“Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence”: New Forum Report

Read our Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience series, a collection of nine reports stemming from our original research on sharp power that highlight serious vulnerabilities in a cluster of institutions related to information and ideas, commerce, media, and technology.

Download the Full Report [PDF]

Executive Summary [PDf]

Introduction [PDF]          China in Latin America [PDF]

argentina [pdf]                 peru [pdf]

Poland [PDF]                        SlovakiA [PDF]

Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence,” a report published by the International Forum for Democratic Studies, examines Chinese and Russian influence in four young democracies in Latin America and Central Europe.

In recent years, China and Russia have invested significant resources in media, academic, cultural, and think tank initiatives designed to shape public opinion and perceptions around the world. These authoritarian influence efforts have traditionally been viewed by the democracies through the familiar lens of “soft power,” a concept which has become a catch-all term for forms of influence that are not “hard” in the sense of military force or economic might. Yet the authoritarian influence that has gained pace and traction in recent years, while not hard in the openly coercive sense, is not really soft, either.

Rather, authoritarian influence efforts in young and vulnerable democracies are “sharp” in the sense that they pierce, penetrate, or perforate the information and political environments in the targeted countries. These regimes are not necessarily seeking to “win hearts and minds,” the common frame of reference for “soft power” efforts, but they are surely seeking to influence their target audiences by manipulating or distorting the information that reaches them.

The following are key steps that can be taken to address the malign efforts by Russia and China to influence and manipulate democracies:

  • Address the shortage of information on China and Russia in young and vulnerable democracies
  • Unmask authoritarian influence in a comprehensive manner
  • Inoculate democratic societies against malign authoritarian influence
  • Reaffirm support for democratic values and ideals
  • Re-conceptualize soft power


From ‘Soft Power’ to ‘Sharp Power’: Rising Authoritarian Influence in the Democratic World [pdf]

by Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig

These powerful and determined authoritarian regimes, which systematically suppress political pluralism and free expression in order to maintain power at home, are increasingly applying the same principles internationally to secure their interests.

China in Latin America: Understanding the inventory of influence [PDF]

by juan pablo cardenal

Prominent regional leaders from multiple fields—including politicians, academics, journalists, former diplomats, current government officials, and students, among others—are subtly being enticed by the Chinese government through personal interaction, with the ultimate purpose of gaining their support for China.

Navigating political change in Argentina [PDF]

by juan pablo cardenal

China is more visible that ever before: It holds greater sway over the local media; it has built up strong links with the academic community, including a network of devoted scholars; and it monopolizes almost every aspect of Chinese culture in Argentina.

Reframing Relations in Peru [PDF]

by juan pablo cardenal

Some observers see in the new partnership [between Russia and Peru] a strategic turn by Russia toward Latin America to avoid international marginalization and forge new alliances.

Exploiting political polarization in Poland [PDF]

by Jacek Kucharczyk

The research detailed in this essay reveals many dangerous liaisons between specific political narratives employed by homegrown populists and Russian propaganda, as well as calculated efforts by China to portray itself as an ultramodern, benevolent power featuring an authoritarian political system that offers a better incubator for economic growth than liberal democracy.

testing democratic resolve in Slovakia [PDF]

by Grigorij meseznikov and gabriela pleschovA

When comparing the functioning of soft power mechanisms of Russia and China in Slovakia, it is worth noting that Slovak relations with Russia are influenced by centuries of historical, cultural, linguistic, and other ties, which are absent as far as Slovakia’s relations with China are concerned.

“Sharp Power” in the News


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