Anne Applebaum, journalist for The Atlantic, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on how the United States should combat authoritarianism, especially in light of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. What she had to say is the most clear-eyed, coherent, and proactive take that I’ve heard, in a time when everyone is discussing the subject but it seems that almost no one is looking at the big picture:
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In the face of this new challenge, Western and American responses have been profoundly inadequate. Expressions of “deep concern” mean nothing to dictators who feel secure thanks to their high levels of surveillance and their personal wealth. Western sanctions alone have no impact on autocrats who know they can continue to trade with one another. As the war in Ukraine illustrates, our failure to use military deterrence had consequences. Russia did not believe that we would arm Ukraine because we had not done so in the past.
For all of these reasons, we need a completely new strategy toward Russia, China, and the rest of the autocratic world, one in which we don’t merely react to the latest outrage, but change the rules of engagement altogether. We cannot merely slap sanctions on foreign oligarchs following some violation of international law, or our own laws: We must alter our financial system so that we stop kleptocratic elites from abusing it in the first place. We cannot just respond with furious fact-checking and denials when autocrats produce blatant propaganda: We must help provide accurate and timely information where there is none, and deliver it in the languages people speak. We cannot rely on old ideas about the liberal world order, the inviolability of borders, or international institutions and treaties to protect our friends and allies: We need a military strategy, based in deterrence, that takes into account the real possibility that autocracies will use military force.