The Democratic Community: A Path for U.S. Engagement?
This event took place on Wednesday, October 14, 2020
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and to our ongoing webinar series on U.S. Global Engagement. I am very happy today to have with us not only my co-host for The Doorstep podcast, Tatiana Serafin, but also to welcome Ash Jain of the Atlantic Council. Ash is well known to us in the global engagement community and in this project and has spoken several times at the Council before. Both in the Chat and in the transcript we will connect his full and distinguished biography.
He has been overseeing a very interesting project at the Atlantic Council, which is looking at reconnecting and reinvigorating the community of democratic states to be able to work together to share and pool their efforts in an increasingly unstable and competitive world, where authoritarian powers seek to revise the international system, and how do we meet this challenge, and how do we not only meet this challenge, but how do we through cooperation of the major democratic states work to improve outcomes for our citizens? He will be joining us today to discuss the democratic community, where we are at this stage of this project, and prospects for this perhaps serving as a template and model for U.S. global engagement going forward.
Before I turn over the floor to Ash, I would again like to recognize my co-host and co-panelist today, Tatiana Serafin. If you have anything to start us off with, I will turn the floor over to you.
TATIANA SERAFIN: Absolutely. I think it is such an important discussion to begin looking at what the next perhaps four years might look like. Here we are in the middle of a highly politicized election, and the two different candidates have very different views of the international order, and I think this has to play into how we are looking at your work and your project and prospects, and how this will impact our American citizens in their wallets and in their everyday lives.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: We will turn the floor over to you, Ash. For some of our viewers and people taking part in this webinar who have seen you and engaged with you at the Council already, they may be familiar with the project. We have others joining us essentially for the first time, so perhaps give us an overview of the project, what it is seeking to accomplish, and any of the important takeaways from the meetings that you have been having, especially within the last several months and during the conditions that we have seen as a consequence of the pandemic.
ASH JAIN: Terrific. Nick, thank you for having me.
Tatiana, it's great to be with you. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you all today about this project and our efforts on the Democratic Order Initiative, of which I would love to give a brief overview for those of you not familiar with it and then get into some of the specifics regarding why this project is important, what we are trying to achieve, and how do we move forward at a time when there is renewed interest in how to rebuild American alliances and democratic partnerships for a variety of reasons, which we can get into.
Let me start by saying that the project that I am leading at the Atlantic Council is called the Democratic Order Initiative, and as the name suggests the purpose of the project is to strengthen engagement with democratic allies and partners, to build a rules-based order, an international system that is based on common values and a commitment to certain principles: democratic norms, an open global economy, and a set of rules for how the United States and its allies should engage in the world.
That system, which we have known for so many decades, is facing tremendous challenge. It had been even before 2016, due in part to the challenges from Russia and China and autocratic powers that don't see the world the same way, and since 2016 we are now seeing that kind of support for American engagement in the world being met with a lot of skepticism.
The project we are engaged in is focused on rebuilding support here at home for American leadership in the world around these principles and around this kind of engagement, but equally important is to connect in new ways with allies and partners so that we build the infrastructure for democratic engagement.
Let me start by asking the question why: Why is it so important that we strengthen cooperation with like-minded allies and democracies?
There are two reasons that I think are important to consider. The first is that we are entering this era of great-power competition. You see the term thrown about in policy circles, but what it means is that we are facing a time where we are seeing pushback from autocratic powers, leading powers like Russia and China, who have a lot of influence in the world—in the case of China, influence that is growing as their economy grows and as they wield greater influence in international institutions. And Russia, which, even though it is a much smaller power as measured by gross domestic product, still has considerable resources to influence outcomes and shape the way in which nations engage, particularly in Europe and elsewhere around the world through asymmetric measures and various other ways as we are seeing with election meddling even as we speak here in the United States.
We are facing a time in which we are seeing a lot of pushback for what we believe in as democracies and for how we want to see the world engage. That means that we need to work in a way that is bringing together a coalition of allies and partners to address those challenges. Therefore, in an era of great-power competition the United States can't go it alone. We are in a much stronger position if we have partners who see the world in similar ways and are prepared to act with us to leverage our own influence.
