On December 10, the Alliance for Securing Democracy hosted a virtual event with Ambassador Eric Edelman, Ambassador Samantha Power, and Dr. Kori Schake on steps the United States can take to regain the initiative in the emerging competition with autocracies. ASD’s Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt moderated the panel.

The conversation drew from the recommendations and insights of a new ASD task force report Linking Values and Strategy: How Democracies Can Offset Autocratic Advances, which represents the views of 30 leading national security experts from both sides of the aisle, including Ambassador Power, Dr. Shake, and Ambassador Edelman, who co-chaired the task force.

Ambassador Edelman opened the discussion by emphasizing the new political, economic, technology, and information challenges posed by authoritarians to democratic institutions and alliances. “There’s been a realization that we’re entering into a new period of great power competition,” where conflict is increasingly waged using asymmetric tools such as disinformation, cyberattacks, and malign finance, he noted.

The ASD task force focused on identifying ways the United States can shore up its vulnerabilities to those challenges, leverage its strategic advantages, and reframe the contest with autocrats in terms that benefit democracy.

Brandt helped frame the conversation by highlighting that the task force found that “democracies have distinct advantages of their own that can and should be leveraged” in the “persistent, asymmetric, and multidimensional competition with authoritarian challengers.”

“Those of us in free societies shouldn’t lose confidence that we have the ability to manage these challenges,” Dr. Schake said. The principles of openness, transparency, and responsive governance ensure the United States can adapt to meet new challenges and develop solutions consistent with democratic values. “What free societies are good at is solving problems,” Dr. Schake emphasized.

Ambassador Power noted that democracies “have a real opening” to limit the spread and legitimacy of authoritarianism by “getting back in the business of learning from each other.” The panel noted that democracies can build resilience against authoritarian interference by sharing best practices in combatting disinformation and cyber threats and coordinating policies around issues such as corruption and supply chain security.

While multilateral cooperation will help offset authoritarian advances, Dr. Schake emphasized, “that the best way for the United States to compete with China is to be the best version of ourselves.”

“Good governance, transparency, rule of law, and strengthening democracy domestically is our most important tool in managing the competition with China,” she continued.

The United States will need to address domestic challenges associated with political polarization, inequality and racism, and the technology-driven erosion of traditional media in order to leverage the full strength of its civil society, private sector, and democratic institutions, Ambassador Power added.  

Though the United States is enduring a moment of deep division, Ambassador Edelman commented that “there is potential that the strategic competition with China can bring forth some measure of bipartisanship.”

“What China is proposing is an international order where might makes right”; however “free societies banding together have larger numbers and greater resilience because we have the voluntary cooperation of our societies,” Dr. Schake concluded.    

Watch the full video of the event here. Read the task force report here.

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.