Home Moral guidelines Villains win, but can Biden’s summit push back?

Villains win, but can Biden’s summit push back?


By convening the virtual summit on December 9-10, Biden’s undeclared goal is to counter diplomatic, economic and military dangers posed by the growing authoritarian tide led by the Chinese and Russian governments.

As you read this, some three billion people around the world, roughly 40%, live under autocracy or dictatorship, according to the 2021 edition of the World Population Review. This number depends on how you define the word “dictator”, of course, as they range from the harsh “authoritarian” type, like Stalinist, to the soft “monarchy” type, where power is passed on through family ties. On this broad spectrum, there are 52 countries with a dictator or authoritarian regime in power: three in Latin America; 27 in Asia and the Middle East; and 22 in Africa. Some are long-standing dictatorships (North Korea), others have slipped (Venezuela), or are slipping (Turkey), from democracy to autocracy in recent decades. As Anne Applebaum said in her recent founding essay in The Atlantic, “The bad guys are winning”: “If the 20th century was the story of a slow and unequal struggle, ending in the victory of liberal democracy over other ideologies – communism, fascism, virulent nationalism – the 21st century is, so far, the story of the reverse.
Think of dictatorships and the first country that comes to mind is China. The Chinese constitution calls its government a “people’s democratic dictatorship,” which is a laughable contradiction in terms. Beijing insists that the ruling Communist Party represents and acts on behalf of the people, but retains and can use its powers against reactionary forces. In other words, anyone who does not agree with the Party.
Dictators generally retain their power by silencing any opposition to their decisions and directives, often through questionable means such as intimidation, imprisonment, physical violence or even assassination. So who do you think of next? Vladimir Putin of course. The minute he ran into trouble when the world saw the 2012 election as rigged, Putin realized the only way to stay in power was to turn Russia into a dictatorship. Xi and Putin both changed their country’s constitution to allow them to stay in power for life. Both can now sleep well in their beds.
Now add to Xi and Putin, Lukashenko from Belarus, Diaz-Canal from Cuba, Ortega from Nicaragua, Bashar al-Assad from Syria, and Kim Jong-un from North Korea (the list goes on and on), and you have an idea of ​​the group Applebaum calls Autocracy Inc. “Today the most brutal members of Autocracy Inc. don’t care much whether their country is being criticized, or by whom,” she said . “They reject statements by foreigners on the grounds that they are imperialists.” Personal survival is paramount, as regime change would inevitably lead to exile, imprisonment or even death. Forget about the welfare of people. Democratic revolutions must be eradicated because they are contagious, and the best way to achieve this is to form a system of mutual support. If your fellow dictator is in trouble, go to his aid.
Take Venezuela, for example. When President Hugo Chavez died in March 2013, people hoped that the slide towards Marxism-Leninism, which had destroyed an oil-based economy that had made Venezuela the 4th richest country in the world per capita in 1950, could be stopped. No chance. The arrival of the former bus driver, Nicolas Maduro, as president destroyed all hope, as he and his kleptocratic friends took control of the country. Using Putin’s book of prison, torture and murder of opponents, adopted by most autocrats around the world, large numbers fled the country, those who remained becoming apathetic to change. Faced with severe US sanctions, the Venezuelan economy plunged, and without the support of its five main autocratic allies, Russia, China, Cuba, Iran and more recently Erdogan’s Turkey, Maduro’s regime no. could not have survived.
Recep Erdogan, who shares a close relationship with Donald Trump, is currently shifting Turkey from democracy to autocracy through dividing nationalism and political Islamism. Amnesty International has found that at least 180 media outlets have been closed since 2016 and that more than 120 journalists are currently in prison. In 2017, following a strongly unbalanced referendum campaign, Erdogan passed a Constitution that dismantled the separation of powers and emptied the independence of the legislature and the judiciary. These steps are dangerous harbingers for the future of democracy in Turkey, and although new elections are slated for 2023, there are already indications that Erdogan may seek to challenge a legitimate defeat by talking about changes. electoral laws, legal threats against opposition leaders and attacks. on Turkey’s “enemies”. Turkey’s 2023 election will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the republic, providing an ideal pretext for the kind of militarist bombing that could help influence or even steal an election.
