The Science of Where Magazine meets Patrick Quirk, Senior Director for Strategy, Research, and the Center for Global Impact at the IRI (International Republic Institute), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to advancing democracy and governance worldwide.
What is the thesis of the article (written with Richmond Blake) “How the Biden administration can get the Global Fragility Strategy right” (Brookings)?
Our article argues that armed conflict and instability threaten U.S. interests globally. We recommend that, to address this challenge, the Biden administration implement the first-ever “U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability.” Released by the U.S. national security agencies in December 2020, the strategy is the foundational requirement of the bipartisan 2019 Global Fragility Act. We suggest the Biden administration do three things that will help make sure the strategy is successful: elevate ownership of the strategy to the White House, to provide top-level support needed to coordinate across multiple agencies; prioritize research and learning, to identify the key issues driving instability in selected countries and develop evidence-based solutions to them; and build multilateral support for conflict prevention and stabilization, to share the burden of addressing this global problem. Looking ahead, the administration should include addressing threats from fragile states in its first National Security Strategy.
Liberal democracies appear to be in danger around the world. The risks facing the world challenge their resilience. In general terms, how do you rate the early acts of the Biden Administration?
Democracy is under threat the world over. Addressing this challenge is a priority for the United States not only because supporting freedom and liberty has long been a guiding light of the American project, but because American citizens are more prosperous and secure when the world is free and open. Recognizing this, the Biden administration has made strengthening democracy abroad a foreign policy priority. It has committed to holding a “summit of democracies” to galvanize support for fighting corruption, combating authoritarianism, and advancing human rights. The president has also elevated the issue within his White House National Security Council staff by creating a high-level coordinator for democracy and human rights. President Biden is smart to commit to combating threats to democracy and rebuilding America’s institutions to lead by example. Doing so is practical and interest-oriented foreign policy.
Our magazine deals, in particular, with the relationship between technology and more human society. How can technological innovations help overcome inequalities and social disunity?
Effective governance and responsive representation are critical to overcoming economic inequality and beginning to address societal divides. Digital technology already helps improve the ability of elected officials to do both – deliver services as well as develop and execute policies that meet citizens’ needs. Especially during the pandemic, governments have moved services – and in some cases even parliamentary deliberations – online to continue delivering for their citizens. But we can do more to fully harness the positive potential of technology for improving governance. One such step would be to create and implement a positive vision of the future of democracy that embraces digital technology to advance democratic principles and global cooperation. In recent years, Transatlantic countries have been almost entirely focused on countering ways authoritarians use digital technology to advance their interests—whether through the export of surveillance technology, countering disinformation, or regulations around, for example, 5G technology. While these protective measures are important, we need to shift from the back foot to a more forward leaning stance. Working together, democratic partners can focus on entrenching in their societies ways in which digital technology can advance democratic participation. Examples include mandating open data, setting norms around public consultation for policy development, entrenching participatory online deliberative democratic frameworks, and public investment in emerging technologies to ensure that they develop and are applied in ways that advance the democratic interest.
The pandemic, for our democracies, is aggravating ancient problems. What societies do you see in post-Covid world ? Will the necessary recovery operations be enough or will new paradigms be needed to understand and govern the world?
Democracy remains the most resilient and effective structure for governing societies, translating their demands into policy, and providing citizens the services they need to thrive. If anything, COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of democratic governance to global prosperity and security. It was, after all, the Chinese Communist Party’s repression of media, medical, and official reporting on the virus in its inception stage allowed it to metastasize into a global pandemic. The pandemic has further bolstered democracy’s case as the preferred option for governance globally. By and large, countries that were more democratic, with capable leadership, have fared better in dealing with the pandemic and its consequences than authoritarian nations. Increased cooperation between the United States and other leading powers will be essential to quash the pandemic and move swiftly toward sustained economic recovery. The same will be required to address other existential challenges, climate change chief among them.