What Is “Sharp Power”?

Issue Date July 2018
Volume 29
Issue 3
Page Numbers 9-23
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Today’s authoritarian states—notably including China and Russia—are using “sharp power” to project their influence internationally, with the objectives of limiting free expression, spreading confusion, and distorting the political environment within democracies. Sharp power is an approach to international affairs that typically involves efforts at censorship or the use of manipulation to sap the integrity of independent institutions. This approach takes advantage of the asymmetry between free and unfree systems, allowing authoritarian regimes both to limit free expression and to distort political environments in democracies while simultaneously shielding their own domestic public spaces from democratic appeals coming from abroad.