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How Autocrats Use Sharp Power to Wage War on Democracy

Autocrats see democracies as existential threats that must be snuffed out at the source. Sharp power, the newest tool in their fight against freedom, takes advantage of democracy’s very openness to weaken it from within. In the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy, Christopher Davidson reveals how democracy’s former diplomatic allies in the Gulf are employing sharp power to assert their autocratic interests and undermine democracy.

Most of the world’s democracies remain extremely vulnerable to sharp-power threats. The following Journal of Democracy essays explore how authoritarians weaponize universities, technologies, media, entertainment, and culture to attempt to crack democracy’s foundations.

Gulf States and Sharp Power: Allies to Adversaries
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are spreading their influence across borders. A new dangerous chapter between the Gulf monarchies and the West has begun.
Christopher Davidson

The Cutting Edge of Sharp Power
Democratic societies must address the spread of technology developed in authoritarian settings while continuing to uphold democratic norms.
Christopher Walker, Shanthi Kalathil, and Jessica Ludwig

How Authoritarians Inflate Their Image
Authoritarian propaganda and manipulation are leading democratic publics to see foreign autocracies as more powerful than they actually are.
Péter Krekó

How Autocrats Undermine Media Freedom
Information is being weaponized against democracy. Democratic societies need new ways to keep media free, accurate, and authentic.
Edward Lucas

China’s Threat to Global Democracy
The Chinese Communist Party is deadly serious about its authoritarian designs, and it is bent on promoting them. It is time for the world’s democracies to get serious, too.
Michael Beckley and Hal Brands

How Beijing Runs the Show in Hollywood
China’s ability to shape the global entertainment industry extends well beyond films, and it no longer rests solely on the allure of big markets. Beijing is exerting newfound leverage that is making giant U.S. media companies do its bidding.
Aynne Kokas

Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: Transparency Wins in Europe
Any open society’s best weapon against Chinese influence operations is its openness—the ability to investigate and expose sharp-power manipulations, diminishing their strength.
Martin Hála


Defending Democracy in an Age of Sharp Power
The international contributors in this collection identify the considerable resources democracy provides for blunting sharp power’s edge. This book offers an urgent message for anyone concerned with the defense of democracy in the 21st century.
William J. Dobson, Tarek Masoud, and Christopher Walker, eds.

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