State of the Order:    Assessing July 2020

Reshaping the order

This month’s topline events

Pushback on China. The British government reversed its decision to allow Huawei to install a 5G communications network in the UK, siding with the United States, Australia, Japan, and other nations in barring the Chinese company over surveillance and national security concerns. Canada and India are reportedly leaning toward a similar move. Separately, the EU enacted new sanctions against China, joining the United States and other democracies in imposing punitive measures in response to Beijing’s recent actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. 

  • Shaping the Order. These decisions reflect a growing convergence among leading democracies on the need to take a harder line on China. Beijing’s aggressive crackdowns in Hong Kong and against Uighurs have exposed the regime’s blatant disregard for human rights and have increased pressure on governments to respond. Multinational companies have also begun to consider relocating global supply chains away from China.
  • Hitting home. As it rachets up pressure on Beijing, the Trump administration appears poised to limit US market access to other Chinese companies presenting security concerns, including the popular social media app TikTok.
  • What to do. The United States should support Britain’s reported plans to create a “D10” club of democracies on technology coordination and build consensus with allies on a common framework to address other challenges posed by China.

USGerman Rift. President Donald Trump confirmed his decision to withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany, citing its “delinquency” on defense spending and castigating Berlin and other “so-called allies” for allegedly taking advantage of the United States. German officials lamented the move – one of the largest repositioning of troops in Europe since the Cold War – with a senior figure in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government stating it was “completely unacceptable” and could do significant damage to the US-German relationship.

  • Shaping the Order. The US–German alliance has been a cornerstone of transatlantic security for the past seven decades. While there may be operational benefits from moving forces to other parts of Europe, Trump’s uncoordinated decision and public criticisms of Germany have exacerbated tensions with one of America’s closest allies. The move also rekindled concerns about America’s commitment to NATO, as officials in Moscow welcomed the prospect of a breakdown in transatlantic relations. 
  • Hitting Home. As US military families in Germany relocate to other bases, the move will cost billions of American taxpayer dollars to implement.
  • What to Do. US officials at the highest levels should make a concerted effort to repair relations with Germany and take steps to reassure allies of America’s security commitments to NATO.

The EU Steps Up. The European Union adopted a landmark $857 billion stimulus package aimed at lifting European economies out of their worst recession in recent history. The measure brought twenty–seven member states to agree on an unprecedented level of financial support, including an emergency fund for European nations hit hardest by the virus. The move follows recent EU actions to lead international cooperation on vaccine development, sanction Russian and Chinese cyber attackers, and push forward with a new action plan on democracy and human rights.

  • Shaping the Order. The EU’s assertive actions have demonstrated solidarity and internal cohesion – highly in doubt following Brexit – and have bolstered confidence in the EU’s ability to foster a rules-based global order, especially at a time of uncertain US leadership.  
  • Hitting Home. The EU stimulus package could help jumpstart the economies of many of America’s largest trading partners, benefiting US companies and providing a significant boost to the global economy. 
  • What to Do. US officials should strengthen coordination with counterparts in the EU, and at the G7 and G20, on efforts to stimulate a global economic recovery, while working more closely to promote joint development and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine, advance cyber security, and foster human rights.

Free nations must set the tone. We must operate on the same principles… Maybe it’s time for a new grouping of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

State of the Order this month: Unchanged

Assessing the five core pillars of the democratic world order    

  • Democracy (↓) – Turkey passed a new law extending broad control over social media, which could stifle dissent, while Belarus, Europe’s “last dictatorship,” saw its largest opposition protests in a decade in the run-up to presidential elections. China delayed elections in Hong Kong and banned twelve pro-democracy candidates. President Trump’s unsubstantiated comments on voter fraud and suggestions to postpone the November election raised concern in the United States.      
  • Security (↔) – China and Iran appear close to concluding a sweeping economic and security partnership that will involve joint research and weapons development, joint training exercises, and increased Chinese investment in Iran. Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council measure aimed at providing much-needed humanitarian assistance to Syria; though the Council approved a compromise measure allowing for limited aid. Still, the overall security of the order remained stable.      
  • Trade (↑) – A new trade deal between Canada, Mexico, and the United States took effect, preserving commitments to free trade reflected in the previous North American Free Trade Agreement. India began trade talks with the European Union and indicated openness to new free trade agreements with the United States and the United Kingdom. The EU’s top court ruled against a US-European data-sharing arrangement, citing lack of protection from US government surveillance a decision that could complicate transatlantic digital commerce.
  • Commons (↔) – Russia tested a suspected anti-satellite weapon, a move the US and UK condemned as threatening the peaceful use of outer space. The continuing global spread of the coronavirus forced many nations to reimpose travel restrictions, including unprecedented limitations on travel by American citizens; while travel restrictions across parts of the EU were lifted.
  • Alliances () – Relations among allies were strained as Washington moved forward with its decisions on pulling troops from Germany and withdrawing from the World Health Organization. On a more positive note, leading democracies moved closer together on China, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for an “new alliance of democracies,” though reactions from allies to the proposal were largely muted. 

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     

  • William Burns writes in The Atlantic that America must reinvent its role in a post-pandemic world and will need to choose from three broad strategic approaches: retrenchment, restoration and reinvention.
  • Andrew A. Mitcha, in the The American Interest, contends that Europe has to make a choice to either continue its transatlantic alliance with the United States, accommodate Russia, or re-energize economic ties with China.
  • Victoria Nuland argues in Foreign Affairs that to contain Russian aggression, the United States must mobilize its alliances and raise the cost of confrontation for Moscow.

Action and analysis by the Atlantic Council

Our experts weigh in on this month’s events

  • The Atlantic Council hosted the D-10 Ambassadors Roundtable, which met for the first time in public, with Ambassador Deborah Birx and embassy officials from leading democracies across the Atlantic and Pacific coming together to discuss global cooperation on the coronavirus. This  event also served to launch a three-part Atlantic Council Strategy Papers series on assessing and shaping a post-COVID 19 global order.
  • Dan Fried testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on exposing and demanding accountability for the Kremlin’s crimes abroad.
  • Fred Kempe, writing for CNBC, suggests that Russia may be preparing for an “August surprise,” an aggressive foreign policy move while the world remains distracted by the pandemic and the US focuses on its November presidential election.
  • Barry Pavel argues in The National Interest that the growing alignment between China and Iran should prompt the United States to develop a more effective strategy with its allies for dealing with China in the post-COVID era. 
  • Edward Fishman and Siddharth Mohandas, writing in Foreign Affairs, contend that a D-10 construct will enable leading democracies to coordinate more effectively on the world’s most pressing challenges.
  • Dan Fried, writing in the New Atlanticist, defends the success of the liberal world order against realist critiques while calling for it to be reengineered to meet modern challenges. 


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.

Ash Jain – Senior Fellow
Dan Fried – Distinguished Fellow
Joe Bodnar – Program Assistant
Anna Downs – Georgetown Student Researcher

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Image: REUTERS/Ken Cedeno