Is US summit on democracy necessary?

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By  Adhere Cavince

What you need to know:

  • It is a rushed project to re-establish a Cold War structure, this time with China as the chief antagonist.
  • The US democratisation enterprise has lately come under heavy criticism following the Afghanistan disaster.

Officials in President Joe Biden’s administration are scratching their heads regarding the planned December 2021 Summit on Democracy.

According to the White House, the Summit, part of the deliverables promised by the US leader within his first year in office, is primed to fortify the spirit of democracy around the world.

Its theme may be exciting in some quarters as numerous reports indicate that the Washington idea of democracy is in decline. Yet, this is both simplistic and antagonistic.

First, it creates a two-prism world: A country is either classified as a democracy or otherwise. This view does not appreciate the complex domestic situations in different countries, including in the US, which has lately failed to reflect the hue and character of its democratic yardstick.

In essence, it is a rushed project to re-establish a Cold War structure, this time with China as the chief antagonist. In a world of complex economic interdependence and interests, a number of US allies are growing weary of this dichotomy; creating a nightmare for the organisers.

Secondly, the US democratisation enterprise has lately come under heavy criticism following the Afghanistan disaster. For two decades, Washington tried to impose foreign values on Afghans after driving away the Taliban.

Strengthening democracy

The return to Taliban rule merely days after the announcement of the US pullout and the accompanying humanitarian disaster has sent a chilling message to allies and foes alike about the folly of military adventurism under the guise of democracy promotion. The apparent lack of consultation and coordination with its allies in Afghanistan also sucked much of the leadership dividend that Washington enjoyed within Nato.

Thirdly, consolidating its domestic democratic ideals and realities could have been a more appropriate point of call for the Biden administration. According to the 2021 Chicago Council Survey on US foreign policy, 70 per cent of Americans favour strengthening democracy at home, compared to just 44 per cent who prefer the foreign enterprise.

More importantly, the poll revealed some key focus areas such as improving public education (73 per cent ); preventing the insurrection and political violence (54 per cent ); and reducing both racial (53 per cent ) and economic (50 per cent) inequality as very important in securing US global influence.

The survey indicators are, indeed reflective prevalent views around the world. The racial discrimination remains a scourge within American society. Fixing US democracy will take much effort to ensure safety, economic viability and political inclusion of minority groups living in America.

As the leader of the sole superpower, President Biden has a right and responsibility to shape and reimagine the global role of the US. However, when US domestic character is superimposed on other countries without due consideration of the prevailing circumstances, America loses its leadership potential to continue playing a constructive major power role in the world.

Mr Cavince is an international relations expert.