Biden Wants to Convene an International 'Summit for Democracy'. He Shouldn'tRoundup
tags: foreign policy, international relations
David Adler is a political economist and General Coordinator of the Progressive International
Stephen Wertheim is deputy director of research and policy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and research scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. He is author of Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of US Global Supremacy, published by Harvard University Press.
Democracy is in disrepair. Over the past four years, President Donald Trump has mocked its rules and norms, accelerating the decay of democratic institutions in the United States. We are not alone: a global reckoning is underway, with authoritarian leaders capitalizing on broken promises and failed policies.
To reverse the trend, President-elect Joe Biden has proposed to convene a Summit for Democracy. His campaign presents the summit as an opportunity to “renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the Free World”. With the US placing itself once again “at the head of the table”, other nations can find their seats, and the task of beating back democracy’s adversaries can begin.
But the summit will not succeed. It is at once too blunt and too thin an instrument. Although the summit might serve as a useful forum for coordinating policy on such areas as financial oversight and election security, it is liable to drive US foreign policy even further down a failed course that divides the world into hostile camps, prioritizing confrontation over cooperation.
If Biden is to make good on his commitment to “meet the challenges of the 21st century”, his administration should avoid recreating the problems of the 20th. Only by diminishing antagonism toward the nations outside the “democratic world” can the US rescue its democracy and deliver deeper freedom for its people.
The Summit for Democracy assumes and reinforces the division of the earth between the nations of the Free World and the rest. It revives a mental map that was first drawn by the managers of US foreign policy eight decades ago during the second world war. “This is a fight between a slave world and a free world,” said Vice-President Henry Wallace in 1942, calling for “complete victory in this war of liberation”.
But we no longer live in Wallace’s world. The commanding crises of our century cannot be found in the conflict between countries. Instead, they are common among them. The American people will be secured not by any “complete victory” over external adversaries but by a sustained commitment to improve life in the US and cooperate as a partner across traditional boundaries of US diplomacy.
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