The second reason why it's important to engage is not just because there are threats that we need to deal with but because it's in our interest to find other nations, to work with other nations to solve some of the challenges that we are trying to face which we know in a globalized world we can't do by ourselves—whether it's the pandemic and the scourge of the coronavirus that we are all suffering through today, whether it's terrorism as we have seen over the years, nuclear proliferation, climate change, or building an open global economy. Those are important ways that affect Americans in their everyday lives, in which we cannot succeed if we are not working more closely with allies and if we don't have a grouping of partners who can help us achieve the goals that we are seeking. We may be a superpower, but we are not omnipotent, and we can't succeed if we're by ourselves. America alone won't work.
Therefore, I think it's important to have structure, it's important to have this mindset that we want to work with allies and partners, and that brings me to the notion of how. How do we build the kind of system to bring that power and influence of our allies together in an organized way?
It starts with a mindset first and foremost that it is important to work with these kinds of partners, whether it's across the Atlantic, across the Pacific, or North America. The democratic community can be small or large, but the mindset of "we want to cultivate relationships and build support with those partners," that's the starting point.
We can do that by either using existing platforms—international structures or entities that exist already—or by building new ones. I think some combination is what we believe will be most effective in addressing these challenges.
The entities that we have put on the table for success that we think will be useful as we look down the road start with something called the D10. We have the G7 leaders summit, which actually President Trump has postponed. The United States is the president of the G7 this year, but the G7 has been meeting for several years since the 1970s. It brings together the leading democracies in Europe as well as Canada and Japan and has been a platform for talking about common concerns. Russia was in the G7 for a little while. Of course, it was evicted when they invaded Crimea.
Trump has talked about bringing the Russians back and having Putin reengage, which I think would be a fundamental mistake because the G7 represents the beginnings of what could be the foundation of a democratic community. It is already there. It has a tradition of regular meetings.
What we have proposed is to take the G7 and elevate it to a D10, meaning bringing in more allies from Asia—South Korea and Australia—to join Japan and possibly India and then maybe others from other parts of the world, but starting with a baseline of countries that have influence and have a common worldview because that is what you need to begin to engender the kind of cooperation around these challenges, whether it is dealing with Russia and China or whether it is dealing with the range of other issues we talked about.
The D10 is one concept that is getting a lot of interest and traction. The British will be taking the G7 presidency next year, and there have already been reports of the British talking about having a D10 technology coalition in place, for instance, to begin to support cooperation on technology norms.
That brings me to a couple of other areas where coalitions of democracies could make a real difference, including on technology. We are in a place where a lot of advanced technologies are making their way online and coming to fruition, whether it's artificial intelligence, whether it's robotics, or whether it's genetic engineering. We are in a bit of a competition now to see which countries will be able to develop those technologies first, and there is a lot of concern that if the Chinese are at the table first with bringing these to life, they may not reflect the kinds of standards, norms, and values that we would want to see attached to them. So it's in our interest both to use our capabilities to harness these technologies but then to also make sure that they reflect common norms. So a technology alliance of democracies, maybe the D10 plus others who are strong on technology, would be a good way to organize around that.
Another area is on pandemic and health security. It's a missed opportunity. The Trump administration has largely avoided a kind of coordination structure with allies. There have been occasional G7 phone calls, but what's missing is a concerted effort focused on a task force of the G7 that can bring to the table coordination on a vaccine and coordination on other issues relating to stimulating the economy. It is not just democracies that need to do that. G7 is one place to have that conversation, but the G20 is as well.
We also have talked about promoting and advancing an open global trading system that builds connections and that allows for economies to engage with each other, but also in ways that protect workers and that recognizes that there are impacts to ordinary people that have to be reflected in a way of engaging in the world. I think a trade alliance of democracies focused on opening up and reducing trade barriers, but doing it in new ways that are innovative and that are reflective of the concerns that we know are real to people today is going to be important. We have encouraged the idea of linking a trans-Atlantic trade agreement with a trans-Pacific trade agreement, a kind of free world knitting together of markets that would benefit all of us rather than trying to regionalize it as we have seen and has not worked in the past years.
Finally, we have also put on the table this idea of an alliance of free nations, an alliance of democracies that would be a gathering for countries that share common values beyond just the D10 or a small group of partners but rather a larger coalition from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and all across the world, who can galvanize and pull in the same direction when it comes to some of these common challenges. It is kind of a complement to the United Nations.
