Fri, Feb 09, 2018 - Page 9 News List

The authoritarian point of sharp power has created a paradox

By Christopher Walker

With hindsight, we can see the misconception that took hold at the end of the Cold War, when conventional analysis assumed that authoritarian regimes would liberalize and democratize. Nearly three decades ago, when the US emerged from the Cold War as a global hegemon and the term soft power was introduced, political analysts did not take sufficient account of regimes like the ones in control of Russia and China today.

As my colleague Jessica Ludwig and I wrote in Foreign Affairs in November last year, “the democracies’ complacency concerning the evolution of malign, sharp power has been informed by their reliance on the soft power paradigm.”

Analysts who view the authoritarians’ behavior in terms of efforts “to boost their countries’ soft power are missing the mark and risk perpetuating a false sense of security.”

A sound diagnosis is necessary to devise an appropriate response. Authoritarian governments are not playing by the rules governing democracies. Systematic repression is the autocratic regimes’ calling card, and the “sharp power” they generate cannot be shoehorned into the familiar and reassuring framework of “soft power.”

Without more precise terminology, the world’s democracies will have little hope of countering these states’ increasingly multifaceted influence.

Christopher Walker is vice president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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