Can the countries the United States have invited to an exclusive summit on democracy safeguard and spread a system that is inherently flawed and fragile?
BOGOTÁ — Don't expect much from the Summit for Democracy, summoned by the U.S. President Joe Biden.
Slated later this week, it follows other initiatives to defend and promote democracy worldwide, and will convene by video remote the representatives of 110 invited countries, which the U.S. State Department considers democracies.
Its three stated objectives are: defense against authoritarianism, fighting corruption and promoting respect for human rights.
The first controversy around the gathering emerged from the guest list, which includes some of the United States' chief regional allies.
Whatever the concerns, they are of particular importance amid an incipient, reemerging cold war with China.
Who's in and who's out
The least represented regions will include Central America, the Gulf, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and North Africa. From the Middle East, only Israel and Iraq were invited, with the latter included to show that the 2003 invasion achieved something. Tunisia, an erstwhile example to hold up from the Arab Spring, was not invited. It is slowly, though not inevitably, sliding toward authoritarian rule.
Was there an inherent, democratic flaw that has brought this regression?
The invitation to Taiwan was clearly a slap at China, which has, alongside Russia, derided the summit as a bid to divide the world and foment a "cold war mentality." The summit excluded the usual suspects from Latin America — Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela — but also Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Bolivia. For better or worse these last four have democratically elected governments.
Joe Biden at the 2021 NATO Summit in Brussels
How much do we value democracy?
At a time of grave deterioration in liberal democracies, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, and when a creature we thought extinct, the putsch, has reemerged with dismal vigor, one wonders, was there an inherent, democratic flaw that has brought this regression? How far does the balance between liberty and prosperity lean toward the former? How much do societies value the separation of powers and freedom of expression?
Rocky terrain, with uncertain objectives.
One would have to somehow confirm Winston Churchill's familiar opinion that democracy was the worst system, bar all others. Because while improvements in material prosperity are palpable in places like China and Vietnam, which are under one-party rule, in some democracies, inequality and vulnerability have increased.
Biden's summit and other moves to spread democracy have entered rocky terrain, with uncertain objectives. At the end of the day, it is for nations themselves to defend their democracies.
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