Policy Roundup: November 2022

Key policy takeaways from Michael McFaul on Russia after Putin, Rose Gottemoeller on the New START talks, Nathaniel Persily on the midterm elections and U.S. democracy, Francis Fukuyama on democracy in America, Anna Grzymala-Busse on Hungary's Viktor Orbán and the GOP, Daphne Keller on the European Union's new cyber policies, and Marietje Schaake on Twitter and Elon Musk.

Russia and Ukraine

After Putin
Michael McFaul, FSI Director
Wall Street Journal, 11/4/22

  • An accidental president plucked from obscurity by former President Boris Yeltsin in 2000, Vladimir Putin came to power at the perfect moment, when oil and gas prices soared after a decadelong economic depression.
  • Putin destroyed Russian democratic institutions and arrested or drove into exile his most prominent political critics.
  • Then, like many dictators after decades in power, he overreached when invading Ukraine.
  • Putin will hold on to power until he is no longer physically able to rule. That could be a long time. After Mr. Putin, however, the disgruntled forces for change will gradually become more powerful than those seeking to continue Putinism.
  • Putin’s disastrous war in Ukraine has consolidated opposition to his regime among the best and the brightest.
  • After Putin will eventually come leaders and movements in favor of less repression at home and greater engagement with the West.

Nuclear Negotiations

Resuming New START Inspections Must be a Critical Goal of Upcoming U.S.-Russia Talks
Rose Gottemoeller, Steven C. Házy Lecturer at CISAC
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/23/22

  • Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States and Russian Federation have been working quietly to ensure that implementation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) remains on track.
  • The effort has not been easy, however. The 18 on-site inspections that each party is allowed every year had to be suspended during the first wave of the COVID pandemic. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, it greatly complicated efforts to return to inspections after the pandemic. The political environment between Washington and Moscow rapidly deteriorated, hitting rock bottom.
  • For several months, the leaders of the implementing body of the New START Treaty—the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC)—have been in quiet contact. Issue by issue, they have been working to put in place the procedures and protocols that would allow New START inspections to resume.
  • Those involved in BCC meetings know the treaty well and each side understands the capabilities of its own strategic nuclear forces. Meeting participants can ensure that on-site inspections under New START resume, but in a way that will not interrupt the operating tempo of the three legs of the strategic nuclear forces—intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines, and bombers.
  • If the upcoming US-Russian New START commission meeting goes well, its technical format might be valuable for other urgent discussions. Especially, since New START goes out of force in February 2026, the two parties might use the same technical experts to develop a framework for a follow-on treaty.

Facing Challenges for Democracy

The Midterms Revealed the Real Challenges Facing our Elections 
Nathaniel Persily, Co-director of the Cyber Policy Center
Wall Street Journal, 11/17/22

  • The administration of the 2022 midterm election is a testimony to the tenacity of thousands of election officials and hundreds of thousands of polling-place workers.
  • The voters came through in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania to ensure that election deniers did not have the reins of election administration in critical presidential battleground states.
  • The ball is now in the court of Congress and state legislatures to get serious about improving election administration well before 2024 is upon us.
  • President Biden’s FY 2023 budget requested $10 billion over 10 years for the federal share of election administration.
  • While budget negotiators have whittled this amount down significantly, there is still a chance that the lame duck session of Congress will make a down payment on shoring up fragile state and local election administration.
  • Securing stable funding for election administration has been neglected for decades.

Democracy in America 
Francis Fukuyama, Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at FSI
American Purpose, 11/03/22

  • Despite recent populist gains in Sweden and Italy, democracies in Europe and Asia are generally not doing badly. The real cloud over the horizon is the United States.
  • Since the 2020 Presidential election, the Republican Party has become debased and irredeemable. Despite revelations from the January 6 committee of how Trump and his allies deliberately sought to overturn that election and hold onto power, the party has thrown its lot in with him and a good majority of Republican voters agree that the election was stolen.
  • Most voters do not take the threat that the Republicans pose to American democratic institutions seriously; most are treating the contest as a normal election in which bread-and-butter issues like inflation and crime are the deciding issues.
  • On these issues, the Democrats have performed poorly while in office. They can correctly argue that inflation is occurring everywhere and driven by factors beyond any administration’s control, but these arguments will simply not be convincing to anyone struggling to meet their rent or gas bills.
  • Putin is openly placing his bets on the Republican Party, many of whose members accept his narrative that it is liberals in the United States that pose the biggest threat to both stability and Western values.
  • For better or worse, the United States remains critical in both a material and moral sense to the broader democratic world order. If it loses confidence in itself and in its own institutions, the liberal world order will suffer.

