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About the U.S. Democracy Summit
 Source:Centre for Strategic Thinking  Views:707 Updated:2021-12-15

The U.S. government last week just held a democracy summit. More than 100 invitees participated in this virtual gathering. The summit, as announced by the White House, focused on three broad themes: “strengthening democracy and defending against authoritarianism; fighting corruption; and promoting respect for human rights.”1

Even though the U.S. officials pledged, through the summit, to re-build the confidence in the democratic values across the globe, observers generally agreed that the democracy summit mainly carried a geo-political purpose in supporting the U.S. overall strategy in dealing with its counterparts such as China and Russia. This piece will tend to do a short analysis on the meaning carried by the democracy summit from a strategic perspective, yet before doing so, it would briefly share an alternative understanding on how democracy, in terms of its relevance to states, is supposed to be practiced in international relations, as well as the dilemma some states are facing concerning the practice of democracy internationally.

Practice of Democracy and Its Relevance to States

Democracy is a universal human value, yet it doesn’t have to be only one model. Practicing democracy in international relations partly means that all countries should feel free to choose their own development path and model of democracy in line with their national conditions, rather than follow one model of democracy developed by a particular country, as long as the choices made by different states wouldn’t tend to harm others.

The issue certain states have to face currently in practicing democracy is that, from the perspective of some U.S. officials and policy advisors, American model of democracy is the universal and standard one, hence, according to which, the U.S. divides the world into democracies and autocracies; and even for the democracies, in line with the U.S. standard, some of which are not fully democratic.

The purpose of the U.S. holding a democracy summit is to restore confidence in the values of democracy and to enhance the U.S. status by gathering as more countries as possible. Nevertheless, dividing the world and categorizing democracies according to the U.S. standard of democracy seem to confront the U.S. politicians’ original expectation. If the U.S. wants to be a real global leader, it is very in need for them to think about how to unite the world, rather than divide the world in the first place.

Another issue out of the democracy summit in the meantime that needs to be addressed is that whether the American model of democracy has been and will be able to solve some of the fundamental challenges faced by the participating countries shown in the democracy summit.

U. S. politicians acknowledged that democracy faces huge challenges, and there has been a democratic recession over the years. One of the examples to expose the democratic recession is that a large proportion of the citizens in some democracies have lost their trust in their democratic governments and institutions. The problems like trust deficiency in certain parts of the democratic world were not caused by the non-democracies, rather, they were mostly led by the fact that certain important issues within the democratic societies haven’t been properly handled. Therefore, the most effective way to prove the resilience of the democratic values is to find better means to address the challenging issues at both domestic and international level.

After all, despite that the democracy summit didn’t seem to be a big deal for the participating countries, from the strategic perspective, some American politicians considered it very useful for the U.S., as it could pave the way for the U.S. to carry on its overall strategy in handling its competitors.

The Strategic Meaning Carried by the Summit for Democracy

One of the important tactics under the U.S. general strategy could be to deploy propaganda and maybe even disinformation to help generate a favourable environment for the U.S. in the competition with its counterparts. It was ever frequently used in the Cold War. In the new era, the U.S. has revealed its intent to use the similar tactics on some occasions to deal with China. From the U.S. understanding, winning through propaganda appears to be most cost-effective, as applying economic and military means can be too disruptive and costly.

The former U.S. government ever applied economic measures to handle China and other number of countries by raising tariffs, and even by threatening to be decoupling with China, yet the repercussions by imposing great economic pressure have been exposed - the U.S. middle class have suffered more from the consequences led by the U.S. policy measures against other countries; also because of which, the supply chain issue currently became a headache for U.S. policy makers. Under these circumstances, even though the U.S. may still take certain tough economic means against China, applying them in a dramatic scale is very unlikely.

Deploying military means to manage China is also too costly and catastrophic, and not in the U.S. interest. The U.S. doesn’t want a real conflict with China. It doesn’t want to use too disruptive means to win. What it really anticipates is to win through peaceful means. Using propaganda in this case should be most possibly selective and cost-effective for the U.S.

Through the democracy summit, both the U.S. Secretary of State and the U.S. president have revealed the U.S. willingness to fund the relevant efforts for defending and promoting democracy. For instance, the U.S. president announced a plan to establish a special initiative named the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, under which, the U.S. will provide funding worth of $424.4 million to promote democracy including supporting independent media reporters and democratic reformers, as well as advancing the technologies for promoting democracy etc.2

Under this particular circumstance, other countries have every reason to doubt the ulterior intention of the U.S. for doing this .

Three decades ago, the Cold War was ended not by a big military conflict between the former Soviet Union and the U.S., rather, the Soviet was collapsed by itself. Despite the fact that the dissolution of the Soviet had other complex internal and external reasons, the disinformation and propaganda applied by the U.S. could play a role as well in driving the Soviet toward the final stage of disintegration. It appears that now the U.S. has the proclivity to use the same way it ever handled the Soviet to deal with China.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to see the possible new consequences of using propaganda and maybe disinformation in the new era. For the global public, allowing disinformation to flow freely in the public domain in order to win public support to the American democracy would risk generating more confusion as well as more distrust either in certain media or in the government agencies which handle the issues related to propaganda and information.

Besides that, for the two major powers China and the United States, unlike the former Soviet Union and the then U.S. during the Cold War years, China and U.S. are more closely connected through cooperation in almost all core issue areas. Applying disinformation and propaganda would compromise the cooperation of the two on a number of key bilateral, regional, and global issues. The ensuing consequences will  spill over not just to the two powers but also to the world.

After all, the disinformation tactic deployed by the U.S. during the Cold War wouldn’t work when it relates to China in today’s world, given the already changed international environment, as well as that the nature of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union is different from that between China and the U.S..

By the way, the U.S. President claimed to hold another democracy summit in a year, with the purpose of checking up the progress of what having been discussed in this just concluded summit. It should be noted that, at around the time of the next democracy summit, the U.S. middle-term election will take place as well. So, the next summit will generally be conducive to the president anticipation in gaining a favourable position for himself as well as for the current U.S. administration. In that case, the democracy summit has also been planned to play a role in the U.S. domestic politics.

Nonetheless, after the above analysis regarding the meaning carried by the democracy summit, there is a need to raise these questions again that what the participating countries can achieve more substantially for their people and their countries through this democracy summit and possibly another one? And whether the summit for democracies can help address some of the most challenging issues faced by the participants? These have to be properly answered if the U.S. intends to promote the American model of democracy.

More crucially, from the author’s understanding, there might be a fair competition among different groups or different countries, it may not be appropriate to name a competition between democracy and non-democracy, because if one tends to define a competition between democracy and non-democracy, the nature of the competition apparently has changed from a normal competition to an ideological one. If the U.S. intends to once again hold highly of the ideology banner, and let ideology drive policy-making and decide which country to cooperate with or to compete with, the U.S. risks retrogressing to the past.



2. Ibid.

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