US’ Democracy Summit is on shaky ground

US’ Democracy Summit is on shaky ground

A statement in March 25, 2021 made by US President Joe Biden during a press conference at the White House, was remarkable: “Look, I predict to you, your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded: autocracy or democracy? Because that is what is at stake, not just with China.”[1] This depiction, which clearly discloses the United States’ geopolitical ambitions, is not new. For a long time, US President Joe Biden has been revealing with the public the approach that would be used in the global power battle. He does not hide the fact that they seek to restore the United States’ previous power and to re-establish an Atlantic-centered world order as part of this plan.

This plan was, in fact, Joe Biden’s election promise. Take a look at how he treated it in an article he wrote in March 2020: “But this contest does not just define our past. It will define our future, as well. I will invite my fellow democratic leaders around the world to put strengthening democracy back on the global agenda. Today, democracy is under more pressure than at any time since the 1930s. During my first year in office, the United States will organize and host a global Summit for Democracy. To win the competition for the future against China or anyone else, the United States must sharpen its innovative edge and unite the economic might of democracies around the world to counter abusive economic practices and reduce inequality. On its own, the United States represents about a quarter of global GDP. When we join together with fellow democracies, our strength more than doubles.”[2]

This ‘Democracy Summit’ will be held on the 9th December. It is clear that certain American interest groups and governing classes are striving to re-establish a multidimensional ‘geopolitical game.’ Let’s take a closer look at the roadmap and motives.

How did this list come to be?

            Joe Biden has invited 110 countries to the summit. The following questions are, of course, asked first: who made the list, what criteria were used to make the invitation list, how were the countries classified, and what categories were created? One imagines the following scene: Joe Biden is sitting at his Oval Office desk, putting a sign next to the countries he’ll welcome, in front of a sheet listing every country on the planet! The legitimacy of the summit is as much as this cartoonish scene.

            China, Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Hungary, Egypt, Qatar, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Bangladesh are the most prominent countries that were not invited and thus, are viewed as rivals or foes. It is also possible to create a map based on which countries were invited and which were not.[3] As a result, more than half of Africa, nearly the entire Middle East, all of Central Asia, and a major portion of the Southeast Asia have been excluded. The Freedom House reports were used as a main basis for defining the criteria. Freedom House is an organization established in Washington D.C., that receives direct funding from the US government – a ‘non-governmental organization’ controlled by the US government that is known to support US policy. According to Freedom House’s 2021 report, the majority of the invitees (seventy-seven countries) to the ‘December 9 Democracy Summit’ are listed as either ‘free’ or ‘fully democratic’. Thirty-one invited countries are listed as ‘partly free’. Finally, three countries are in the ‘not free’ category.[4] The United States, on the other hand, invited Taiwan to the summit despite the fact that it does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country. Meanwhile, various reports appeared in the Western press claiming that the guest list was inconsistent within itself. The invitation of several countries that were deemed undemocratic according to the “West’s” criteria, such as Poland, Brazil, the Philippines, Kenya, Congo, and many others, was criticized.

Actually, it is only one criterion that is being applied. The United States is now attempting to bring together countries that it believes can act as allies in the global power struggle it is preparing for. Democracy presented as a common value is the packaging of the story. This is something that even the most powerful US foreign policy institutions acknowledge. The following assertions were included in the Carnegie Endowment’s analysis article: “First, regional dynamics played a big role. Second, broader U.S. strategic interests also mattered. Also, upcoming elections with the potential for big leadership changes were a factor. The Philippines and Kenya face contentious national elections in 2022, and Biden’s team may be hoping that summit engagement can positively reinforce their political transitions.[5] The Brookings Institution came to a similar conclusion: “The Summit for Democracy, however, has a larger geopolitical ambition. It reflects a prominent view within the Biden administration that assembling a global coalition of democracies can counter China’s rise and continued Russian aggression.”[6]

Undermine the international order

The Democracy Summit on December 9 has three key goals. Above all, the concept of “defending against authoritarianism” is crucial.[7] The US administration separates the world into authoritarian and democratic countries for this purpose. It labels countries that do not adhere to its global hegemony policy as “authoritarian” and targets them for combat. In all the comments made by experts around the world, this strategy was described as campy and dangerous.