This idea of an alliance of democracies is still at a nascent stage. It is going to take a lot of discussion to figure out what it looks like and how you get it off the ground. I do think it is interesting that the concept of democracies working together has gained a lot of traction. Vice President Biden has talked about a "summit of democracy," which would be a step in the direction of working more closely with democratic partners around the world.
There is I think room to consider and to think about what a structure would look like. We have the Community of Democracies already in existence, which is a not very well-known platform for talking about democracy promotion. It is not very active beyond a niche area of promoting democratic norms, and it also includes a number of non-democracies, so I am not sure that is the best pathway to get there, but we can talk more about the way forward in the discussion.
In sum, I think this is a time when we are seeing a renewed interest in working more closely with countries that share common values and countries that have a common interest in expanding cooperation, and that is what we are aiming for, pushing forward on different platforms, different mechanisms, and different topics in which we can see great coordination when it comes to strengthening the democratic community.
TATIANA SERAFIN: That is such a great project. Thank you so much for summing it up.
There are so many different tacks we could take, but the first one I want to take is something you mentioned in the beginning, the effect of the pandemic on your work. To a certain extent now you have a lot of countries looking more internally at extreme economic downfalls. We are in a huge recession that is impacting the lower 25 percent of our population. There has been a bounce on the upper 25 percent. Our income inequality disparities are growing tremendously, and there has been this internal focus, even more so than under the current administration. What are some of your recommendations to expand our view outward again when it has become very inward-looking?
ASH JAIN: I think it's natural that you start to turn inward, especially when you're facing so many crises at the same time. The pandemic in particular has upended the way we live. We are struggling to find how do we get our kids educated and how do we go to work and how do we get access to groceries, the gamut. So naturally, thinking about a broader set of issues on engaging in the world is not going to be top of mind for most people.
But I would say that it is important, that there are people thinking about how the connection with the world affects the ordinary lives of people, because the pandemic is a great example of a kind of challenge that is global. It is something that came from overseas, it is something that affects people all around the world. It has linked us together in ways that have been extraordinary. We are all facing the same kinds of challenges, whether you are sitting in Washington, or Indiana, or Brazil, or anywhere else. This is the kind of global challenge that, in order to solve it, requires cooperation at a global level. I think that's one part of it.
It has also opened up some extraordinary opportunities. The fact that we are able to link this way through Zoom is an example of ways that technology can connect us and that we should leverage and do a lot more of, and not let distance hinder the way in which we interact and work together. The same would apply at the global level, where governments and officials and even citizens should be engaging and be able to feel comfortable talking and interacting a lot more with others around the world, because we do have a lot to draw on when it comes to seeing how others are facing these challenges as well.
I think now is the time for not just doing this in an isolated way or at different kinds of levels but rather organizing structures through governments at the front end—supplemented by others as well—and having places where we can regularly interact and engage on a common agenda to solve some of these challenges. Of course, there is no greater priority than the pandemic and the economic fallout that has resulted from the pandemic.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Ash, if I can then take from Tatiana's question and your response and ask you to update a bit further, which is: Are these ideas gaining traction?
You have expressed the general sentiment: The pandemic has hit. That woke people up to who you trade with, who you depend upon for pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment, which platforms you use, which technology you use matters perhaps for privacy concerns or where it is being manufactured or who is doing the manufacturing. Are you seeing this at the governmental level but also among the general public, or at least in terms of the narratives that are being said? We have seen very remarkable Pew polling that suggests that China's public image in the world has done a 180. Whereas they were seen as a very responsible, norm-establishing power several years ago, now there is—at least within the democracies—a sense that China is not constructive.
We have just sent out—and we have posted in the Chat—a link to "State of the Order," which is part of the Democratic Order Initiative. Are we seeing a sense that this is resonating and whether Britain will have the G7 presidency and we may have a change in this country—certainly the Executive Branch could change but also the balance in Congress could change potentially with some new faces coming in—are you seeing that there is a moment to move these ideas from ideas to policies or ideas into narratives that then political leaders are going to start to discuss?
ASH JAIN: That's a great question.
First of all, thanks for posting the "State of the Order" in the chat. "State of the Order" is a new publication that we started a few months ago, where every month we are trying to provide an assessment of where we stand when it comes to the core pillars of the democratic order based on what has taken place that month.
