lunes, 1 de junio de 2015

Containing the spread of democracy rather than the growth of totalitarianism

The New Containment: 
Undermining Democracy

by Christopher Walker

Nearly seven decades ago, George F. Kennan authored a seminal article that argued for a policy of containment to combat the spread of Soviet influence. Kennan’s essay came at a time when the Soviet Union, a frenemy to the West during World War II, was becoming increasingly hostile and expansionist in the postwar era. In a devastated Europe, Joseph Stalin was methodically installing puppet regimes in countries to his west. Communism was on the march. The American public saw an increasing threat but had little appetite for further military conflict after the end of years of global war.

This was the context into which Kennan boldly stepped with his argument against an immediate military “rollback” of Soviet advances. In what was initially known as the “X Article” because of his anonymous authorship, he wrote in 1947 that, to meet the Soviet challenge, the United States needed to pursue “a policy of firm containment, designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counterforce at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interest of a peaceful and stable world.” Quickly becoming a cause célèbre, Kennan’s doctrine was controversial. Some criticized it for being too defensive in responding to the Soviet threat. Others felt the concept was too broadly conceived and not sufficiently focused on vital US interests. In the end, however, the concept Kennan articulated would become the basic strategy the United States followed throughout the Cold War.

In an unanticipated twist, and in an irony of history, influential authoritarian powers, led by China and Russia, have forged their own version of containment in the post–Cold War era. But it turns Kennan’s ideas about tyranny upside down, seeking to contain the spread of democracy rather than the growth of totalitarianism.

Questions about law and freedom have haunted societies for centuries, and as past thinkers have concluded, self-limitation seems to be essential to living in a world that prizes both.

Today, in response to what they identify as critical challenges to their own regime interests, the resurgent authoritarians have marshaled vast resources to counter democratic development around the globe. This evolving “containment of democracy” has three key elements. First, it aims to erode the rules-based institutions that have established global democratic norms and cemented the post–Cold War liberal order. Second, it looks to check the reform ambitions of aspiring democracies and subvert the vitality of young democratic countries. And third, by systematically assailing the established democracies and the central ideas associated with them, it seeks to reshape the manner in which the world thinks about democracy.

The leaders in this new containment effort are influential authoritarian countries as diverse as China, Venezuela, and Russia, all of whom are compatible with each other, as well as bitter enemies such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. The manner by which diverse authoritarian regimes counter democracy may vary. Russia takes an open and belligerent stance, as does the leadership in Iran and Venezuela. The Chinese government takes a more nuanced approach to checking the development of democracy, although it has become increasingly assertive since Xi Jinping has assumed the position of China’s paramount leader.


Related Essay

The Uncertainty of Freedom
Michael Zantovsky | ESSAY

Publications by George F. Kennan

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