The United States held a virtual summit for Democracy on December 9-10, where participants from around 110 states, regions and entities joined. Unlike other global-level meetings focused on important causes and wellbeing of the world, it has created some controversies, apart from enthusiasm among America’s allies since its announcement by US President Joe Biden soon after his assumption of office early this year.
The summit has ended with a promise to fight autocracies and called for a follow-up summit to evaluate progress in safeguarding fair elections, protection of human rights, and fight against corruption.
However, as one of the most important socio-political innovations of modern civilization, democracy is a common value of humankind rather than the patent of certain nations. In essence, democracy is a form of government organisation in which the people have the ultimate say or paramount authority. It has diverse variants across the world that had evolved in different forms against different socio-cultural backdrops over a long period of time.
So, no certain form of democracy overwhelms others. For example, democracy with a queen at the helm in the UK, democracy under one party in China, and democracy under the guardian council in Iran show different social and historical realities. Only people living in a certain polity decide what the best one is for them.
The summit is a move by the US that resembles the Cold War psyche of dealing with a world divided into two camps – the good and the bad. The US state department’s official document reads that the summit is meant to galvanise themes of “defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights”. The US is marking the countries as authoritarian, corrupt and human rights abusers that were not invited to the summit. Thus, the US excluded the non-Western models of democracy or the systems that are different from theirs, like China’s and Iran’s.
Also, some countries with questionable democratic credentials appear on the list of invitees, while many mature democracies in terms of holding free and fair elections like Sri Lanka are excluded. Iran was not invited because it America's foe in the Middle East. On the hand, Israel, which has been engaged in systemic killing of Palestinians, was invited since it’s a US friend.
Josh Ruebner, an American author, political analyst, and activist, in an interview with a Middle Eastern magazine, said, “For most of its 70 years of existence, Israel has succeeded in garnering support from the West by successfully portraying itself as a liberal democracy. Yet, the reality of its policies toward the Palestinian people is very different. Israel has always been a separate and unequal regime that has provided Palestinians with either lesser rights or no political rights at all based on their nationality and/or religion.”
Only two countries from the Middle East were invited to the summit – Israel, and Iraq, who are actually US allies.
About not being invited to the summit, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen said the US seemed to have invited “weak democracies”. It is observed that the US might have invited its de-facto and potential allies, on geopolitical considerations to counter Russia and China.
Meanwhile, the US has been struggling with its own democracy for long. Disregarding the rule of law, governmental dysfunction, congressional paralysis, expansion of executive power and mistrust of elections, voter suppression, and political polarisation in recent years suggest that the US may not be only or the most qualified candidate for hosting such a summit.
Moreover, the US is accused of violating human rights on foreign soil and of supporting some undemocratic and autocratic regimes. Some countries like Bangladesh might not have been invited to the summit, in view of the state of their democratic practice and governance process, including the electoral process.
In a rebuttal of the US criticism of the Chinese system, China recently released a white paper titled "China: Democracy That Works”, which says that the people's status as masters of the country is the essence of people's democracy. It claims that China integrates process-oriented democracy with results-oriented democracy, procedural democracy with substantive democracy, direct democracy with indirect democracy, and people's democracy with the will of the state.
It’s said that the US is trying to forge a global alliance against its rivals using democracy as a dividing factor. That’s why the US hasn’t forgotten to invite Taiwan, which China claims as its integral part. China's Foreign Ministry expressed its strong opposition, saying there is only one China in the world. The invitation is seen as a provocation for confrontation that may jeopardise global peace.
“War is the American way of life,” noted US historian Paul Atwood. In its more than 240-year-long history since declaring independence on July 4, 1776, there have only been 16 years in which the US was not at war. From the end of World War II to 2001, the US had initiated 201 of the 248 armed conflicts in 153 locations, accounting for over 80 per cent of total wars fought, according to a Global Times investigation. It added that since 2001, wars and military operations by the US have claimed more than 800,000 lives and displaced tens of millions of people
Of course, US democracy may be the best form of government in the world, but every country, polity and civilization should have their right to be happy with whatever systems they have and choose. Branding a nation as good or bad doesn’t help the cause of democracy as the choice of people. The world has witnessed catastrophic consequences when the US tried to export democracy – to Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria or Libya.