Twining in the American Interest: America’s Security Is Still Tied to the Fate of Freedom

America’s Security is Still Tied to the Fate of Freedom

The American Interest

By Dan Twining

The world of 1982 looked nothing like the world of today. The Soviet empire and its armies controlled most of Eurasia, from Berlin to Kabul to Vladivostok. Japan, not China, was the rising power in the East. Taiwan, South Korea, and Indonesia were military dictatorships. Dictators ruled in Brazil, Mexico, and Chile. There was no internet. Soviet power had not yet begun to visibly crack and many Americans believed Moscow was winning the Cold War. Yet Ronald Reagan gave a speech in London that not only foresaw the Soviet Empire’s demise and the wave of global democratization that followed, but anticipated many of the challenges Americans confront today from authoritarians wielding new technologies and tools of disinformation, as well as novel threats to peace stemming from strongmen wielding illiberal ideologies.

Reagan’s Westminster speech, in which he famously called for the United States to support a global campaign for democracy, is not simply a historical relic or a snapshot of a moment in time. Its themes are highly relevant today—as America looks ahead to a world of great-power competition in which authoritarian challengers are pursuing systematic campaigns to weaken democratic practice and erode democratic alliances. Reagan’s words also bear new resonance in our time, as political polarization across the West raises new questions about the democracies’ capacity to sustain the rules-based international order built from the ashes of the Second World War and enlarged after the Cold War. And even as America’s current President believes global competitiveness stems from hard power, Reagan’s words remind us that the universal appeal of America’s values—of individual dignity, the open society, and democratic choice—must be central to any successful strategy to navigate the dangers and opportunities of the 21st century.

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