Summit for Democracy : No one size fits all

Publish: 8:48 PM, December 25, 2021 | Update: 8:48:PM, December 25, 2021

The White House announced that it invited over 100 countries to a “Summit for Democracy” on Dec. 9-10. But is it reasonable to say that the non-invitees didnot merit invitation at all ?

For example, on the guest list were Armenia and Georgia, but not Azerbaijan and Turkey which are perceived as dictatorships. Interestingly, the latter two countries did not complain about their absence from the Summit until they found out that Armenia was invited. In a statement, the White House said that “the challenge of our time is to demonstrate that democracies can deliver by improving the lives of their own people and by addressing the greatest problems facing the wider world.”

The White House announcement also stated that this Summit is “to be followed in roughly a year’s time by a second, in-person Summit. Following a year of consultation, coordination, and action, President Biden will then invite world leaders to gather once more to showcase progress made against their commitments at the Summit.

After the White House made this announcement, a heated discussion broke out as to why certain countries were invited to the Summit, while others were not. Obviously, this Summit wasintended to form a coalition led by the United States against its rivals, China and Russia. Do some of the invited leaders have any concerns about being viewed as “pro-western” and “anti-China and Russia?”

This is a particularly sensitive issue for Armenia which has strong military and economic ties with Russia and is in the process of establishing closer relations with China. How will China and Russia view Armenia’s participation in such an adversarial Summit? PM NikolPashinyan, who accepted the US’ invitation, has to give serious thought to the negative Russian reaction for his participation in such a Summit. However, the refusal to participate would also have consequences with the United States.

While Armenia welcomed its invitation to the Summit for Democracy, Pashinyan has regrettably regressed from his initially-declared democratic values by harassing or jailing protesters, muzzling the media and taking unilateral decisions without any input from the public or even those in his ruling circle. For someone who came to power by espousing democratic ideals, Pashinyan bizarrely campaigned during the June elections while holding a hammer in his hand and threatening to bash the heads of his political opponents. By inviting Armenia to the Summit, the United States was probably enticing the Armenian government to come closer to the West.

A US official “involved in the planning of the summit told Reuters that invites were sent to countries with different experiences of democracy from all regions of the world. ‘This was not about endorsing, ‘You’re a democracy, you are not a democracy.’ That is not the process we went through.’ Biden administration officials say they had to ‘make choices’ to ensure regional diversity and broad participation,” Reuters reported. Naturally, Azerbaijan and Turkey were not pleased that Armenia was invited to the Summit, while they were excluded. In an article published by AzerNews newspaper titled, “Democracy summit or clear example of double standards,” AyyaLmahamad quoted VugarIskandarov, a member of Azerbaijan’s Parliament, who complained, “it is ridiculous that countries such as Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Hungary are not invited to the summit, where the level of democracy is much higher than that in the majority of invited countries.”

Indeed, the Democracy Summit again showed up the flaws in the conduct of US diplomacy. There is no one brand of democracy in the world or the western parliamentary brand of democracy. There are different concepts and practices of democracy in the world. The USA would do better if it did not indulge in hypocrisies but had been more open and accommodative. Even in countries that at least come near to practicing its own brand of democracy, the USA showed no consideration whatsoever. For example, Turkey and Bangladesh have elected parliaments, regular holding of elections at different levels to carry on representative functions, reasonably free media and other trappings of a democracy resembling it. But they were not invited by Washington but even a currently repressive regime like in Armenia was invited to participate for geopolitical reasons and not for its neat democratic credentials. In its choice between invitees and non invitees Washington more encouraged divisions and seemed aiming at humiliation of the non invitees than a anything useful when allowing wider participation could pay off better by gradually weaning them away from autocratic impulses in the long run.