By Jason Sibert
One of the central divides in foreign policy today is the battle between the ideas of a democratic republic and authoritarianism around the world.
The People's Republic of China represents the strict authoritarian mode of government. Vladimir Putin's Russia represents an authoritarian democracy and Turkey is an example of authoritarian democracy under Recep Erdogan as is Hungry under Viktor Orban. President Donald Trump, or Trumpism, represents a manifestation of authoritarian democracy in the United States.
The security problems of the future - the greenhouse effect, nuclear proliferation, pandemics, the growth of authoritarianism - require collective action. The authoritarian streak in nation-states, which spills over into the international arena, militates against the idea of international cooperation, as this type of politics represents a natural dislike of the interests of other states. Our country needs to reset its priorities in the future if we are to secure peace and rebuild internally. Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden gives us some ideas in his fine story "Why America Must Lead Again." The United States, like any nation-state, isn't perfect. However, we face a dim future if we don't learn how to develop and use our power. Soft power, cultural influence, foreign aid, diplomacy, the establishment of international law through treaties, would be the preferred method of achieving these goals. If authoritarianism were to win the struggle, we might see the use of more hard power, or military force.
Biden advocates renewing America's alliances, as Trump's foreign policy has put us at odds with people who have been our allies in the past. Some of the vice-president's plans revolve around making us domestically strong, like improving education, investing in infrastructure, broadband, highways, research and development, rail, low and no-carbon energy, healthcare, and the internet. He also advocates ending the practicing of separating children from their parents at the border, an end the Trump Administration's asylum policies, and also renewal of the ban on torture. Biden has suggested holding a Summit for Democracy with other democracies to renew the spirit of the democratic republic. The former vice-president pointed out in "America Must Lead Again" that we must form a trading block with democracies to counter the influence of authoritarian China in the economic realm.
Biden, very wisely, said he would only use force as a last resort. He states he will bring our troops home from the Middle East and stop the support for Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen. The vice-president widely promotes the use of diplomacy in restoring funding for the State Department and said it should be the first element of power (soft power) our country uses.
Mr. Biden says he will recommit our country to the idea of international law by reentering the Paris Climate Accords and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and extending the New Start Treaty. The vice-president also said that we should work with China to control North Korea's nuclear arsenal.
However, Biden's story lacks when it comes to integrating foreign adversaries into international norms and moving them away from authoritarian systems in time. China and Russia are allied in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. However, the issues of climate change and nuclear proliferation do threaten their security. Biden said we should work with them on these issues, which is important in the beginning stages of establishing a lawful world, but he said little about China and Russia's future. We should commit, with our allies, to keeping the competition between authoritarian states out of the military realm. By being a more perfect example of what a democracy can accomplish, then we make ourselves and example of what China and Russia can become in time. We must have faith in their people to demand democratic reform and the U.S. cannot be an example of democracy unless we reject authoritarianism within our borders.
The alliance of democracies should set benchmarks on the definition of a democracy and allow our adversaries into this alliance if they meet those benchmarks. In becoming a more perfect union, we can use our soft power to change the minds of impressionable people all over the world as to what type of country they want to live in.
Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).