Alliance of Democracies Summit: The Glass House Where the Power Elite Gather to Throw Stones
The United States is the nation that most threatens democracy worldwide, far more than Russia or even China. That is the headline finding from a new worldwide poll of 53 countries commissioned by the Alliance of Democracies (AoD). The poll also found that the global public considers rising inequality and the increased power of the super rich to be the greatest threat to liberty and democracy.
This was likely not the response the Alliance of Democracies wished to hear as it opened its third annual Democracy Summit in Copenhagen last week — precisely because the organization represents the U.S. government and the wealthy elite more generally. Featuring an all-star panel of American officials, Western heads of state and military leaders, this year’s summit was somber in tone and focused on the “urgent need” for Western nations to unite and come up with a “transatlantic response” to counter both Russia and China. To that end, there was talk of building an “Asian NATO” and of further controlling what can be said online, all in the service of defending and upholding democracy from these foes.
The Alliance of Democracies was founded in 2017 by former Prime Minister of Denmark Anders Fogh Rasmussen. As Secretary General of NATO between 2009 and 2014, he also oversaw the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations, as well as the attack and regime-change operation in Libya, which saw ISIS-affiliated jihadists take control of the country. Together with future President Joe Biden and former Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Rasmussen also founded the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity (TECI), an AoD body at the forefront of accusing Russia of election meddling in the U.S. Biden was one of the inaugural speakers at the first Democracy Summit in 2018.
The great and the good — including presidents, journalists and business magnates — gathered both in person and virtually to discuss the supposed threats to the democratic order, with Rasmussen in particular pushing for a more formal military, political and economic alliance among the world’s “democracies” against Russia and China. The well-dressed and soft-spoken Dane also introduced lineups of speakers who argued for regime change in states the alliance does not feel are democratic enough for their liking.
The Alliance of Democracies is indirectly funded by the United States government through both the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, as well as by the European Endowment for Democracy, Europe’s version of the National Endowment for Democracy. It also takes money from the Atlantic Council, a NATO cutout organization, as well as a host of big tech companies like Microsoft and Facebook. Other key sources of funding include the Taiwanese government, the George W. Bush Institute, and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, named after the anti-Putin Ukrainian oligarch.
Both Rasmussen and then-Vice President Biden were key players in the Western-backed Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in 2014, with Biden himself traveling to the country, successfully uniting the opposition. Meanwhile, Rasmussen, as head of NATO, developed a “Readiness Action Plan” for the nation, drastically ramping up tensions, as well as the likelihood of a hot war. Soon after, Rasmussen was appointed as a formal advisor to the new anti-Moscow president, Petro Poroshenko. Together, Biden and Rasmussen set up TECI’s Ukraine task force, dedicated, in their own words, “to exposing foreign [i.e., Russian] meddling in Ukraine’s Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.” Needless to say, they did not see their own actions as outside interference.
While Russia remains a target, the Alliance of Democracy’s attention this year was chiefly devoted to China and ways to counter the Asian powerhouse’s rise. Virtually every panel mentioned Beijing, and many were directed towards it entirely.
In a panel entitled “Protecting Democracy from Authoritarianism: Views from the Asia Pacific,” longtime speechwriter for the British Crown and European Commision turned Politico Senior Editor Ryan Heath described the current era as a global “battle between democracy and [Chinese] authoritarianism.” Former Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani was of a similar opinion, calling for an all-out economic war against Beijing, suggesting Japan and other countries could help Australia cut itself off from China economically by assisting in the import substitution of Chinese goods.
Later, Heath asked Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Donald Trump’s national security advisor, what he saw was the number one threat to the world and to democracy. McMaster responded, “It is certainly the Chinese Communist Party, I would put that at the very top.” “The whole world’s problem is China’s promotion of its authoritarian mercantilist model, its stifling of human freedom,” he added, accusing China of creating a “technologically enabled Orwellian police state.”
McMaster, who represented a government that spies on its citizens and even such allies as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, painted China as trying to control the internet and called for a more aggressive strategy of democracy promotion worldwide as a counter to it. “It’s not just an exercise in altruism, it is actually the best way to compete with this very dangerous authoritarian model that China is promoting,” he said.
If viewers were expecting Heath to push back on the idea that the U.S. had a long history of altruistic interventions, they were disappointed. In fact, Heath went further, floating the idea of creating “an Asian NATO” against China and even suggesting that if China “bullies” other nations economically, democratic nations should band together to counter it — invoking the creation of a sort of economic charter akin to NATO’s Article 5, which states that if one NATO member is attacked, it is deemed an attack on all of them.
China has been the top concern among war planners and policymakers in Washington for some time now. In 2012, President Barack Obama signaled the beginning of this with his “Pivot to Asia” strategy, which entailed winding down U.S. forces in the Middle East in order to redeploy them to the Pacific. Today, there are over 400 American bases encircling China. The military has taken a number of provocative steps in recent months, including conducting war games in the South China Sea with Beijing’s adversaries. In July, the U.S.S. Peralta sailed to within 41 nautical miles of the coastal megacity of Shanghai, while in December the Navy flew nuclear bombers over Chinese ships near Hainan Island.