For example, in this month's issue it is the resurgence of the pandemic that is one of the top-line stories of the month, but also questions that have been raised about the integrity of the election and a peaceful transfer of power, which obviously has impacts on democracy both here and on the way we are perceived overseas. I just want to flag that as a good resource to look further into some of the things we are talking about today.
In terms of your question, I think it is important to tackle this at two levels: Is this concept of democratic engagement gaining traction at the popular level with regard to the way people are thinking about it here in the United States and around the world, and then at the policymaker and official government level?
It's interesting because even before the pandemic hit we were seeing in the polling data quite a bit of public interest in maintaining American engagement in the world. So even though Trump was elected on a populist agenda against globalization and skeptical about the way the United States has been mired in some of these wars and conflicts in the Middle East—he also ran on an anti-trade agenda—the reality is that the polling shows even stronger support today for some of these notions than in the past.
On alliances, for example, we are now seeing very, very strong polling indicating support for the United States staying in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and being committed to these alliances because they protect our security as much as they protect our allies. We are seeing even increased support for free and open trade agreements just as a general matter. Obviously the specifics matter, but there is support for an economy that connects to the world rather than isolates us from the world.
There is also support for democracy promotion. I think most Americans see the United States as a champion of democracy and that we have always stood for certain values in this space, and they like that image of the United States. It doesn't mean we all agree on how to do that, and certainly using military force in the way that we did in Iraq is not by any means where the consensus is, but the idea of upholding certain values and having the United States act on those values is quite popular.
That's the basis for what I would say is a lot of fertile ground to build on when it comes to public engagement and public support for the kind of leadership role that we are talking about in this project.
That brings us then to how are we doing in terms of engagement with other officials. Like I said earlier, we are seeing renewed interest in new platforms for engagement among the democratic community. The Brits as I said with their G7 presidency will be an important opportunity to look at.
We have already seen other allies stepping up, especially as the United States has taken a backseat on a lot of these issues to maintain support for a rules-based order by talking and engaging with each other more so than in the past. This Alliance for Multilateralism that the Germans kicked off is an effort in that direction. Prime Minister Abe, before he stepped down, in Japan talked about building a network of countries committed to a rules-based order in Asia, and he and others have started the Quad, this four-power framework for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific—Japan, Australia, India, and the United States—as another way of bringing democratic nations together to cooperate on common issues in that part of the world, particularly China as the subtext.
So I think what we are starting to see is the recognition that we not only benefit from having stronger cooperation from democracies but that we also don't need to be overly concerned about the optics of what that cooperation looks like in a more public way. Before I think there was especially in Europe a lot of consternation about how will the Chinese react or how will the Russians react if they see some of these coalitions taking place with democracies.
I think the reality has set in that these are in our interest to do regardless of how they will look to the Chinese or the Russians and in fact that, even if these coalitions are taking place, it is not going to change anything about the way they interact. They are continuing to see the challenges the same way, and I don't think this polarization that a lot of people feared when you start cooperating with democracies is going to change. The polarization exists already. The Chinese and the Russians do not always see eye to eye themselves, but they certainly have a very different view about the global system, and they are going to pursue those goals regardless of whether we're talking to each other or not.
TATIANA SERAFIN: I really wanted to talk about this public idea of support for international institutions here, and I am wondering if pre- and post-pandemic you may have seen a difference, going back again to the fact that there has been so much economic loss and upheaval. My research focus is on Millennial and Gen Z audiences and their priorities, and some of the polling I have been doing—granted it is smaller scale—reveals this notion that they are not sure of America's place in the world. Perhaps they do view the democratic ideals as positive and things that are shared and more common than not, but there is this idea of, "Well, what can we really do to make change on a global level when we can't even afford to pay rent this month?"
This polling pre- and post-pandemic we should look at also because I do feel that there might be some slight changes in how much we feel and how fast we feel we can make this change happen, especially considering we might have a second Trump administration, and that might look very different. Have you built these considerations into your long-term project planning?
ASH JAIN: You're raising a very, very relevant point, which is not only how has the pandemic affected perceptions of American leadership, but also how have these simultaneous crises—racial injustice, the George Floyd killing, the astonishing remarks we have seen from the president when it comes to whether he is going to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, just basics of the way that the United States has been seen as a leader—been affecting public opinion here at home and especially among younger people?
