Summit for Democracy: democracy or hypocrisy?

By Mustafa Hyder Sayed | Gwadar Pro Apr 4, 2023

Editor's Note: The author is Mustafa Hyder Sayed, a policy analyst and executive director of Pakistan-China Institute. The article only reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily of Gwadar Pro.


On March 29, the Summit for Democracy - co-hosted by the United States, Costa Rica, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, and Zambia - officially kicked off. While the summit boasts of promoting human rights and freedom of expression, the regulation of misuse & abuse of technology, and a joint commitment to "counter the proliferation and misuse of commercial spyware", there is an elephant in the room: China.

The Summit proclaims to mobilize countries and to build a coalition to promote democracy and democracies while reversing the rising influence of autocracies. However, not including a stakeholder that now has a seat on every table reveals malintent.

The question arises - who gets to decide which country fits the bill for being an acceptable, kosher democracy and who gets to label which country is the "bad guy" aka autocracy? Or does that country get labelled as an autocracy if it does not toe the line of Washington or aligns with its interests? After all if the United States was really against autocracies, then Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State would not have welcomed and given legitimacy to the military coup against Moursi in Egypt in July, 2013.

This summit reminds me of former US President George W. Bush's narrative of "axis of evil", that painted Iran, Iraq and North Korea to almost be inhuman and evil. The narrative was later used to justify the US’ invasion of Iraq.

It is the same narrative and mentality that the United States used to counter and vilify the Soviet Union in the 1980s, calling it the "red threat" of communists. The US was out to take over the world, instilling fear in ordinary Americans, and to justify military and covert operations that confronted the Soviet Union in different parts of the world, including Afghanistan.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was based on the so called "Islamic threat" where the US linked Saddam Hussain's regime with Al-Qaeda, and purported that it has Weapons of Mass Destruction, which was later rebutted by US National Security Advisor, Condolezza Rice in her 'tell-all' book, where she confessed that Iraq had zilch WMD or anything that warranted an invasion.

Today, we see a new threat being curated, the "Chinese threat", instilling fear in Americans and the world through sophisticated dissemination of fake news that China is a neo-colonial power with aggressive ambitions that can harm American and its partners’ interests.

The trajectory of US foreign policy behavior proves Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis true. The booksays that the United States has always needed an external enemy/threat, against which they can form a strong and unified stance and even coalition, to assert its influence by using military might, and justify the use of strong-arm tactics based on exaggerating the threat of that perceived enemy, thereby maintaining it's hegemony in the world.

However, Washington needs to take a leaf out of French President Emmanuel Macron's wisdom, where he while speaking to a group of French diplomats on September 22, 2022, said that "300 hundred years of western hegemony is now coming to an end".

The fact of the matter is that the French President could not have been more correct. Using hegemonic tactics of bloc politics, and attempts to build coalitions to contain China, could have worked a decade ago, but the world has changed.

The unipolarity of the US in leading the world order has transitioned to a more multipolar world, where the center of gravity of economy, trade and connectivity is shifting to the East. The United States has effectively lost the longest war waged in contemporary history, spanning almost two decades, against the Afghan Taliban, and finally reinstalled the same people they fought back in power - that too after spending 2.3 trillion USD (as per the estimates of the Cost of War Project at the Brown University).

The United States can no longer dole out certificates on human rights, democracy and even autocracies. As per Lindsey A. O'Rourke's article in the December 23rd, 2016 issue of the Washington Post, Lindsey claimed that the US tried to change governments in other countries 72 times. The US has no right to be the representative of the international community and speak on its behalf - if the United States actually wants to have a multilateral effort to discuss pressing issues that it has listed in the agenda of this summit, it should first invite China and make this an inclusive dialogue -only then will such summits command legitimacy.

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