the forefront of American concerns: a successful assault on the halls of Congress; a Republican Party in thrall to a politically gifted, defeated, and vengeful demagogue and his supporters; and the painful implications for effective, democratic governance. What has emerged in the near term is a struggle to enforce accountability for the past four years. But most observers understand that it will be impossible to fix the country without addressing the underlying conditions that spawned the ugly events: racism; growing inequalities in wealth and income; and large segments of the American population left behind in an economy driven by financialization and high technology.

In the midst of all this, we are also facing increasingly severe challenges abroad. Recognition is now dawning across America that this includes not just terrorists but also China and Russia. These problems are bound together as consequences of our own choices in foreign policy, politics, and the economy.

We have to recalibrate our policies at home and abroad. Americans can no longer assume that we will be the indispensable power--nor can we simply turn to the private sector to lead the country. We need a new way forward that steels us against both internal and external challenges. That way involves a much deeper, more structured relationship with the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Why the EU and the UK? There are several reasons. Combined, the continent and Britain are home to more than 500 million people, enough to put our collective population on closer footing with that of China. Both the EU and the UK are advanced economies, capable of sustaining important investments in research and infrastructure. But above all else, we must partner with the European Union and the United Kingdom because of our long-standing, shared liberal values and a shared recognition that those values are at risk. These common commitments--to freedom, privacy, equal opportunity, fair labor practices, environmental stewardship, and respect for the rule of law--are threatened both by authoritarian leaders in China and Russia and by practices the U.S. and the EU have condoned or failed to rein in, from tax havens that shield ill-gotten gains to monopolies that undermine entrepreneurs. Recommitting to these principles will allow us to reinvigorate our democracies.

Forming a robust, values-based partnership with the EU and the UK will be difficult. The United States has not done the best job of living up to many of these principles, especially under the previous administration, which may make our partners across the Atlantic doubt our reliability. It will therefore require that we make progressive policy changes that cannot easily be undone. For that reason, it would be best if this deeper, more structured relationship were codified by an agreement binding all parties to a pro-democracy reform agenda.

A formal treaty is ideal, and a sufficient number of Senate Republicans, whose concerns about China have been ramped up by the previous administration, might be motivated to support one. Even without Republican votes, however, there are ways Biden and congressional Democrats could get a binding agreement over the finish line. One way or another, we need to strengthen the Atlantic alliance. Authoritarian demagogues, both domestic and foreign, are testing American and European commitment to democracy. We need to partner with each other to save this system of government--and ourselves.

In the 1990s, the United States was the sole superpower. The American economy led the world by sheer strength. But in the 2000s, against the warning of some allies, we deployed our military power to the Middle East and Southwest Asia in response to the terrorist strikes orchestrated by Osama bin Laden. The invasion of Iraq was the most costly strategic blunder in U.S. history: We empowered Iran; unleashed a worldwide wave of terrorism and displacement; caused hundreds of thousands of deaths; wreaked quiet havoc at home; and distracted our country from its global responsibilities for the better part of two decades. As our economy fitfully recovered from the Great Recession, we continued to struggle with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, remained bogged down in Afghanistan, and contended with Iran.

At the same time, we came to see growing challenges from an increasingly authoritarian China and Russia. Today the American national security community is unified in understanding that China presents a long-term and increasingly profound threat to fundamental American values and interests. Russia is a dangerous spoiler, growing ever more closely aligned with China.

With its 1.4 billion people, China has sustained unprecedented economic growth for more than three decades; its economy will soon overtake that of the U.S. in GDP. The Chinese middle class alone is larger than the population of the United States. The country's production of steel is 10 times that of America; its automobile production twice as great; its intellectual property production--measured by patents filed--two and a half times as great. For 11 years, China has graduated more science and engineering students than the United States and the six largest EU nations combined. Chinese technology is on a par with the U.S. in many sectors, and perhaps more advanced in fields like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

China's government maintains its legitimacy by promoting historic Chinese nationalism and delivering wealth and higher standards of living to its people, but its grip is enforced through surveillance and repression. President Xi Jinping has increasingly concentrated power personally, and he takes an assertive and expansionist view of China's role and responsibilities. Under his leadership, the country has claimed and militarized the South China Sea and is pushing territorial claims against both India and Japan. China continues to strengthen its economy with vast flows of foreign exchange from exports and sales of debt, and also uses these funds to invest in infrastructure abroad though its Belt and Road Initiative and other programs. It is also a major investor in U.S. Treasury debt. China brings a so-called whole-of-society approach to its strategic ambitions: Every business, every student, and every investment is potentially in service to Xi's dream of a greater China and is a means to collect information, exert pressure, or gain dominance.

China has for decades drawn technology from the West through foreign investments, theft, and cybercrime. According to its most recent Five-Year Plan, China wants increased self-sufficiency from Western technology...

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