The Authoritarian Threat: The Hijacking of “Soft Power”

Issue Date January 2016
Volume 27
Issue 1
Page Numbers 49-63
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In the post–Cold War period, the democracies pursued a strategy of engagement with authoritarian states in the belief that this approach would yield mutual benefits and lead to political reform in the autocracies. Instead, authoritarian regimes have turned the tables on the democracies. Exploiting globalization and the opportunities presented by integration with the West, authoritarian states have set out to undermine the very international institutions that welcomed them by employing a malign mirror image of “soft power.” Through the manipulation of the Internet, the establishment of pseudo–civil society organizations and “zombie” election monitors, as well as sophisticated state-run propaganda outlets, authoritarian trendsetters such as China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela have hijacked the concept of “soft power.”