I think we are seeing the same dynamic where younger people are much less confident that the United States has the moral authority to lead the way the United States has for so many decades previously. There are a lot of question marks about, "How can we be in a position where we are trying to advocate for certain ways that authoritarians should govern when we're not doing such a great job at it here at home?" It's this question of modeling good behavior and serving as an example.
That I think is critical. We are just at the beginning now of seeing how that will impact the way forward. In some ways it will come down to what happens in the election next month, but it is certainly raising a lot of question marks about how can America lead if it's not able to provide a kind of example for leadership here at home. Connecting the foundations of those values at home with how we lead abroad is something that has gotten a lot more attention lately as a result of what we have seen take place over the past six months. It's a critical conversation to have.
My own view is that this is not the first time we have faced tensions like this. We had the riots of the 1960s; we have had a lot of times in our own history where it was clear that the United States was not living up to the kinds of values and aspirations that it was expecting from countries abroad, and we have to do a better job here at home of getting our house in order, of getting the leadership on these issues headed in the right direction.
That is also a time-consuming process. It's not going to happen overnight, and I don't think we can sequence them. It's not like we have to get everything perfect here at home before we now have a voice to advocate for these kinds of issues abroad. They are going to have to happen simultaneously. They are related, but they are also complementary, and what it will take is real moral leadership from the top.
So the rhetoric that comes out of our national leaders, starting with the president, matters a great deal, even if the actions are not yet matched on the ground. If you have a leader who is taking these concerns seriously and making it clear that the aspiration is to ensure that we are living up to our values at home, that will go a long way to giving us credibility to then advocate for those same kinds of values and norms overseas.
TATIANA SERAFIN: I absolutely agree with you that these local levels, like the Black Lives Matter protests, are not just our protests. We saw them exploding in countries all around the world. I was looking at a Black Lives Matter protest map globally, and there were over 4,000 protests around the world linked to this. How does that affect what you're talking about with national leaders, that internal issues, domestic issues, are becoming part of foreign policy?
ASH JAIN: It's pretty remarkable. What it goes to show, which struck me at the time, was how much people around the world are paying attention to what's happening here in the United States. And why is that? Partly it's just the ubiquity of the media, which tends to give a lot of attention to things that are happening over here in the United States, but partly it's driven by the notion that what happens in the United States matters because the United States has always been seen as a bedrock for standing for certain kinds of ideals, a certain kind of system of governance that is not perfect by any means but is one that could impact the way their own governments and their own people see these issues. Especially some of our allies feel connected with the kinds of issues and concerns that are taking place here and that are affecting some of their own lives overseas. It is no longer contained within national boundaries.
Black Lives Matter is a great example of that. We saw the same thing with the national Women's March that took place a few days after the Trump inauguration, where all around the world there were people standing up and taking to the streets. It was a way of expressing solidarity; it was a way of expressing concerns for some of the same issues.
I think that feeds right into what we're trying to capitalize on here in this project, which is all around the world there is this yearning for the same sets of values, norms, and principles around which to organize and engage our own societies and to engage with each other. So it's incumbent upon our leaders to see the world and seek the connections and harness those so that we're able to pull in the same direction and leverage our own capabilities to address these challenges.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I would like to ask the Carnegie Council's Alex Woodson if he wouldn't mind going ahead. I think we have questions coming in and comments for Ash, so why don't we introduce those audience contributions into our discussion here?
ALEX WOODSON: Great. Thanks, Nick.
The first question is from George F. Paik: "G7 plus South Korea and Australia makes nine. The choice of number 10 could suggest very different directions, as you mentioned India. You can see different implications of say, Brazil or Spain or Nigeria and complications. How well has America defined the values on which we want to engage? After democracy, what should be America's next principle for this?"
ASH JAIN: That's a great question, starting with the idea of who makes up the D10. That's always a challenge. It's a conundrum. First of all, is ten the right number? It's an arbitrary choice. It sounds good. People like round numbers like that. And I am often reminded that the Big Ten football league used to have 10; it now I believe has 14 teams in it, but it is still called the Big Ten. So ten doesn't necessarily mean ten I guess is the way to start off.