Orbán Inspires GOP Authoritarians, but They Can’t Copy Him
Anna Grzymala-Busse, Director of TEC
Niskanen Center, 11/02/22

  • The Republican championing of Orbán and his tactics has led commentators to worry that “America’s far-right embraces Hungary’s autocratic president” and that “the GOP is Viktor Orbán’s party now.” 
  • Orbán is the sanitized, urbane face of far-right politics, and has achieved autocratic control through seemingly democratic means. He has harnessed state power to entrench himself, and has done so without open fraud, coercion, or repression.
  • Yet even if his Republican supporters share Orbán’s goals, there are limits to the diffusion of the autocratic template. The institutional inertia and built-in veto points of the American system preclude this kind of takeover.
  • So long as the United States is a federation, the kind of unitary takeover of power that Orbán was able to engineer is impossible.
  • Most importantly, using the state as adroitly as Orbán has is a nonstarter. For all the corporate subsidies and favorable tax policy U.S. government provides, the idea of rewarding supporters with an expansion of welfare benefits or public goods runs into the teeth of the GOP’s remaining fiscal conservatives — and the race politics of the Unites States.
  • There are many reasons to worry about democracy in the United States, but they have little to do with the diffusion of autocratic models from abroad.

Cyber Policies in the U.S., Europe

The EU’s New Digital Services Act and the Rest of the World
Daphne Keller, Director of Program on Platform Regulation at the Cyber Policy Center
Verfassungsblog, 11/07/22

  • The European Union’s Digital Services Act (DSA) is a major milestone in the history of platform regulation. Other governments are now asking themselves what the DSA’s passage means for them.
  • Despite a sudden increase in protests against the war, a popular uprising isn’t likely to end autocracy in Russia anytime soon.
  • The platforms’ more clearly articulated speech policies under Article 14 and better explanations of algorithms under Articles 27 and 38 will improve understanding both inside and outside the EU.
  • Not all of the DSA’s spillover effects will be beneficial, however. The harms will be harder to identify, but I believe they will be real. One set of risks involves Internet users’ rights. Civil society groups have raised the alarm, for example, about future back-room negotiations between regulators and platforms as part of Article 36 “crisis response mechanisms” or Article 35 “risk mitigation” measures.
  • The other predictable global harm will be to competition. The DSA burdens even very small platforms with obligations that today’s incumbents never shouldered, or else took on only much later in their development.
  • The DSA is a far better law than most that have been proposed in other parts of the world.
  • I have encouraged U.S. lawmakers to emulate it in many respects. But lawmakers around the world should view it as a starting point, rather than an end point, in considering potential regulations in their own countries.
  • That means looking at the law’s substantial strengths, but also asking how to do better.

What Musk’s First Week at Twitter Tells Us
Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at the Cyber Policy Center
Financial Times, 11/04/22

  • Elon Musk is making the remarkable power that U.S. tech executives hold over our lives, from geopolitics to the health of democracy, painfully tangible to all.
  • Immediately after the sale was confirmed, the number of neo-Nazi and racist tweets exploded on the site. Accounts marked as being linked to Russian and Chinese state media requested that the Twitter labels indicating as much be removed.
  • At Twitter, Musk will have to confront the same choices and trade-offs that experts and lawmakers have been wrestling with for more than a decade. He has said both that he considers all speech “free” and that he wants to avoid turning the site into a hate-amplifying “hellscape."
  • The EU too has laws regulating speech, but with the aim of strengthening democracy.
  • Ultimately, advertisers may have the most sway. Advertisements account for more than 90 per cent of Twitter’s revenue.
  • Musk will have to confront all of these challenges without many of the people who have operated Twitter so far.

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