Reshaping the order
This month’s topline events
China’s Party Congress. At a momentous gathering of the Chinese Communist Party Congress, President Xi Jinping secured a third term as general secretary of the party, breaching the customary two-term limit. Xi consolidated his authority at the top of the Chinese political system, replacing several Politburo officials with close allies. In a speech before the congress, he stated that the country faced “dangerous storms” ahead, and made clear that while it seeks peaceful unification with Taiwan, China would decide how and when to bring this about and that it reserved the right to use “all measures necessary.”
- Shaping the Order. Xi’s consolidation of power and his remarks prioritizing national security issues over economic growth suggests that China will likely play an increasingly disruptive role in the global order over the foreseeable future. Beijing’s determination to seek unification with Taiwan could lead to a military confrontation – a concern magnified by CIA Director William Burns’ recent assessment that Xi has instructed the Chinese military to prepare for an invasion of Taiwan before 2027.
- Hitting home. With Xi pursuing a policy of dual circulation – prioritizing increased self-reliance while still engaging in foreign trade – and US officials encouraging greater supply chain resilience, American businesses will need to prepare to reduce trade dependencies on China, especially in critical sectors.
- What to do. Washington should coordinate closely with allies, both in Europe and Indo-Pacific, on a common strategy to deal with Beijing, while taking more pro-active measures to deter a potential Chinese attack against Taiwan.
Ukraine in the Dark. Russian forces initiated an intense aerial bombardment campaign across Ukraine, targeting power systems and other critical infrastructure and leaving large portions of the country without water or electricity. Separately, in calls with his American, British, and French counterparts, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu accused Ukraine of planning to use a “dirty bomb,” a claim rejected by Western officials as a pretext for possible further Russian escalation. G7 leaders warned that any use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons by Russia would be met with “severe consequences.”
- Shaping the Order. Facing significant battlefield setbacks, Russian president Vladimir Putin appears to have embarked on a new strategy aimed at demoralizing the Ukrainian civilian population by denying them water and power and instilling fear over the potential use of a radiological or nuclear device. Russia’s approach so far has failed to break the will of the Ukrainian people and appears unlikely to impact Ukraine’s steady advances on the ground. But Putin may be hoping that Western support for Kyiv will weaken, as energy prices rise with winter approaching and political winds potentially shift.
- Hitting home. Russia’s use of a nuclear or radiological device would mark a major escalation and could trigger a military response by the United States and its allies.
- What to do. While continuing to provide military equipment to Ukraine, the US and NATO should offer assistance to help repair damaged power and water systems. At the same time, Washington and its allies should continue to stand up to Putin’s threats of escalation, nuclear and otherwise.
Biden’s New Strategy. In his new National Security Strategy (NSS), President Joe Biden made clear that the primary goals of the United States over the coming years will be “outcompeting China and restraining Russia.” To deal with these and other transnational challenges, the strategy sets forth a “dual track-approach” that involves deepening US cooperation with democracies and like-minded states, while seeking the broadest possible coalition to tackle any given issue. The administration also released its National Defense Strategy, outlining US defense priorities for dealing with Russia, China, and other major security threats. In response to the NSS, Beijing accused Washington of “Cold War thinking.”
- Shaping the Order. The new strategy embraces the notion that the world has entered an era of strategic competition between democracies and autocracies, rooted in alternative visions of the global order. But it also calls for the US to work with all nations, including non-democracies, that support the rules-based order. In implementing the strategy, the US will need to grapple with how to seek cooperation and competition with rival powers at the same time and how to gain the support of nations in the global South, including many, such as India, that prefer to remain “non-aligned.”
- Hitting home. The strategy also prioritizes action on the home front, arguing that the source of American strength in this global competition will come from reaffirming the nation’s democratic traditions and making new investments in industry and innovation.
- What to do. The Biden administration should ensure that the strategy is backed by the resources necessary to successfully implement it, especially defense and technology investments.
Quote of the month
“We are in the midst of a strategic competition to shape the future of the international order… Autocrats are working overtime to undermine democracy and export a model of governance marked by repression at home and coercion abroad… We will partner with any nation that shares our basic belief that the rules-based order must remain the foundation for global peace and prosperity.”
– President Joe Biden, foreword to the National Security Strategy, October 2022
State of the Order this month: Unchanged
Assessing the five core pillars of the democratic world order
- Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who governed on a populist agenda that critics suggested had undermined the country’s democratic norms, was narrowly defeated by former president Lula da Silva in a runoff election. Bolsonaro had made unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud during his campaign, but tacitly acknowledged defeat as his government began to facilitate an orderly transition of power.
- The UN Human Rights Council voted against a resolution sponsored by the US, France, Germany, and other democracies that would have allowed debate on China’s widespread human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xingang. Eighteen nations joined Beijing in voting down the resolution, while India, Brazil and Mexico were among those that abstained.
- Widescale anti-government protests continued in cities and universities across Iran, despite the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s ultimatum warning against any further demonstrations, as security forces deployed tear gas and gunfire in an effort to violently suppress the uprisings.