At the moment, the D10 meetings that we convene include the G7 plus Australia, Korea, and then the European Union has the tenth seat, so to speak, so it becomes ten entities or powers that get together on a regular basis. This is a forum that meets to discuss strategy every now and then. But if it is raised up to the leaders level, there will be discussion about whether or not there should be an additional set of nations that should be invited to join the discussion.
India has already been mentioned as probably the next major democracy to be included in a D10 format, in part because India is facing a lot of the same challenges in the Indo-Pacific region when it comes to concerns about China. So there are very good reasons to include countries beyond the nine that are already involved along with the European Union.
There are also concerns that if you expand too fast and start bringing in others, you may end up hindering the very goal that we're trying to achieve, which is to say it becomes harder to get consensus when you have countries that are coming from, say, traditions of nonalignment, coming from countries where they may be reticent to speak out publicly or sign onto, let's say, statements of concern that could be critical of countries like Russia or China. Oftentimes they want to stay away from direct mention of some of these challenges because they share borders or they feel more obligated to play it safe, at least publicly. So that's a concern.
When it comes to sanctions, let's say on sanctions that much of the democratic world have imposed on Russia for its invasion of Crimea, the G7 has been a great instrument to keep the sanctions issue on the table. Would that be the case if you start bringing in countries that maybe aren't prepared to support those kinds of efforts?
I think it's worth careful consideration about where we draw the line and what kind of criteria we want to impose—or maybe it's not so much criteria, but it's expectations of what it means if you're going to be signing on to a club of democracies like the D10. There has to be some baseline understanding and expectation of what we are trying to achieve, what the goals are, and what we're prepared to do.
And that goes for all of the powers. Today it's not so clear where the United States stands on a lot of these concerns ourselves. That is I think important if we're going to step up and elevate the G7 to a D10.
I'll stop there. The question of the D10 hinges on a lot of different other topics that we could get into, but let's take those as we get into other questions.
ALEX WOODSON: This is a good segue from the end of your last answer. This is from J. D. Estrill: "The consensus among political scholars in America is that democracy is a goal yet to be obtained. Is the United States still the global leader in the idea and practice of democracy, especially given the current administration? Are there any other countries or a particular country that is doing it better than the United States?"
ASH JAIN: We talked about this a little bit. We are certainly facing here at home many challenges to the aspiration of democracy and justice that many, many people are still striving for the United States to achieve. I guess part of it is that it becomes a matter of putting it in context and seeing it relative to others.
We tend to rely on very good political science data, research that is conducted by entities like Freedom House or The Economist, which do very good surveys using different criteria to measure where countries stand when it comes to democratic norms—the protection of civil liberties, political rights, freedom of the press, all those things that constitute what a democracy is: Do people have the right to vote? Do they have the right to participate in a free and fair election? Are they able to freely associate and speak their minds and practice their religions?—the many elements and factors that go into what a democracy is. Freedom from discrimination is certainly one of them, and equal protection under the law.
I think it's pretty clear that we could say two things about that. The United States has a ways to go if it wants to achieve those standards, especially when it comes to equal protection and justice in many areas. We have a ways to go when it comes to corruption of public officials, and we have seen that exposed more so in the last few years maybe than previously. We have a ways to go in terms of political participation in our democracy.
But having said all that, Freedom House still ranks the United States very highly when it comes to democracy criteria, and that's because when you look at what's happening elsewhere in many autocratic countries around the world, there is no comparison. The Chinese government is putting Uyghurs in prison camps and forced labor and committing atrocities that we can't imagine. It's happening. It's happening today. It's happening right now, and it's happening by a government that is otherwise trying to portray itself as a responsible global actor.
When you see the Russian government simply denying any meaningful opportunity for people to run for public office to challenge the dominant dictatorship of Vladimir Putin, poisoning opposition figures to deter them from acting out and speaking out, this is real. This is happening.
And it's not just autocratic countries where that kind of blatant anti-democratic activity is taking place. Many other countries are struggling with how to balance liberal open societies with other factors like concerns about terrorism. We're seeing in India, for instance, greater steps being taken to limit reporting about activities in Kashmir that are inconsistent with some of the liberal norms that we would want to see in a democracy. In places like Hungary and Turkey we are seeing that even more stridently, leaders taking the country in a different direction.
