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The Faltering Sinews of Democracy

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman

Seventy-five years ago, on this date, March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill outlined his vision of the essentials for a lasting global peace and mutual security after the horrors of World War II. In his own words, this required the full strength of “The Sinews of Peace,” the forthright commitment of democracies to “stand together in strict adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter,” so that “their influence for furthering those principles will be immense and no one is likely to molest them.” He underscored the special accountability that accompanied the United States’ position at the pinnacle of world power in this system. In 1991, there was every reason to believe Churchill’s words had been prophetic. The collective strength of democracy had overcome a totalitarian communist system. But against the advice of Mikhail Gorbachev, who spoke from the same stage as Churchill in 1992, the world missed yet another opportunity to unite in democracy.

Today, the consequences of this missed opportunity haunt international relations. Rather than ushering in an age of global democracy, the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union have bore witness to the resurgence of anti-democratic regimes. The Russian Federation, a democracy in name only, has annexed territory, interfered in foreign elections, carried out cyberwarfare and hybrid warfare attacks, supported coup attempts, and bolstered authoritarianism across the globe. The People’s Republic of China, an authoritarian regime masquerading as a socialist utopia, has spread the tendrils of its soft power to countless democracies, both backsliding and developed, with promises of economic investment, cheap infrastructure, and technological innovation. The convergence of these Great Powers, alongside the surge of undemocratic regimes within their sphere of influence, has once more bifurcated the world between democracy and authoritarianism. Along the authoritarian axis, undemocratic regimes do not express “faith in each other’s purpose, hope in each other’s future, and charity towards each other’s shortcomings.” Instead, they actively undermine the construction of the “Temple of Peace” with workmen who are more interested in laying the foundation of their own dominion.

In this environment, the United States has both rejected and ignored the weight of its responsibility in recent memory, falling “below the level of achievement” that Churchill prescribed. We are now faced with “the long reproaches of the after-time.” In recent years, we have ceased “to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom” and rights of humankind. The retreat of democracy, however, is neither inevitable nor irreversible. We can once more “preach what we practice” and “practice what we preach.” It begins with the renewed fraternal association of democracies and the United States reassuming its mantle as the first among democratic equals.

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