International Forum for Democratic Studies August 2021 Newsletter


August 2021

New Report: A Full-Spectrum Response to Sharp Power

As globalization deepens integration between democracies and autocracies, the compromising effects of sharp power—which impairs free expression, neutralizes independent institutions, and distorts the political environment—have grown apparent across crucial sectors of open societies. To examine these trends, the International Forum published the final report in its Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience series entitled “A Full-Spectrum Response to Sharp Power: The Vulnerabilities and Strengths of Open Societies.” The report, authored by Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig, focuses on the serious vulnerabilities that have emerged to pivotal institutions related to information and ideas, commerce, media, and technology, and offers recommendations for open societies to respond.

To launch the final report in the series, the International Forum held a public event entitled “A Full-Spectrum Response to Sharp Power: The Vulnerabilities and Strengths of Open Societies.” Moderated by Jessica Ludwig, the event featured authors from the series, including Nadège Rolland, Edward Lucas, and Nicholas D. Wright. In advance of the report launch, Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig published an article in Foreign Affairs entitled “The Long Arm of the Strongman: How China and Russia Use Sharp Power to Threaten Democracies,” which details how Beijing and Moscow have adapted and modernized tactics of domestic and global repression.


For the first time in its 38-year-history, the NED is pleased to welcome a new president and chief executive officer, Damon Wilson. With decades of experience bridging government, think tanks, and humanitarian work, Mr. Wilson began leading the Endowment in July 2021. Read about his background and vision here.

Damon Wilson succeeds Carl Gershman, who served as president of the NED for 38 years.



  NEW REPORT: “Paying for a World Class Affiliation            

In a recent report entitled “Paying for a World Class Affiliation: Reputation Laundering in the University Sector of Open Societies” Alexander Cooley, Tena Prelec, John Heathershaw, and Tom Mayne analyze how rapid globalization in the university sector allows malign actors to use funding and donations to higher education institutions as a means to launder kleptocrats’ reputations and blur the illicit nature of their wealth. The report was referenced by The Times (UK).

Power 3.0 Podcast: “Containing COVID-19 Disinformation

The International Forum interviewed leading experts Vladimir Rouvinski, Renee DiResta, and Will Moy about the challenges that disinformation poses to a democratic information space and strategies that state actors, civil society, and tech platforms may use to respond. These experts also provided analysis on how COVID-19 has affected the information space in “COVID-19 and the Information Space: Boosting the Democratic Response.”

International Forum Q&A: Lisa-Maria Neudert on “Civil Society Responses to Disinformation” 

The International Forum interviewed Lisa-Maria Neudert on how a network of 175 global civil society organizations can combat mis- and disinformation, which is the focus of an International Forum working paper coauthored with Samantha Bradshaw entitled “The Road Ahead: Mapping Civil Society Responses to Disinformation.”

Power 3.0: “Using the Truth to Tell a Lie: Authoritarian COVID-19 Vaccine Mal-Information Strategies

In a Power 3.0 Blog post entitled “Using the Truth to Tell a Lie: Authoritarian Covid-19 Vaccine Mal-Information Strategies,” Jessica Brandt and Bret Schafer document how state actors in Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran have leveraged public diplomacy, propaganda, and disinformation efforts to promote the narrative that their domestic COVID-19 responses as superior to those of the West.

July 2021 Issue of the Journal of Democracy:
Latin America Erupts

The Journal of Democracy published its July 2021 issue, featuring analysis on Latin America’s political upheaval in the wake of protests by citizens weary of corruption, inequality, and rising crime. It also includes former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow Péter Krekó‘s essay on how autocracies are less powerful than their propaganda portrays them to be.

         Power 3.0: “Nothing to See Here: Transnational                 Repression and Authoritarian Image Management” 

Alexander Dukalskis analyzed how state actors have used transnational repression to intimidate and silence opponents abroad in a Power 3.0 Blog post entitled “Nothing to See Here: Transnational Repression and Authoritarian Image Management.” Dukalskis examined the ways in which autocrats use repression as a means of reputation management alongside propaganda strategies.

Virtual Event: “The Rise of Digital Repression: How Technology is Reshaping Power, Politics, and Resistance

On May 26, the International Forum hosted a discussion with Steven Feldstein and Eileen Donahoe on Feldstein’s recent book, “The Rise of Digital Repression: How Technology is Reshaping Power, Politics, and Resistance.” Moderated by Christopher Walker, the event focused on how political actors exploit emerging technologies to tighten their grip on institutions and crackdown on dissent.

Opinion: “Authoritarian States Are Using COVID Vaccines to Subvert Democracy” by Kevin Sheives and Ryan Arick

In an opinion piece for Nikkei Asia, Kevin Sheives and Ryan Arick of the International Forum identified four patterns in authoritarian vaccine diplomacy around the world: they spread outright disinformation about Western vaccines, prioritize being first over being trustworthy, target political elite networks for early access, and secure unrelated political interests in exchange for vaccines.

“The independent civil society sector, which authoritarians view as a weak point, should be recognized as one of democracy’s great strengths and mobilized accordingly.”

– Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig in “A Full-Spectrum Response to Sharp Power”




“Openness must begin within universities; staff and students should be involved in the process of decision making about gifts before they are accepted.”

– Alexander Cooley, Tena Prelec, John Heathershaw, and Tom Mayne in “Paying for a World Class Affiliation


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