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Russia and China as Service Providers of Illiberal Governance

This research will offer a new theoretical framework for studies of hegemonies by explaining how near-peer influence and regional balances of power are now embedded in competition in the knowledge economy. Following the spread of Western institutions across the globe in the last century, can Chinese and Russian substitutes rival them? And if so, what are the consequences? To better understand Russia’s and China’s ability to generate new forms of great power competitions that pose strategic challenges to the United States and its allies, we will test hypotheses that both countries’ rising global outreach can be explained by their status as service providers for illiberal governance. By illiberal governance, we refer to the tools of the knowledge and skills economy that can be deployed by state agencies to ensure political control over society, resilience to external forces, and elite capture of profitable sectors. 

The project’s main objectives are threefold: (1) produce a comprehensive understanding of the scope and spread of service provision by near-peer powers, (2) evaluate the impact of Chinese and Russian services on domestic governance of client countries, and (3) analyze the international order emerging as a result. We will incorporate analysis of large datasets to measure values of China’s and Russia’s services in 15 countries and conduct in-depth research in six countries over four continents with varying levels of either near-peer competitor’s presence. 

This research is led by Dr. Marlene Laruelle from The George Washington University (GWU) and Dr. Erica Marat from the National Defense University (NDU).