Family reunions are sometimes embarrassing. We meet a cousin who has gone wrong, an aunt whose existence we had forgotten, and the attentions of the owner can be heavy. What unites seems thin compared to what separates. The summit for democracy that the United States will organize in a virtual format on December 9 and 10 will hold some of these obligatory dates.
President Joe Biden has invited 110 countries – out of 197 recognized by the UN. We will talk about the fight against corruption, the defense against authoritarianism and the promotion of human rights. Among the notable absentees is China. Among the notable guests is Taiwan – which the United States does not recognize as a sovereign state. The signal is clear: the summit is part of the strategic rivalry that is exacerbating between Washington and Beijing on a world scale.
There is certainly a sense in promoting democracy. Expression of the aspiration of peoples to govern themselves, it is in decline, according to a recent report by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, based in Stockholm: 98 countries meet its criteria against 104 there is five years old. The alteration is noticeable even in countries which organize elections such as Hungary or Brazil. Above all, China and Russia openly defend antagonistic systems of government and characterize the liberal values of Western countries as decadent. China is based on the leading role of the Communist Party, headed by an all-powerful secretary general, Xi Jinping. Russia operates in an autocratic mode which assures Vladimir Putin a reign for life thanks to the grip of the security services. These leaders are not content to embellish their opponents. They are intensely active in Western countries to undermine citizens’ trust in their governments.
The creation of an alliance for democracy, which Joe Biden seems to want to constitute, nevertheless raises many doubts. First, because the United States is in a bad position to claim leadership. After the presidency of Donald Trump, which weakened American institutions and sowed confusion among Washington’s allies, this country can no longer claim to inspire the rest of the world. Then, democracies all have their dark side and can in no way establish themselves as a club of givers of lessons. The defense of their interests, at the state level, is sometimes not very compatible with that of their values. This hiatus forces them to a certain decency in the promotion of their models. Especially since it is up to each people to find its way. Finally, to draw a line across the world between the good and the bad would amount to creating two antagonistic blocs when the issues demand universal cooperation: climate, biodiversity, the fight against pandemics. France, Germany, the European Union, in particular, do not want to be locked into a logic of blocs. Rather, they defend the modernization of multilateral institutions and the weaving of a complex web of partnerships and common initiatives. At the Elysee Palace, Emmanuel Macron also took his time to respond to Joe Biden’s invitation. Cousinades are probably not his strong suit.