International Forum for Democratic Studies’ 2019 Year in Review


As 2019 draws to a close, the International Forum for Democratic Studies is pleased to share with you a selection of its work on the challenges posed to democratic principles by authoritarian influence; the intersection of democracy and technology; combating transnational kleptocracy; and preserving the integrity of the information space. We wish you a happy, healthy, and productive New Year.

Authoritarian Influence

In a Power 3.0 Podcast episode on “The Evolution of China’s Belt and Road,” featured guest Nadège Rolland traces the trajectory of China’s Belt and Road Initiative since its launch in 2013, with a particular emphasis on understanding Beijing’s priorities and the underlying strategic objectives accompanying its emphasis on overseas infrastructure development.

A working paper authored by Kurt Bassuener entitled “Pushing on an Open Door: Foreign Authoritarian Influence in the Western Balkans” explores the growing influence of Russia, China, Turkey, and the Gulf States in the Western Balkans, particularly in the media sphere.

In his Power 3.0 Blog post, “Authoritarian Influence in International Organizations: The Case of Interpol,” Edward Lemon discusses the authoritarian tactic of targeting opposition figures abroad through the misuse of Interpol’s red notices.

In “Curbing Authoritarian Influence in Europe,” a Power 3.0 Podcast episode, Andrea Kendall-Taylor reflects on the shifting landscape for democratic governance in Europe and assesses the impact of the influence of Russia and China as they converge with other illiberal forces in the region.

As Armando Chaguaceda and Maria Werlau write in their Power 3.0 Blog post entitled “The Power of Ideas: Cuba’s Efforts to Shape Debate in Latin America,” the Cuban regime has sought to exert influence beyond its borders in a systematic effort to assert the dictatorship’s legitimacy.

In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on China’s International Influence on Democracy,” Christopher Walker explores the ways in which the Chinese party-state is eroding and corrupting democratic standards around the world. His testimony before the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on “China’s Foreign Influence and Sharp Power Strategy to Shape and Influence Democratic Institutions” examines similar themes.

Jessica Ludwig looks at China’s growing engagement in Latin America and the Caribbean in a Global Americans Blog post entitled “We’re Underestimating China’s Impact on Governance in Latin America: Three Persistent Myths.”

Democracy and Technology

The January 2019 issue of the Journal of Democracy featured a cluster of articles entitled The Road to Digital Unfreedom, including Ronald Deibert on “Three Painful Truths about Social Media,” Xiao Qiang on “President Xi’s Surveillance State,” and Steven Feldstein on “How Artificial Intelligence is Reshaping Repression.” Ronald Deibert also discusses the dramatic shift in perceptions of social media in the Power 3.0 Podcast episode entitled “Social Media and Democracy: Three Painful Truths.”

In their Power 3.0 Blog post, “An Intelligent Human Rights Agenda for Artificial Intelligence,” Eileen Donahoe and Megan MacDuffee Metzer argue that a shared global framework is needed to ensure that artificial intelligence is developed and applied in ways that respect human dignity and democratic accountability.

Alina Polyakova discusses how authoritarian regimes have bet big on technology—including social media manipulation as well as new applications of artificial intelligence—as a tool to control political debate at home and disrupt democracy abroad in a Power 3.0 Podcast episode entitled “Digital Authoritarianism.”

In another Power 3.0 Podcast episode, “Democracy and the Tech Revolution,” Marietje Schaake explains why democracy and human rights matter for the development and application of emerging technologies and offers ideas for establishing democratic governance norms in the context of the current technology revolution.

Samantha Hoffman in a Power 3.0 Podcast episode entitled “China’s Technology-Enhanced Authoritarianism” explains how China’s Communist Party, driven by a preemptive concern for managing state security, is employing new technologies to augment authoritarianism, with consequences that extend far beyond China’s borders.

Combating Transnational Kleptocracy

Tutu Alicante‘s working paper, “To Catch a Kleptocrat: Lessons Learned from the Bien Mal Acquis Trials in France,” tells the story of how Equatoguinean Vice President Teodoro Obiang was convicted of kleptocracy-related offenses in France. It draws insight from this example to offer lessons for civil society organizations interested in using strategic litigation to combat transnational kleptocracy.

In a Power 3.0 Podcast episode entitled “Investigating Transnational Kleptocracy,” Miranda Patrucic explains how the cross-border networking of investigative journalists can be an effective tool for countering the challenge of modern transnational kleptocracy by following the money across international borders.

In “Dictators in Moneyland,” Power 3.0 Podcast guest Oliver Bullough discusses how transnational kleptocracy—the process by which illicit money is stolen in one location, laundered through anonymous off-shore vehicles, and spent in jurisdictions where it is safe from interference—corrodes democratic and rules-based institutions.

Melissa Aten spoke with Ilya Lozovsky on the Troika Laundromat Investigation and Journalism’s Role in Fighting Networked Kleptocracy about OCCRP’s recent “Troika Laundromat” investigation and the vital role collaborative journalism plays in combating transnational kleptocracy.

In the Power 3.0 Podcast episode “Contextualizing China’s Corrosive Capital,” Martin Hala discusses the impact of China’s economic and political investments in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, revealing these investments’ surprising ability to influence and impact governance institutions in the region and beyond.

Tutu Alicante in a Power 3.0 Podcast episode entitled “Countering Kleptocracy From the Inside Out” examines the transnational elements of Equatorial Guinea’s kleptocracy, including its impact on regional and international institutions, and how coalitions of transnational civil society groups can respond.

On May 10, Christopher Walker testified before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on “Dollar Diplomacy or Debt Trap? Examining China’s Role in the Western Hemisphere,” noting that China’s leadership is placing increasing importance on exerting influence and shaping the political operating environment through its economic engagement.

Preserving the Integrity of the Information Space

In “Disinformation in the Global Arena,” Power 3.0 Podcast guest Peter Pomerantsev examines how changes in the modern information environment have been exploited by malign actors and facilitated the spread of disinformation around the world.

New applications have emerged from within authoritarian settings, where the space for independent scrutiny and pressure is sharply limited. Dean Jackson‘s Power 3.0 Blog post, “Parallel Platforms, Parallel Principles: The Emergence of Social Media from Authoritarian Settings,” analyzes the fragmenting information landscape where authoritarian manipulation of political discourse is enabled.

In a Power 3.0 Blog post entitled “‘Conformation Bias’: Political Tribalism as a Driver of Disinformation,” Peter Kreko argues that disinformation and conspiracy theories are spreading more widely and quickly because they serve as important weapons in the context of political tribalism, which has emerged in highly polarized political environments to justify any means necessary to defeat the other “tribe.”

Darko Brkan‘s Power 3.0 Blog post on “Exploring Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Disinformation Hub” discusses the inner mechanics of disinformation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the wider Balkan region, and identifies key problem areas and avenues for more research into this increasingly common phenomenon.

Dean Jackson spoke with Reagan-Fascell Fellow George Sarpong on Defending Media Freedom During Ghana’s Digital Migration, highlighting the impact of new technology and Chinese party-state influence on media freedom in Ghana and beyond.

Shanthi Kalathil testified on “Tiananmen at 30: Examining the Evolution of Repression in China” before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on the Chinese party-state’s manipulation of the information space.