Reversing the Tide
April 15, 2021
The rise of authoritarianism, coupled with the erosion of democracy, threatens global stability, the United States’ economic and security alliances, and respect for human dignity. In each of the last 15 consecutive years, abuses of human rights and assaults on core democratic institutions and practices have accelerated around the globe. This alarming confluence requires an urgent, bold, generational response that places support for democracy and countering authoritarianism at the heart of our foreign policy and national security strategy. U.S. leadership in defending established democracies, supporting nascent democracies, and challenging autocrats—while putting our own house in better order—will necessitate a reordering of priorities, plans, and budgets.
The United States must adapt to the realities we now face. The United States and its democratic allies have not squarely addressed the strategic challenge posed by democratic decay and resurgent authoritarianism—most significantly an increasingly repressive and aggressive China. There are opportunities to restore freedom and advance our interests despite fierce opposition. Indeed, the members of this Task Force feel strongly that the future of U.S. national security and the future of democracy are so fundamentally intertwined that we recommend elevating democracy to become the “fourth D” of U.S. foreign policy, alongside diplomacy, development, and defense. It must become not only a core, cross-cutting objective of our efforts, but central to how we pursue our goals, as an integral component of a U.S. National Security Strategy.
Building on its Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, the Biden administration should set out a new strategy and high-level policy architecture focused on democracy and involving all aspects of the U.S. government. This includes creating a multiyear plan with bipartisan support to build U.S. capabilities and the necessary alliances that will jointly carry the flag and share the burden. Our aim is a partnership among governments, civil society, citizens, and the private sector to confront challenges to democratic values and institutions. These alliances can then grow in number and resilience.
All over the globe, we see people struggling for liberty and equality. Now is the time to reverse the rising tide against freedom. Democracy’s strengths are the very attributes that authoritarians most fear: the inherent demand for self-examination and criticism, and the capacity for self-correction without sacrificing essential ideals.
This report is both a call to action for U.S. leadership and a roadmap for a practical, bipartisan path forward. We propose seven interrelated strategies.