Summit of democracies — an opportunity for global democratic coordination
By Vladimir Milov, Expert of Free Russia Foundation, Russian prodemocracy politician, publicist, economist and energy expert
According to Freedom House, global freedoms and democracy have been retreating for 15 consecutive years. While the conventional wisdom points to the imperfections of the democratic systems themselves as the main reason, coordinated and orchestrated efforts of global autocratic regimes have played the key role in this process. Equipped with advanced technology and commanding trillions of dollars derived from unprecedented economic growth of the past few decades, contemporary autocracies are capable not only to suppress the natural demand for democratization from their own societies, but also to go on the global offensive. They interfere with domestic policies of the democratic societies, launch cyberwars, propaganda and disinformation attacks, sow division, civic apathy and distrust in democratic institutions, paving the way for new authoritarian trends in societies previously considered solid democracies.
These efforts are well-coordinated. Autocracies continuously learn from each other, adopting ‘best practices’ of oppression to be used against their own societies— sharing the data harvested through surveillance, leveraging law enforcement mechanisms and physical policing hardware, to coordinating cyber and disinformation attacks.
Several autocracies, which should have fallen under the pressure from their own societies demanding democratic changes, have managed to stay afloat and keep dictatorships in place merely due to massive and coordinated support from foreign powers. Syria, Venezuela, Belarus, Myanmar— these regimes wouldn’t hold, were it not for a coordinated intervention of autocratic foreign powers such as Russia, China and Iran to save them.
The international community should recognize this trend as a grave breach of national sovereignty and address it head-on. Allowing autocracies to continue such anti-democratic interventions will lead to their rapid proliferations, taking down fragile democracies one by one like dominoes.
Global coordination to defend democracies against autocratic onslaught is a matter of self-preservation for democratic systems. Such coordination should be formalized in structure and be continuous, and not pop up ad-hoc at summits. It should be organized along the following vectors of effort:
1. Coordinating international political positions and legal actions
It is extremely important to counter global anti-democratic actions of autocracies in the international public space and legal forums.
Systemic interference by autocracies in domestic politics of democratic countries, or interventions of foreign autocratic powers to protect dictatorial regimes like Venezuela, Syria, Belarus or Myanmar have not been raised even once at the U.N. Security Council or other important international bodies.
The democratic world must muster the courage to acknowledge the autocratic threat for what it is and address the systemic nature of the problem at the global stage.
We must develop an international legal framework to punish political interference in domestic affairs of democratic countries. Sanctions should be adopted against autocracies complicit in interventions aimed at saving individual dictatorships despite broad democratic aspirations of the people.
We must clarify the definition of national sovereignty. Autocracies interpret national sovereignty as the right of those who have grabbed power to do as they wish within their national borders. This interpretation contradicts even their own constitutions and national statutes who assert that sovereignty is derived from the free will of the people.
2. Coordinating defense against attacks on democracy
Permanent mechanisms should be established to facilitate information exchange and coordinate best response to autocratic cyberwars, disinformation and propaganda wars, weaponization of migration, drug traffic sponsored by autocracies, and other malign activities in specific areas.
3. Using economic power to halt the autocratic offensive
Democracies dominate the global economy, generating well over 70% of the global GDP. Therefore, they command an enormous economic leverage over autocracies. If used collectively and wisely, this leverage can proof to be powerful enough to create both the incentives for nations to join the democratic community, as well as effective checks on the aggressive behavior of the autocracies. Some ways in which economic leverage can be used include:
- Promoting free trade and investment between democratic nations first, to make sure that democracies enjoy the advantages of free flow of goods, services and investment to a significantly higher extent than autocracies;
- Promoting human rights clauses to free trade and investment agreements as a universal approach— which would end the debate as to whether oppressive regimes should be allowed access to free trade, defining the boundaries purely in legal terms. So far, human rights clauses to FTAs is an option which remains mostly on paper— but can emerge as a powerful leverage over global trade and investment processes.
4. Reaching out to civil societies of the oppressed world
Democracies should clearly distinguish between autocratic regimes and their oppressed peoples— who also want to join the world of democracies but are denied the opportunity to realize their aspiration by brutal self-proclaimed autocratic rulers.
The democratic world should coordinate efforts aimed at:
- Providing global access to free information for oppressed peoples living under autocratic regimes— an extremely important goal, especially in the environment of intensified efforts by autocrats to block their populations from access to free information;
- Providing a wide range of legal and other forms of support to the oppressed people living under autocratic regimes;
- Addressing the demand of the people of non-free societies for enlightenment, education on the principles and foundations of democracy, self-government, and other forms of knowledge that will help them build prosperous democratic societies in the future;
- Actively working with global diasporas of the non-democratic nations to help them become forces of positive change in their own societies;
- Creating new international justice mechanisms for peoples of the non-free societies who lack legal and judicial protection in their own countries, especially important as autocracies have been actively retreating from international justice mechanisms like ECHR, Roman Statute of the ICC, etc.
5. Preventing access to potentially oppressive technologies
Democracies should improve the coordination of their efforts to prevent access for autocracies to products and technologies which can be used to enhance oppressive techniques against their own societies. It is no secret that the bulk of technologies and tools used for domestic repression used by autocracies— from public space surveillance to sophisticated hacking tools to police hardware— originate in the democratic world.
The democratic world should monitor the markets of oppressive tools and techniques and develop an effective mechanism of collective sanctions against domestic producers of equipment and technology, who supply these products to autocratic regimes to be used for malicious purposes.
6. Coordinated sanctions for human rights abuses
Sanctions against individuals and entities involved in human rights abuses in autocratic countries will be more effective if coordinated across the democratic world. Particularly effective are the sanction tools which prevent exports of corrupt capital from autocracies to the free world where money and property is protected by the rule of law. There is an urgent need to develop mechanisms like the Global Magnitsky Act to send a clear signal to autocrats— you and your family cannot count on a good life and well-being in the democratic societies with corrupt money earned through repression and attacks against the democratic world.