Dr. Daniel Twining
The United States is emerging from a period of domestic turmoil induced by political polarization, dangerous forms of incitement and partisan agitation, and the shocking invasion of Congress by a mob of violent extremists whose purpose was to assault the institutions of U.S. democracy. Luckily, those institutions have held strong, demonstrating democracy’s resilience and the prospects for renewal under fresh leadership. But it is not only the United States that has been buffeted by domestic stresses and strains. Despite the global focus (and blame placed) on Trump, domestic politics in Europe and India could impede cooperation with the United States under its renewed leadership. The United Kingdom has exited the EU, making NATO more central to the United States’ objective to work more closely with Europe, since EU institutions no longer include the United States’ closest European ally. Democratic backsliding, especially in Hungary, has placed pressure on democratic unity within the EU, while Turkey’s neo-Ottoman pretensions and growing collaboration with Russia challenge NATO’s unity in the face of continuing the latter’s aggression. In India, growing concerns over ethno-majoritarianism, intimidation of free media critical of the government, and unequal protections for all Indian citizens call into question the health of the world’s largest democracy.
But the world cannot wait for India, Europe, or the United States to perfect their democracies. That struggle will never end, while security, technological, and economic challenges metastasize in ways that demand urgent attention. Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, China is pursuing an increasingly aggressive campaign to weaken the West, assert its hegemony in Asia, and corrode the free and open world the United States and its allies built after 1989 in favor of a Beijing-centered international system that is safe for autocracy. Should the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) succeed in its designs, no democracy will be safe, as Australia has shown recently in the face of China’s weaponization of trade and investment to demand political subservience. The EU’s new investment treaty with China could be construed as making a separate peace with China, despite common concerns shared by the United States and India over predatory Chinese economic practices. The democracies will need to work together to prevent the further ascendancy of CCP norms in world affairs—including in forums like the Quad (for the United States and India), the United Nations Security Council (for the United States, the United Kingdom, and India given its current non-permanent membership), and a new D-10 grouping of democracies that includes the G-7 states as well as India, Australia, and South Korea.
They will also need to collaborate more closely to make technology work for democracy. U.S. social media platforms are all too belatedly coming to grips with their role in propagating extremist voices advocating political violence against the state—a red line in any democratic society. Europe has done a better job at balancing free speech and individual privacy rights without enabling authoritarian abuses of those rights—but at times the EU’s heavy regulatory hand could be confused for an attempt to kneecap U.S. tech companies. Nor have European nations or the EU clearly broken with the Chinese telecommunications and technology companies that are known fifth columns of malign CCP influence that put Europeans’ way of life at risk.
Meanwhile, India has taken the most hawkish approach to limiting online speech and to banning Chinese technologies as well as in rejecting China’s Belt and Road ambitions to construct an alternative physical and digital infrastructure that tilts bilateral economic relations further in China’s direction. European nations that have participated in China’s 17+1 summits and whose leaders signed Belt and Road commitments welcoming questionable Chinese investments could learn from New Delhi that security is in fact priceless. A new D-10 forum would be the venue for a strategic and continuing U.S.-Europe-India conversation about how protect the free and open internet from Chinese control and surveillance, as well as to compare notes about the security dangers posed by domestic extremists mobilized by online disinformation.
President Biden has pledged to host a Summit for Democracy during his first year in office, an initiative that has been welcomed in Europe and India. Democracies should convene to agree on a new agenda for global growth that is targeted directly at their middle and lower classes, whose economic aggrievement as a result of the global financial crisis, China’s abuse of the open world trading system, and the pandemic has produced dangerous political instabilities that threaten the global order. At the summit, the United States, India, and Europe should recommit to protecting and deepening their open systems, since legitimacy and resilience are derived from effective self-government. They should rally for the contest of systems ahead, one that pits democratic governance against what U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken calls China’s “techno-authoritarianism.”
Leaders in Europe and India may welcome the Biden administration, but the hard work lies ahead: in forging a new compact for democratic collaboration in world affairs that protects the free and open world from foreign and domestic forms of malign influence. Strong and resilient democratic institutions provide a strategic advantage in world affairs, as attested by the varying attempts by the Kremlin and the CCP to assault and subvert them abroad. Perhaps the most important investments India, Europe, and the United States can make in their strategic competitiveness and capacity for partnership lie at home, so that each of their public supports the international leadership their countries must play to preserve the free and open world that is the truest source of prosperity and security.