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Self-goal?

The US policy establishment in its wisdom has decided that the Summit for Democracy, which is expected to be held in virtual mode and is likely to be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi among other leaders, will exclude China and Russia and include Taiwan and Ukraine. Clearly, the idea behind the move is to rile Beijing and Moscow (respectively) but what is problematic is the lumping of China and Russia in the same category.

Statesman News Service | Kolkata |

Those of a particular vintage will remember former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s strong push in the late 1990s for what was described as an ‘ethical foreign policy’ which would factor in human rights, democratic structures, and ethical behaviour in relations between nation-states.

It was all the rage for a few years, especially among the naïve searching for mutual bliss-points in geo-strategic terms, before it was given a quiet burial post 9/11. American President Joe Biden’s ‘Summit for Democracy’ ~ the first edition of which is scheduled for 9-10 December ~ is ostensibly, and similarly, aimed at placing democracy and human rights at the heart of American foreign policy. And it too seems to be an equally ill-thought-out effort at global grandstanding which may end up doing more harm than good.

The US policy establishment in its wisdom has decided that the Summit for Democracy, which is expected to be held in virtual mode and is likely to be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi among other leaders, will exclude China and Russia and include Taiwan and Ukraine. Clearly, the idea behind the move is to rile Beijing and Moscow (respectively) but what is problematic is the lumping of China and Russia in the same category.

While the former is an absolutist state and has no pretentions of being a Western-style multi-party polity with regular free and fair elections premised on universal adult franchise, it is a significant mischaracterisation to place Russia in that category despite the real and perceived weaknesses in its democratic structures.

The Biden Administration’s Summit is, in that sense, more a cynical ploy to punish Russia for aligning with China on myriad global issues including Afghanistan and taking a hard line on Ukraine than an initiative to bring together the democratic world. That it is primarily Washington’s strategic interests that are sought to be protected is also evident from the fact that Pakistan has been invited but Bangladesh has not because the former is vital to the USA’s counter-terrorism agenda.

Similarly, only Israel and Iraq have been invited from West Asia as America is no longer interested in focussing on the region while the Philippines finds itself on the invitation list as a long-standing US ally from South-East Asia which has of late been showing signs of cosying up to the Chinese. How all these squares with the charter of the Summit for Democracy which includes defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting human rights is anybody’s guess.

Experts point out that a deeper danger emanating from what a wag terms the Summit for Hypocrisy is that it may well end up as a spectacular American self-goal, as it would provide traction to China’s narrative that ‘democracy’ is only the cover for a US-led Western agenda unsuitable to so-called Asian values.

The Summit comes at a time when “democracy and human rights are under threat around the world’’, according to the US State Department. The manner in which the event is being conducted will do little to change that.