Strategic Horizons: For the New Autocrats, America Needs a New Strategy

Strategic Horizons: For the New Autocrats, America Needs a New Strategy

Every day seems to bring news of another nation slipping into political crisis. With Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, Egypt and a host of others still not close to restoring stability, Venezuela and Ukraine have followed them into chaos. It's hard to know what nation will next fall off the cliff, but it's a sure bet that some will. Democratization was the most important strategic megatrend of the 1990s, but today it has been dethroned by pervasive, persistent and deep political turbulence, as both old dictatorships and new democracies prove unable to meet the mounting demands of a young population connected and mobilized by information technology.

Instead of adjusting to what will likely be a decade or more of turbulence, the United States is clinging to an old mode of statecraft predicated on a relatively stable international system with a consistent cast of sovereign states. Certainly there was periodic internal conflict and occasional state collapse in the old global order, but most of the time the United States could contain it and wait it out. When there were episodes of widespread revolutionary change during the breakup of the European colonial empires, however, American strategy was often ineffective, torn between incompatible desires for stability and political openness.

Now another round of global revolution is underway, and the United States is again perplexed and hesitant, frightened by disorder that it is unable to stop or control. American policymakers and policy experts have only begun to develop a national strategy for a time of turbulence. One of the most immediate challenges will be deciding how to deal with a reversal of the trend toward democratization and the emergence of a new wave of autocracy in many and perhaps all parts of the world.

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