Venezuela and Turkey are just two of the many countries in the world that have passed or are in the process of making the transition from democracy to autocracy during this century. Why is this happening? Applebaum says America’s suppression of democracy promotion in its foreign policy is the main reason, with autocracies taking its place as sources of influence, funding and ideas. As Donald Trump promoted his “America First” policy, widely interpreted as “America Alone”, the void created by his monumental mistake was happily filled by Xi Jinping who flooded the world with Chinese money, gaining power. and influence in return. Although the process took place long before Trump’s arrival, the turmoil in the United States after his four years in power has led to the growing perception around the world that democracy is second better than autocracy, the supporters pointing the finger at a prosperous and stable China. .
This is the context for Joe Biden’s upcoming democracy summit, fulfilling the promise made during the 2020 election campaign to convene in the first year of his presidency a “world summit of democracies”. After this year’s tumultuous transition of power, some might wonder if the United States has the moral authority to sit at the head of the Democratic table. But even after four disastrous years of Trump, much of the democratic world still sees Washington as the “shining city on the hill.” The images of a crowd invading the Capitol has touched a sore point in many fractured Western societies. After all, if it can happen in the heart of Western democracy, it could happen anywhere. Trump certainly gave Xi Jinping a huge gift during his speech, encouraging the crowd to overturn the democratic election result.
By convening the December 9-10 virtual summit in a show of international resolve, Biden’s undeclared goal is to counter diplomatic, economic and military dangers posed by the rising tide of authoritarianism led by the Chinese and Russian governments. Neither country has been invited to the summit, which involves 111 nations. The inclusion of Taiwan infuriated Beijing, which hit back in an unprecedented joint opinion piece by Chinese and Russian ambassadors to the United States, published last Saturday in the National Interest newspaper. The editorial denounced the exclusion of China and Russia both as a failure to recognize what they say are the “unique democratic systems” of their respective countries, as well as as an American effort to “stir up violence”. ideological confrontation ”.
But with American democracy in such a bleak “post-Trump” space, the outlook for the summit is bleak. This month, for the first time, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, a Stockholm-based think tank, added the United States to its list of “declining democracies”, in part by because of Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election was fraudulent. Observers have noted that Trump’s behavior against the Democratic outcome has been replicated by losers in countries as diverse as Myanmar, Peru and Israel, hardly the image envisioned by the architects of Biden’s summit next week.
When Biden declares that one of the summit’s commitments will be to “defend free and fair elections,” critics will point out that 19 U.S. Republican states have enacted 33 laws that make it harder for citizens to vote, and that one a number of states have replaced non-partisan electoral administrators with partisan ideologues, some redrawing electoral maps to effectively deprive minority groups of their rights. No wonder Freedom House, a democracy watchdog group, ranked the state of democracy in the United States well below that of Chile, Costa Rica and Slovakia, citing gerrymandering, the influence of money in politics and the denial of the right to vote for people of color. for bad results. It is hardly a moral summit from which to organize a summit on democracy.
While well-intentioned, the virtual summit that kicks off on Thursday will prove to be just chatter, unlikely to turn the tide of autocracy sweeping the world. While intended to give democracies a boost and alert autocracies, it carries the risk of being counterintuitive, widening disagreements between countries with different systems of government, and injecting unnecessary emotivity into it. debate. By not inviting them to the summit, he is likely to solidify a Russian-Chinese strategic relationship that could shift the balance of power to the detriment of Washington. The inevitable result is that the bad guys will continue to win.

John Dobson is a former British diplomat, who also worked in the office of British Prime Minister John Major between 1995 and 1998.