On 9-10 December 2021, the international community of world democracies will discuss the future of democracy at the special Summit of Democracies convened for this occasion by U.S. President Biden. This article uses the opportunity to contribute to the Summit and discussions thereafter and proposes the necessary strategic pledges, by which the international community can defend a joint cause for democracy.
Democracy is the foundation of our way of life, safeguarding and promotion of which is our major responsibility. The democracy values are constantly under attack by many deliberate threats, including hybrid means from autocracies or domestic erosion coming from the rise of populism. As we see, Francis Fukuyama has postponed the end of history, which he predicted in the 1990s, as liberalism and democracy evidently as far away from a global victory. This brings us to the urgency that the international community of democratic countries needs urgent action to protect and promote democracy on the global scale, and for this purpose to upgrade the democracy agenda.
Today, the time has come for the international community of democratic countries to develop a clear perspective on defending these values at home and abroad.
1. Why should we act?
The defence of democracy is inseparable from regional and global security challenges. That is what we are facing in the EU and witness in our neighbourhood how the peoples’ fight for democracy in Belarus and Russia has begun and continued. To this end, the European Union as a community of democratic countries needs to assume strategic responsibility for the support and success of democratic developments in the neighbourhood, as democracies are not fighting each other and are the guarantors of stability and security.
We observe that the impunity of autocracies and lack of effective measures to stop their aggressiveness unleashes them into a very dangerous behaviour being close to international terrorism. The hybrid war against the EU, which Mr Lukashenko has started, is a convincing example of that challenge to the Western democracies.
On the global scale, we note that the international community of democratic countries needs to have a long-term strategy, at least for a decade, towards China having aspirations for a global geopolitical domination, which for the first time in centuries may become authoritarian. That is why the defence of democracy in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the protection of the rights of the Uighur people has a crucial global significance. Our community of democratic countries must demonstrate solidarity and support for the countries of Lithuania or Czechia, which face unprecedented pressure from China for their decisions to develop economic and cultural ties with democratic Taiwan.
2. How should we act?
The transatlantic community of democratic countries needs to act together and adopt a joint strategy to defend democracy, which should be based on a genuine agreement on how we can promote democracy and confront autocracies. We should act on two fronts: the external one – fighting and prosecuting autocracies; and the internal one – domestically fighting foreign hybrid interferences and the rise of populism. To this aim, the international community of democracies should convene the founding conference to prepare and adopt the Global Democracy Convention.
This Convention should include the ‘pushback, contain and engage’ principles. It should foresee actions to strengthen a global capacity to push back and combat autocracies and to punish and sanction those who support autocracies. It should help to adopt effective measures to contain hybrid threats against democracies. Finally, it should propose a more intensive engagement with the young democracies and civil societies in these countries to help the people there in their fight to establish, defend or stabilize democracy and its institutions.
3. This is what shall we do: 10 action points
The international community of democratic countries should propose the global Democracy Defence Toolkit, which should be part of the Convention and contain joint actions on sanctions, policies to counter illicit financial flows, rules on the conditionality of economic and financial assistance, cooperation on international tribunals and investigations, genuine support for democratic forces and human rights activists in countries controlled by autocracies. This Toolkit should include the following global policy instruments:
1. Promoting Democracy – we need to push back the autocracies, which are using the forces of coercive aggression, disinformation and destruction. We need to nurture and promote the values of democracy worldwide and to engage in political dialogue with the agents of democratic change in the autocracies persecuted. In each case, when the elections in the country are recognised as deeply fraudulent, the international community of democratic countries should be ready not to recognise the legitimacy of the parliaments of such autocracies and demand for their suspension from international organisations with parliamentary assemblies.
2. Defending Human Rights – the international community of democratic countries should strengthen the conditionality in their relations with autocracies by pursuing democracy defence measures, such as the ones enshrined in Jackson–Vanik amendment during the Cold War period and which should be aimed at protecting human rights, promoting media freedom and the holding of free elections. The international community of democratic countries should aim at systematic inclusion of strong human rights and democracy clauses in all international agreements between our countries or representing organisations and the rest of the world.
3. Keeping the Unity of Democracies – democracies should stand united in their policies towards autocracies and should avoid being divided or split by autocrats, which is weakening the united front of democracies. The individual or regional formats of special relationships with autocracies should be abandoned in order to keep the unity of democracies.
4. Promoting Financial Transparency – we need to develop a comprehensive system of financial controls to fight foreign interferences. Such a system should be designed with the goal to protect our democracies from illicitly financed practices of influence aimed at undermining universal values. The international community of democratic countries should develop sanctions on those who bring dirty money into the Western democracies and on those who accept them. These controls could involve quick access to information on ultimate beneficial ownership, effective reporting of financial transactions, using more extensively the non-conviction based confiscation, as well as establishing a special agency, starting with Europe, to supervise the enforcement and provide effective remedies.
5. Promoting Justice – the EU should assist and, where necessary, coordinate national universal jurisdiction instruments and the international trial processes, including against the crimes of torture, genocide, human trafficking and migrants smuggling or air piracy. The international community of democratic countries should develop a comprehensive system to coordinate the investigation of crimes committed by the authoritarian regimes against those who are fighting for democracy in our immediate neighbourhood.
6. Promoting Internet Freedom – the international democratic community needs to assist and, where necessary, coordinate the digital drivers to an open pluralistic society. It has to contribute to the effective functioning of basic internet infrastructures to promote democracy. This includes the defence of domestic and global internet technology companies, which are risking their capital and security of their employees while protecting the fundamental freedoms against autocratic powers.
7. Anti-Coercion against Autocracies – we need to develop clear anti-coercion policy instruments against those authoritarian countries (e.g., Russia or China), which are using their economic power in order to coerce against countries and do not agree to follow political demands of the autocracies. We could follow the examples used by some countries in upgrading the status of their relationship with Taiwan, while China because of that is continuing pressure on Lithuania or Czechia, or by upgrading the status and inviting the leaders of democratic Belarus, such as Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, to participate in official proceedings of the EU Eastern Partnership Summit, while the Lukashenko regime is waging the hybrid war against the EU on its external border.
8. Supporting Democratic Modernisation – the international democratic community needs to propose and assist to implement a governance vision and provide social and economic investment support for the young democracies, which have just emerged from autocracy. The international community of democratic countries should ensure that the stabilisation of democracy in these countries is as important, as the moment of change to a democracy.
9. Keeping Sound Democracy of our Institutions – the international community of democratic countries needs to implement concrete actions to help institutions, which were created for the defence of democracy and human rights on the European continent (e.g. Council of Europe, OSCE), to mitigate the presence and interferences in their ranks coming from the authoritarian regimes.
10. Promoting Open Society and Pluralism – the international democratic community needs to prepare itself to adapt to the challenges of post-industrial technological development, which will heavily influence the social basis on which traditional democratic institutions and their competition or activities are built. The international community of democratic countries should confront the internal erosion of democracy in countries, which keep the democracy facade but, at the same time, accept the help from the foreign interferences, feed oligarchies and populism, and make the enemy of ‘otherness’. That is where ensuring media freedom is becoming crucial in the fight for the future of democracy.