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An Era of Authoritarian Influence?

How Democracies Should Respond

Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan in Istanbul, October 2016. MURAD SEZER / REUTERS

For two decades after the end of the Cold War, the direction of international influence was clear: it radiated from liberal democracies outward, as the West sought to spread its model of governance around the world. With the help of Western-led democracy promotion, the thinking went, authoritarian states would be relegated to the dustbin of history.

That has changed. In recent years, authoritarian states have boldly sought to influence Western democracies. They have done so to strengthen their own regimes, to weaken Western states’ ability to challenge authoritarianism, and to push the world toward illiberalism.

Russia’s brazen attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election thus fits a broader pattern, even though much of the analysis of that operation has presented it as an anomaly. Authoritarian influencing, as it might be called, involves actions not just by Russia but also by China and other states Asia, Africa, and the

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