The world is awash with challenges to democracies.

Climate change, rapid technological expansion and the rise of illiberal powers are long-term challenges for democracies like Australia and the United States. But how can such democracies be safeguarded when they continue to prioritise short-term returns over long-term interests? 

A new analysis from the United States Studies Centre examines the threat democracies pose to themselves by failing to think strategically; and offers a path forward for redressing this challenge. 

"The refusal of democracies to think and act strategically is a significant driver of the malaise in which the United States, Australia and their partners find themselves," report author and Alliance 21 Fellow Bryden Spurling says.

"But this is not to say they are bound to continue down this road. These countries have shown in the past that they can think and act very effectively at the strategic level, building consensus and getting behind strategic actions that require short-term sacrifice to achieve long-term goals and ambitions." 

Key points

  • The effects of climate change, the rise of authoritarian competitors and technological disruption are challenging democracies in unprecedented ways.
  • Democracies have proven to be poor long-term planners and strategic actors. This has worsened over time due to political polarisation, internal incentives and public dissatisfaction with governance.
  • New ideas are needed to take advantage of some of democracy's inherent strengths, both within democratic countries but also in coordination with each other.

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Elliott Brennan