I think this is all to say basically that it is relative and that there have to be some criteria by which we can judge where we stand. It doesn't minimize what's happening here at home, but it puts it in some perspective. For the United States to lead I very strongly believe, however, that we do have to be engaged in commitments to making the model of democratic practice work better here at home and making sure that our leaders take that seriously and reflect on that if we're going to be able to maintain credibility overseas.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Just to interject, two things you just said have triggered thoughts in my mind. The first is whether or not because of the pandemic, because of the issues with the Uyghurs—the detentions, the essential attempting to strip them of their nationality and of their identity—the Hong Kong protests, if that's leading people in the democratic world to question the trade dependencies with China and even perhaps a willingness to pay some higher costs. Perhaps we should pay more of a premium to buy goods and services from other democracies because at least we know that they weren't made in a slave labor camp, even if it means I have to pay 20 percent more than others. I think there are some questions touching on that.
The other thing you raised here, and you mentioned the Community of Democracies, starting with a consolidated group of democracies, starting small, not allowing democracy to be in essence self-identifying, because I think one of the flaws of the Community of Democracies was that it gave a much wider range for countries to self-identify, "Well, we're democratic," or "We're democratizing, but now we're having slide back and we're moving away." Going back to George's point too about the D10, maybe being a little vague about the ten is actually a benefit, a feature rather than a bug.
Alex, I know questions are coming in fast and furious, so let me turn it back over to you.
ALEX WOODSON: Just to continue on with China, this is from Veena Wulfekuhle: "What is the probability and/or likelihood of severing or lessening economic relations with China, being that they back trillions of dollars of our loans, or at a minimum establishing some economic accountability for COVID-19, being that they are the source?"
ASH JAIN: Yes, we haven't talked a lot about China, and it is one of the if not the most significant geopolitical challenges that we face and are going to be facing over the foreseeable future, several years.
Part of the notion of having an entity like the D10 is to try to bring some collective weight to how to deal with the China challenge. It's certainly not the only reason, but having democracies aligned on a common approach to China is critically important because China benefits by dividing the democratic world and looking for weak points in the way it wants to engage and expand its own influence.
One of the big issues we will have to contend with is how do we deal with China as an economic power, given that so many of our economies are interlinked with China? China is the number one trading partner for so many countries, number one or number two for almost every country worldwide. It really is a challenge to deal with a government that is otherwise taking some horrific measures as we have talked about with the Uyghurs and cracking down in Hong Kong openly that are contrary to democratic values.
My own view on that—and I agree with the direction Nick was going on this—is that there is a greater willingness to impose measures that could end up hurting or impacting economic cost in the short term because we are seeing a longer-term gain. I think that is reflected in a lot of the comments and outcry that we are seeing for what is happening in Xinjiang with the Uyghurs.
We have seen in the past that if soccer balls were made with child labor from Bangladesh or whatever, people are willing to say: "No, that's not right. We're going to cut off that kind of trade practice, and we're not going to buy those goods, even if they were available for cheaper."
The same thing can apply here. I think if people knew that these goods were being made in forced labor camps and if they knew that there was a way to punish or pressure the Chinese to stop those practices, there would be a willingness to consider that kind of potential short-term economic cost.
But very quickly, I think the idea of it structurally is to make sure we have alternative sources so that we are not entirely dependent on the Chinese and that sanctions against China wouldn't be that harmful to our own economies. What the Chinese have done well is make it so that it becomes hard for any country to take action against it, and therefore it has a free hand. It's this idea of mutually assured economic destruction.
I do think there has to be accountability for China for what it's doing in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and for the kind of negligent efforts in controlling the coronavirus early on, of hiding it before it could be dealt with from a health point of view, but how we do that is not something we should do unilaterally. It has to be done in partnership and as part of a coalition of democracies because it's likely to have much more influence and effectiveness if it's the democratic world joined by others, a broader group, that is imposing those penalties, and it is likely to have less of a biting impact on any one particular country.
TATIANA SERAFIN: If I could jump in, I think in some of your writing I did see that there is space to engage autocratic powers like Russia and China. I am particularly thinking of climate change as an issue because that tends to be the issue that Millennials and Gen Z rate as their top international priority, this move forward on doing more to counter the detrimental environmental impacts of manufacturing processes, etc.
