Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Apr 07, 2021
A Renewed Imperative: Strategic Cooperation among Democracies

For decades, the world was dominated by a western democratic liberal order. After World War II, the United States and its partners built an international order that was organised around certain values including economic openness, security cooperation, multilateral institutions, and democratic solidarity. The thirdwave democratisation in the 1980s and 1990s was unprecedented and resulted in a great expansion of democratic values and institutions in Latin America, Southeastern and Eastern Asia, as well as in the former communist bloc (Eastern Europe and the republics of the then Soviet Union). However, this democratisation process began to stagnate in the last decade, across countries and regions, with a decline in freedom, human rights, the transparency and efficacy of the state, justice and equality, and the simultaneous rise of populism and isolationism. This problem has been aggravated by a paralysis of institutions of global cooperation and governance. To tackle the challenges of disinformation, populism, migration and demographic shifts within nations and across the world, it is imperative for democracies to cooperate.

At the Raisina Dialogue 2019 session on “A Renewed Imperative: Strategic Cooperation amongst Democracies,” the panellists discussed the need for democracies to work together to address the challenges faced by the current global order.

Since independence, India has remained a well-established democracy whose credentials as a responsible, non-interfering democratic country have been appreciated by the world. Hardeep Singh Puri, Indian Union Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs, called India affluent, both in terms of democracy and demography. The country is a great example of a successful post-colonial economy and is set to achieve a GDP of US$5 trillion by 2025, and US$10 trillion by 2035.

However, it is important to realise that democracy is going through a difficult phase with great threats. There is a ‘new competition’ between democracies and authoritarian governments of the world, which puts pressure on countries such as the UK, the US, Italy, Germany and France. Democracies reflect society and are constantly changing. They are the connections between government officials and citizens. One of the challenges to democracies is the public’s increasing lack of appreciation for policies, strategies, economic initiatives as well as the government’s failure to engage people in these aspects.

Democratic collaboration between countries benefits political strategies, military cooperation and exercises and economic cooperation. While most democracies share common goals, there are limiting factors when it comes to cooperation, including disputes over strategy or policy, trade disputes, and differing national interests and objectives. Complete alignment is yet to be achieved, but countries must continue working towards it.

Globalisation and international trade also create and further inequalities. The multilateral trading system is in limbo at the moment, since many countries did not anticipate the rise of China and Russia. Almost 80 percent of the goods traded go through Free Trade Areas, which are extremely selective. Therefore, cooperation among countries must reflect a high democratic quotient: this means that global democracies must look to engage with each another more closely.

The Chinese model is a state model and is a blend of political and economic interest, governed by a political party. China’s presence and its ‘sharp power’ have affected many European economies. Its influence has grown dramatically in recent years, and the smaller European countries are most susceptible. Chinese influence operations aim to serve three purposes:

1. Build consensus amongst EU countries, 2. Exacerbate existing divide amongst EU countries, and 3. Foster acceptance for the Chinese political system.

Cooperation amongst democracies also entails cooperation amongst democrats. The western institutions need to reflect the changing realities in today’s world, such as the introduction of technology, and the rise of China. There is undoubtedly a need to accommodate the truly legitimate desires of countries like India and China. This is important at a time where there is a trend in the world towards authoritarianism/populism/ and ultra-nationalism in the last few decades. Populism is usually defined as the condemnation of the global elite. Populist grievances include issues of immigration, as well as technological and economic transformation. Grievances must be treated with respect and dealt with pragmatic responses and solutions. Populist movements aim to test institutions to find areas in which they can thrive. Emerging democracies, where such institutions are weaker, are thus at greater risk and require stronger cooperation.

Democracies have to work together more effectively due to the pressures and challenges of the current realities. Different countries are dealing differently with the issue of a ‘rising’ China, and the crucial deciding factor for each country will be its national interests. However, given the challenges of the current context, all democracies must work together to tackle authoritarian governments and populist movements.

This essay originally appeared in Raisina Dialogue Conference Report 2019
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Abhishek Mishra

Abhishek Mishra

Abhishek Mishra is an Associate Fellow with the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (MP-IDSA). His research focuses on India and China’s engagement ...

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