Democracy is seriously threatened in the present-day world due to a rise in corruption, organized crime, populism and extremism, participants in the Forum 2000 conference concluded in the first panel debate on Monday, Radio Praha reports:
The conference which brings together thinkers from around the globe is also focusing on the impact of the social media on democracy. German political analyst Yasha Mounk pointed out that thanks to social networks extremists have become more voluble and more connected, a process that has fuelled populism in many states. Former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzáles noted that functional democratic systems had only survived in Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand which is roughly 27 percent of the world.
It looks like a new division is replacing the old Cold War dichotomy of democratic capitalism versus authoritarian communism. In the new system, democratic-socialist countries will face off against authoritarian state-capitalist ones. It will be the Denmark model versus the Singapore model, says Bloomberg analyst Noah Smith. Will the democracies prevail this time around? No one knows. But the authoritarians could have several advantages, he contends:
- First, redistribution costs a lot of money [see above]. Resources that are spent on caring for the sick and the poor can’t be spent on military power — this is the famous “guns versus butter” trade-off.
- Second, democratic-socialist nations may be tempted to do some of their redistribution through heavy regulation of private industry or trade protectionism; this could potentially distort their economies and allow authoritarian countries to catch up or even surpass them. No one really knows how damaging the various forms of protectionism and regulation really are, but this worry can’t be dismissed.
- Finally, there’s the possibility that open, democratic societies may be at a disadvantage in the modern age of information warfare. Russian interference in Western politics is now a regular phenomenon, while Chinese and Russian control of the internet limits democracies’ ability to retaliate in kind.
“So while democracy defeated authoritarianism in the Cold War, this time around it won’t have the deck stacked in its favor,” Smith adds. “When authoritarian countries embraced Stalinist communism, they hobbled their economies. Don’t assume they will make that mistake again.”
In the future, the line between free and unfree nations won’t be as stark as the graffiti-covered concrete walls and rusty razor wire that walled-off East Berlin from West Berlin. Globalization makes that impractical, argues Heritage analyst James Jay Carafano. The ability to transit the free and less free worlds with goods, services and ideas will remain, but travelers will know when they are strangers in a strange land. As this order takes hold the distinctions between parts of the world will become more, not less, noticeable. There are three reasons why, he writes:
Strategy is Gravity: As an imperative of survival and the preservation of a free way of life, established democracies will band together. Not necessarily because they are democracies, but because they believe they need each other. Our strategies are pulling us together.
Freedom is Resilient : For all its efforts to measure the fate of freedom in the world, one of the weaknesses of the 2017 Freedom House index is its obsession with identifying the rise of populism and nationalism as a significant threat to freedom. …While some view populism as a sign of rot, others argue that it reflects the strength of established democracies and their ability to weather criticism. Populism is both the “canary in the mineshaft” demonstrating unease with the established order and a “pressure-valve” that allows for free expression, providing an alternative to more disruptive action. The established democracies are pretty resilient. A solid bet would be that they adopt and respond to current political whirlwinds.
Freedom Pays: Not only does the consent of the governed to be governed make established democracies more resilient, it makes them more competitive, more innovative and more adaptable. Democracy is a great competitive advantage for established democracies. That’s why countries struggle to become one.
But the U.S. administration can do much to exploit the three big advantages of established democracies and help our side win the world, Heritage’s Carafano contends:
- Step one: Refurbish the instruments of national power. If the United States is going lead in restructuring the global order, then it needs the means to exert global influence through robust hard power and soft power. That means a strong economy, a strong military and confident foreign policy.
- Step two: Promote state-centric policies. From trade to security, U.S. policies should reflect America’s vision that established democracies ought to measure up to the tasks ahead. The administration has already started to do this. Witness, for example, its emphasis on the importance of burden sharing. The United States can’t be shy in making the case that revitalizing the concept of sovereignty is the salvation of—not the threat to—the free world. The United States also needs to get the established democracies working together to lead. In Asia, for example, Australia, Japan, India and America ought to be working together to engage China. The administration also needs to hold accountable the institutions, such as the UN, that support the international order. Rather than turn its back on international and multinational institutions, the United States should press them to do a better job supporting the established democracies.
- Step three: Step up influencing friends and allies. The United States should put more effort into the sweet-spots, the “middling” states. China is always going to be China. On the other end, fixing basket-cases like Sudan is a heavy lift. States in the middle with a modicum of governance offer the United States an opportunity to fill out the ranks of the free. Washington should target strategically important states it can influence, adding better allies to America’s side.
- Step four: Put the sidewalks where people walk. Rather than try to define what a future world order might look like, the United States should focus on the steps that will get it there. As free nations begin to dominate a world characterized by open-spheres of differing (hopefully not warring) interests, the need for the right kind of future institutions will emerge. These structures may be revitalized versions of current institutions; they may emerge from initiatives like the [Community] of Democracies, or they may be ideas not on the table yet. What they should be are structures that help sustain the freedom, prosperity and security that will be advanced by the association of established democracies.
First published in The National Interest.