Is this an area that we can actually engage a China and a Russia or any other country that is not part of this democratic coalition? What are the avenues? How do we do that? How do you foresee that in your work?
ASH JAIN: Engagement of non-democracies is a very important piece of the overall puzzle. We can't simply try to create these isolated networks of democracies and say, "Either you're in or you're out, and we're not going to talk to anybody else." Quite the contrary. I think part of the benefit of having a coalition of democracies is that it allows us to talk about a strategy for how to engage and do that more effectively.
We have to engage with autocratic powers or all powers around the world, simply because whether we like it or not they have a tremendous influence on the international system, on trade and economics as we have talked about with the Chinese. Plus many of these are nuclear-armed powers that could create a lot of havoc. They could do a lot of damage if suddenly they feel like they are completely in a Cold War kind of confrontation. We don't want to encourage that kind of dynamic. There has to be a balance between working together to advance common interests among democracies but then finding out who needs to stay connected and to try to find areas where there is common concern and an interest in moving together.
Climate change is a great example. We are already seeing the Chinese make positive rhetorical steps towards meeting some of the climate goals that are spelled out in the Paris Agreement and in others. I think encouraging that dialogue will be important as we move forward. Having a platform where we can have those conversations with non-democracies is just as important as the ones with democracies.
That's why I mentioned early on that I think the D10 is great as a starting point for democratic coordination, but the G20, which exists already as a kind of larger table with a bigger group of countries, is important to maintain and prioritize. It's a great forum. It's a great venue for talking about some of these big challenges like climate, like nuclear nonproliferation, and I think it is really important to have those dialogues, whether it's in a multilateral or bilateral setting.
We have to be realistic about what can be achieved because sometimes the Chinese may give lip service to making steps in a positive direction or others, when in reality it's about building a brand and building an image more than it is about action. But still I think it's important to have the dialogue channels open while being realistic about what it is we can really achieve in the hopes that we can make progress on some of these other challenges.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think you were addressing some of the other questions that were being posted.
What you have laid out for us here is very intriguing. To the extent that we are at a nexus point in world affairs, moving into the mid-21st century, what you have been discussing here is laying the basis for a new type of narrative that could fill the gaps for Americans and for others about engagement in the world, in this case greater cooperation and coordination among democracies leading to things like health security, technology security, and even economic security, but also, as Tatiana pointed out here as well, moving and transitioning towards what is emerging as a climate change narrative about foreign policy, about solving, mitigating, and adapting to the climatic shifts that we are seeing and how this ties back to things like energy, ties back to technology, and ties back to day-to-day issues, whether or not you're dealing with wildfires, flooding, unemployment, and so on.
Any last comment from you, Tatiana? Then we will let Ash have the final world for this webinar.
TATIANA SERAFIN: I think our discussion today is very important in showcasing why we need to do some more homework as a society reflecting on what and who we are in the world. I think it is very important to continue this discussion going forward.
Thank you for your time today.
ASH JAIN: Thank you. It is a pleasure to have a chance to have this conversation. It brings up so many issues that we didn't get to. There is so much to talk about in terms of specific actions and tradeoffs that we didn't spend as much time on as we should.
There are tradeoffs involved. There are complicated questions about if you push in one direction, does it then create tensions in another direction, and how do you reconcile those?
There is a lot more to say on this, but I think the general direction of where we're headed looks more and more realistic today than it has in the past. There is a lot of interest in building a democratic community, consolidating support for entities like the D10 and democratic cooperation, so I am happy to be part of a conversation, hopefully the beginning of a conversation that will continue as we go forward.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: We certainly will welcome you back to explore these in future webinars and future episodes of The Doorstep.
I also want to remind the audience that we have linked to the project—I don't know if the Declaration of Principles is still there, but people can look at that. People can decide to the extent that they want to affiliate with those principles as well, but definitely take from this not just the hour that we have spent, but going to the Democratic Order Initiative site that we have posted will enable you to continue your engagement with those issues.
With that, I would like to thank everyone for being with us today. We look forward to seeing you and speaking with you virtually through our webinars, through The Doorstep, and through other platforms here at the Carnegie Council.
Until our next event, I bid everyone have a wonderful day and take care.