In 2016, American democracy came under unprecedented attack.
The government of the Russian Federation attempted to weaken the pillars of our democracy and undermine faith and confidence in our society’s most fundamental right — the ability to choose our own leaders.
This effort was only the latest of Russia’s repeated and ongoing efforts to undermine democratic institutions and influence free and democratic elections throughout Europe. Its success has led Vladimir Putin to conclude that disruption is effective, and comes with little consequence.
These assaults employ offensive weapons to attack and weaken democracy. Putin’s Russia is seeking to harm the national security of the United States and our democratic allies and weaken us as nations by striking at our core strength — the strength that enables us to protect and advance our interests and prosperity. These efforts are particularly insidious because they seek to use our greatest strength — our openness — against us in order to undermine our democracy.
Finding out what happened in the United States in 2016 and the impact it had is important. But that is not enough. The U.S. intelligence community assessed in January 2017 that “Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes.” Russia’s efforts are also ongoing across Europe — and we also need to prepare for other state actors to replicate Putin’s tactics. Moreover, Putin does not distinguish between political parties, but rather seeks to sow and exploit divisions. When our democratic institutions are weakened, every party and democratic nation is at risk.
Meeting this challenge to our democracy demands that Republicans and Democrats in the United States unite with our democratic allies around the world to better understand Russia’s multifaceted aggression in order to defend ourselves and our democratic partners, and deter such activity in the future.
The Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan, transatlantic initiative housed at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), will develop comprehensive strategies to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other state actors’ efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions. The Alliance will work to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe.
The Alliance will forge partnerships across the Atlantic with political leaders, policymakers, like-minded institutions, and technical experts to address the urgent need to secure our democracies, create a common understanding of the techniques used to undermine democracies, and share lessons learned about effective defensive and deterrent strategies. Enlisting leading transatlantic experts on cyber security, disinformation, illicit finance, Russian influence operations, and other relevant areas, the Alliance will develop strategies for making democracies more resilient against future meddling and better able to counter Russian efforts to use the subversion of democracy as a weapon. The Alliance will bring together experts across these areas and work with the private sector and civil society to develop and employ strategies to strengthen and secure our democracies.
Finally, it will analyze emerging technological and societal trends to identify areas of vulnerability to the eventual challenge from other state and nongovernmental actors who may attempt to replicate these tactics. By analyzing what Russia is doing today, the project will develop a shared playbook with recommendations for democratic leaders about how democracy can be better safeguarded tomorrow.
We must not lose sight of the fundamental strength of our free and transparent institutions — and we can never again allow authoritarian regimes to turn our greatest strength into a critical weakness. By shining a bright light on these tactics, ensuring that we close vulnerabilities in our system, and raising the cost on Russia and others that would seek to undermine democracies, the Alliance for Securing Democracy will help ensure that our democracies are resistant to foreign interference in the future. Doing so will not only strengthen the resilience of our democracy, it will be a reaffirmation of the entire democratic experiment.
The bipartisan, transatlantic advisory council brings decades of experience in national security, intelligence, cybersecurity, Russia, Europe, and politics to inform the work of the initiative. The Council will provide overall advice, guidance, and direction, and meet to examine the findings of the effort and discuss overarching Russian doctrine and strategy and identify areas for further exploration. The Advisory Council will be supported by a technical advisory committee that will include experts on disinformation, cybersecurity, illicit finance, and other relevant areas.