After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the world came to a consensus that Western liberal democracy was indeed a better form of government, free of political violence. The foundational approach of this rule-based international order relies on democratization, protection of human rights, economic openness, and integration. US leadership has been essential to solving world problems; with constant interactions with stakeholders, building coalitions, reinforcing democratic principles and universal values through multilateral cooperation; the US has led the way by maintaining engagements through alliances to keep-up world order.


However, the rise of nativism in the United States and Europe fueled by a growing alarm of global integration as a threat to national identity presents significant challenges to the international world order. Especially at a time when needed US leadership is taking a back seat, receding to an “America first” approach, while China is moving forward establishing its authoritarian political model as an alternative to western democracy.


Recent news of Russia’s involvement in undermining US democracy has many experts on edge and clamoring that Russia represents a serious threat to Western Democracy. In an article in January, in the magazine of Foreign Affairs, former vice president Joe Biden argued that subversion and coordinated attacks on Western democratic institutions by Russia is the single most important threat facing the United States.  The alacrity towards Russia for its subversive acts and coordinated attacks on Western democracy is important because it encourages the US and European policymakers to pay attention to Russia, and forces US spy agencies to come up with countermeasures to deal with what amounts to acts by a spoiler.


Putin’s most important goal is to survive for as long as possible, not to effect lasting change in the current international order or displace the US as the leader of the world order.  His recent announcement of an invincible intercontinental cruise missile and nuclear torpedo that could outsmart American defenses is a camouflage bluff designed to stock patriotic passion a month before a Russian presidential “selection”. Like many other “Potemkin democracy” before it, the authoritarian Russian regime is not sustainable over time. Prior regimes mired in dysfunction and corruption have collapsed under their own weight and a similar fate awaits Russia, which is precisely why the Chinese refused to follow such political model.



China represents the most significant threat to world order, and western democracy and US policymakers must not underestimate the seriousness of the challenge. For years, the Chinese have been working hard, seeking to prove that economic openness can co-exist with a close political system. While Russia failed to present an alternative political ideology to replace western democracy, China to a large extent has been successful at presenting a model that could supplant western democracy.  Many, including former Soviet republics such as Hungary (Viktor Hoban), Poland (Andrzej Duda), and others, such as Egypt (Abdel Fattah el-Sissi) Venezuela ( Nicolás Maduro) and Turkey (Recep Tayyip Erdogan), are paying close attention. Meanwhile, repressive leaders from Ethiopia to Thailand are cracking down on dissent, rejecting the rules of law and disregarding international norms.



China’s largesse to these repressive regimes come with no strings attached. From Africa to the Caribbean, China is investing billions of dollars helping to revive many local economies. Unlike the United States and Europe, governance reform is never a condition for Chinese aid dollars. Besides, China has been busy providing cover to authoritarian regimes by blocking the UN Security Council from interventionist actions. China is building its own regional and international institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the New Development Bank, and president Xi’s new Belt and Road initiative connecting China to much of the world. Militarily, China has modernized its military and expanded its reach by illegally building in the South China Sea, and in Djibouti, Africa where China is building its first foreign military outpost.



America is facing a formidable opponent with many competitive advantages. US foreign policy makers must develop new policies based on realistic assumptions to counter China’s rise. For more than seven decades, directing China’s course has been an elusive American dream. At each instance, China follows its own course, and neither America’s military power nor diplomatic engagement has been able to dissuade China. America’s assumption that an open economy with constant American interactions will inevitably cause more political openness has not worked and will not work. The reality is, it might be too late to tame China.



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