On balance, with the electoral developments in Brazil, the democracy pillar was strengthened.
- Russian forces initiated an intense aerial bombardment campaign targeting critical infrastructure across Ukraine, while concerns over Russia’s potential use of a nuclear or radiological weapon increased after Moscow bizarrely accused Ukraine of planning to use a “dirty bomb” on its own territory.
- In another sign of its military difficulties, Russia began recruiting former Afghan security forces, including those trained by the US military, to join what some have referred to as a Russian “foreign legion” to fight in Ukraine.
- A potential Chinese military invasion of Taiwan appeared more likely in the coming years as CIA Director William Burns stated that Xi Jinping has instructed the Chinese military to prepare for an invasion of Taiwan before 2027.
- North Korea test fired a ballistic missile over Japan potentially capable of reaching the US territory of Guam in the western Pacific – reportedly, the longest test ever conducted by Pyongyang.
- In a bid to counter Chinese regional influence, President Biden hosted a summit with the leaders of 14 Pacific Island nations and announced a partnership agreement that included stronger security and economic ties.
On balance, the security pillar was weakened.
- The US announced sweeping new restrictions on the sale of semiconductor technology to China, a move aimed at preventing China’s military, intelligence, and security services from acquiring sensitive technologies with military applications.
- After a drone attack on Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet, Moscow withdrew from, and later returned to, a UN-brokered deal to allow grain shipments through the Black Sea.
- Saudi Arabia and the UAE joined Russia in an OPEC decision to cut oil production by 2 million barrels a day – a move that could raise gas prices worldwide and bolter Russia’s ability to finance its war in Ukraine
On balance, the trade pillar was unchanged.
- Ahead of the opening of a global climate summit in Egypt, the UN issued a report assessing that under current pledges, there is “no credible pathway” to keep the rise in global temperatures below the key threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
- Russia was voted off the International Civil Aviation Organization’s governing council, a measure aimed at holding the Kremlin to account for violating Ukraine’s sovereign airspace and other core principles of global aviation.
Overall, the global commons pillar was unchanged.
- Meeting virtually with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, G7 leaders maintained their strong solidarity with Ukraine, warning that any use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons by Russia would be met with “severe consequences.”
- The defense ministers from the US, Japan, and Australia jointly condemned China’s recent ballistic missile launches across the Taiwan Strait and agreed to strengthen defense ties amid the ongoing threats from Beijing.
- Hungary and Turkey remained the only two NATO members yet to ratify the applications of Finland and Sweden to join the alliance, as Ankara insisted it would not move forward without further extraditions of suspects it considers terrorists.
Overall, the alliance pillar was unchanged.
Strengthened (↑)________Unchanged (↔)________Weakened (↓)
What is the democratic world order? Also known as the liberal order, the rules-based order, or simply the free world, the democratic world order encompasses the rules, norms, alliances, and institutions created and supported by leading democracies over the past seven decades to foster security, democracy, prosperity, and a healthy planet.
This month’s top reads
Three must-read commentaries on the democratic order
- Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, speaking at Brookings, calls for a new economic “alliance of democracies” to counter authoritarianism and facilitate friend-shoring in the face of economic bullying from the world’s dictators.
- John Austin and Elaine Dezinkski, in Foreign Policy, contend that the US and its allies need a shared global agenda, including a robust ally-shoring plan, to maintain a democratic rules-based order.
- Thomas Mahnken, in Foreign Affairs, argues that the US needs to restructure its defense planning to prepare for the possibility of being drawn into simultaneous conflicts with China and Russia.
Action and analysis by the Atlantic Council
Our experts weigh in on this month’s events
- Fred Kempe, in the Atlantic Council’s Inflection Points, suggests that while there is a growing consensus among global leaders on the historic dangers facing the world, common action is falling far short of what is needed.
- Dan Fried and Brian O’Toole, in the New Atlanticist, present viable economic and political options for the United States and its allies to pursue if Russia uses a nuclear weapon against Ukraine.
- Matthew Kroenig, Amanda Rothschild, Paul Miller, Ash Jain, Jeffrey Cimmino, and other Atlantic Council experts assess and comment on the Biden administration’s National Security Strategy.
- Hung Tran, in an Atlantic Council Issue Brief, provides a comprehensive guide to friend-shoring in five critical sectors.
- The Atlantic Council, in cooperation with the US State Department, hosted the ninth meeting of the D-10 Strategy Forum, which brings together policy planning and strategy officials from ten leading democracies to bolster unity and cooperation. The meeting took place amid a range of pressing global challenges, including those posed by Russia and China.
The Democratic Order Initiative is an Atlantic Council initiative aimed at reenergizing American global leadership and strengthening cooperation among the world’s democracies in support of a rules-based democratic order. Sign on to the Council’s Declaration of Principles for Freedom, Prosperity, and Peace by clicking here.
If you would like to be added to our email list for future publications and events, or to learn more about the Democratic Order Initiative, please email AJain@atlanticcouncil.org.