One of the interesting divisions emerging from the Biden administration’s campaign to re-energize the G7 and NATO against China is its attempt to divide the world into ‘democracies’ and ‘autocracies,’ and to insist that the two groups are squaring off against each other as if they’re in a superfriends-versus-the-empire-of-evil cartoon from the 80s.
In order for this division to make sense, one needs to ignore many inconvenient details. These include the fact that, as the analyst Dnyanesh Kamat recently pointed out, many nominal U.S. allies (Hungary, Turkey, Ethiopia, India) have retreated from democracy in different ways in recent years.
While prominent Biden administration officials like Samantha Power (a key proponent of humanitarian interventionism and the new head of USAID) has identified ‘democratic backsliding’ as a key priority, it remains unclear how this will be tackled, especially in view of these power blocks’ larger priorities. After all, it’s not like these are sudden developments – Hungary has been dismantling democracy at home for years, all while cuddled in Europe’s bosom. In a similar vein, I don’t see India’s lurch towards right-wing religious fundamentalism getting it kicked out of the Quad any time soon.
An even more inconvenient detail is that even as Biden was pushing the democracies v. autocracies division in Cornwall, voting rights for American citizens are increasingly coming under pressure. Republican initiatives to narrow voting rights, especially targeting voters of color, are popping upin several states, while a Democratic voting rights bill seems on shaky legs.
This isn’t me indulging in whataboutism. I’m more pointing out that China’s non-interference doctrine, which bars it from meddling in the domestic affairs of others has been extremely convenient for its cooperation with the rest of the world. Not only does it provide a convenient excuse against intervening in other countries, it also spares China the complicated back and forth of trying to decide who counts as a democracy in this broken world.
The Biden administration’s insistence on B3W being pushed by a coalition of democracies raises interesting questions about how it will function in Africa, where Western democracy-promotion is frequently reframed by leaders in power as threats of ‘regime change.’
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