In fact, we see that a structure has been created to undermine the current international order. This summit, according to the statement, will continue and new gatherings will be held in the future. We are well aware that this summit will not be solely a brainstorming session! Some decisions will almost certainly be taken, targets will be defined, and possibly mechanisms will be formed. In this context, we may witness attempts to screw up the rules of international trade and the UN order in the coming period. The USA, which does not want to lose its superiority in the field of cutting edge technology, can use this issue as a tool in its power struggle with ‘authoritarian states.’ By ignoring international and accepted criteria and, of course, by taking strength from the democracy front it will establish. Other significant global challenges face a similar risk.

Can bribe takers fight against the corruption?

            The motivation of “fighting corruption” is the second key theme of the 9 December Democracy Summit. This is one of the most contradictory aspects of the meeting concept. The USA, together with the allied countries on the democracy front, will try to end corruption around the world! However, due of the legality of ‘political bribery,’ the United States’ electoral system and administrative structure have been criticized for years. Bribery is one of the most basic characteristics of corruption, as we all know. This is also confirmed by international organizations’ definitions of corruption: “We define corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Corruption can take many forms, and can include behaviors like: corporations bribing officials to get lucrative deals.”[8]

            Corruption occurs when individuals, particularly capital groupings, begin to exercise influence over political decision-makers and even legislators. There is a lot of criticism in this direction in the United States from the relevant people in the country. The findings of a study released in 2014 are eye opening. The results of this research conducted on 1779 case studies were published as an article. The opinions of academics are unambiguous:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence…. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.[9]

Desperation of a former superpower

As a result, the United States began the process we described with loud words and bold language. These arguments may be understood from the standpoint of the sovereigns in the United States, because the country is going through its most difficult era in history and its claim to global hegemony has never been weaker. Therefore, they think that they need to take some comprehensive and radical moves that will reverse the trend.

The United States is attempting to create a new international game by depending on its previous (and now defunct) magnificence. Because its current power, means, and resources will not suffice, it resorts to ungentlemanly techniques. The US believes that it can achieve objectives by instilling a sense of menace, creating an atmosphere of rage and fear, and weakening the countries it considers as competitors. Because it is currently unable to generate productive and creative projects, it clings to the strategies of putting sanctions on other countries and cultivating enemies as a former superpower.

This plan is unlikely to succeed. It is only to glance at the international dynamics and trends of the twenty-first century to realize this. The Belt and Road Initiative, one of the world’s greatest infrastructure and investment initiatives, now spans 138 nations. Last year, 15 countries in the Asia-Pacific region signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), known as the world’s largest free trade agreement. In 2020, Comprehensive Investment Agreement was signed between the EU and China, which is the most important trade partner of the European Union, leaving the US behind. The Organization of Turkic States is capable of revealing a great regional potential as a result of the historical decisions it took last month. These samples can be multiplied. In conclusion, the United States of America cannot reverse this trend just with propaganda and with hollow projects.

[1] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/03/25/remarks-by-president-biden-in-press-conference/

[2] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-01-23/why-america-must-lead-again

[3] https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/11/22/who-s-in-and-who-s-out-from-biden-s-democracy-summit-pub-85822

[4] https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/2021-02/FIW2021_World_02252021_FINAL-web-upload.pdf

[5] https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/11/22/who-s-in-and-who-s-out-from-biden-s-democracy-summit-pub-85822

[6] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/11/22/bidens-summit-for-democracy-should-focus-on-rights-not-economics-and-geopolitics/

[7] https://www.state.gov/summit-for-democracy/

[8] https://www.transparency.org/en/what-is-corruption

[9] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/article/testing-theories-of-american-politics-elites-interest-groups-and-average-citizens/62327F513959D0A304D4893B382B992B

Elif İlhamoğlu

Elif İlhamoğlu is political scientist and  journalist (Turkey). She is studying for PHD on the political science and international relations department at Istanbul University. She visited Middle East countries, Syria, Lebanon, Iran several times and did interviews with the leaders as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hilal al-Hilal Secretary General of the Syrian Ba'ath Party.

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June 2024