In February the Atlantic Council, the NATO think tank that sponsors the Alliance of Democracies, released an anonymous, 26,000-word study advising President Biden to draw a number of red lines around China that, if broken, should result in a military response. These included cyber attacks or attempts to further its control of Taiwan. Others have suggested conducting an extensive psychological war against China, including publishing “Taiwanese Tom Clancy” novels designed to paint China as an aggressor and demoralize its citizens with tales of defeat. A recent Director of National Intelligence report notes that China and its supposed “push for global power” represent an “unparalleled priority,” for the U.S., something that is invoking the “very real possibility” of a hot war, according to Admiral Charles A. Richard, the head of Strategic Command.
The resentment of China in Washington is being consciously stoked by the independence-minded government of Taiwan. A recent MintPress study found that the Taiwanese embassy is spending millions of dollars yearly in donations to influential think tanks, such as the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institute, the Hudson Institute and the Center for American Progress, all of which have pushed a particularly hawkish line against Beijing. Taiwanese agents have also made 143 contributions to U.S. politicians and had contact with almost 90% of the members of the House of Representatives.
The Taipei-backed Taiwan Foundation for Democracy also gave an undisclosed sum to the Alliance of Democracies. Considering that its name appears in a more prominent position on the Alliance’s list of backers than even Google, BMW, and the European Endowment for Democracy, one could infer that the sum was considerable.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was a prominent speaker at the conference, and was given an entire event to herself, in which she called for the democracies of the world to come together to defend Taiwan from foreign threats, stating:
Taiwan’s commitment to freedom and democracy has made us a target of disinformation campaigns, economic coercion, and even military intimidation. Many in the international community are concerned about the potential for conflict caused by these anti-democratic tactics, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. Our government is fully aware of the threats to regional security and is actively enhancing our national defense capabilities to protect our democracy.”
Throughout the talk, Ing-wen was very careful never to utter the word “China,” although it was clear to all listening that this was exactly who the threat was. Indeed, the Alliance of Democracies’ moderator, former CNN and ABC correspondent Jeanne Meserve, gave the game away, introducing her by stating:
China is taking an increasingly aggressive stand towards Taiwan, both rhetorically and military, raising concerns that it could move some time soon to try and take control of the island. Here to address the need to strengthen democracy and the alliance of democracies is Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.”
Ing-wen also called for a European Union-Taiwan free-trade deal and for Western nations and organizations to recognize the island’s independence, something that none currently do. She concluded: “We are determined never to surrender these freedoms. With liberty and democracy once again under threat, we in the international community must come together to address the challenges of a new era.”
After Ing-wen, Hong Kong protest leader Nathan Law spoke, and described the “complete crackdown on the democratic system” in the city by the “Communist Party dictatorship.” “Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, China became much more authoritarian, exporting authoritarianism through its global initiative,” he said, accusing Western nations of being “complacent” and calling for worldwide sanctions on China.
Twisted democracy promotion
The anti-China rhetoric was broken up by a talk from the self-declared President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, entitled “Fighting for Freedom and Democracy: Reports from the Frontlines.” Guaidó claimed that his country was filled with terrorists and drug traffickers and asked for a worldwide boycott of Venezuelan goods and an economic blockade of his nation. “We must not allow the world banking system to accept blood-stained money,” he explained. Guaidó then asked the International Criminal Court to charge President Nicolas Maduro with crimes against humanity. He also presented himself as the leader of a democratic majority in Venezuela, stating:
We Venezuelans are fighting. We have built a majority. We have organized and mobilized… The situation is critical because we have lost our democracy. I have an essential message for countries around the world: democracy is always at stake. It is only through the strengthening of institutions, the promotion of human rights, the empowerment and strengthening of society, of citizens and of youth that we can defend our democracy, but also make it last.”
While the elite audience appeared impressed by his words, it is less clear whether Guaidó’s countryfolk, already living under crippling sanctions that have killed more than 100,000 people, would be so enthused. His approval ratings inside Venezuela are often in the single digits and, for all the talk of democracy and building a majority, he has attempted six coup attempts since January 2019, the last of which included his employing American mercenaries to conduct an amphibious invasion of his country, shoot their way to the presidential palace, and install him as dictator. Guaidó’s contract for the job was leaked, and showed he had agreed to pay the ex-Green Berets over a quarter-billion dollars — presumably from public funds — and that the mercenaries would become a private death squad that answered only to him, crushing any and all dissent to his rule once he was in power. The attempt ended in a fiasco, as the elite force of commandos was immediately overpowered by local fishermen carrying box cutters and old revolvers.
Controlling the internet
Day two of the conference focused more on the coronavirus and the threat to democracies posed by fake news and disinformation online. In one panel titled “Regulating Social Media and Protecting the Public From Harm,” participants discussed how the U.S. and Europe could come together to formulate a united approach to controlling digital communications. The discussion was particularly notable because panelists included Michael Chertoff, co-author of the PATRIOT Act, which stripped Americans citizens of a wide range of rights under the guise of national security and fighting terrorism. Also on the panel were two British conservative members of parliament, an advisor to the executive vice president of digital affairs for the European Commission, and a member of Facebook’s oversight board, the body that regulates what the platform’s 2.6 billion people see in their news feeds. These individuals are so influential that their opinions and decisions could well affect virtually the entire world.
Together, they agreed that more cooperation between big tech and big government was necessary in order to reduce the amount of false information and harmful content online. This in itself is little new: in 2018 Facebook announced that it had partnered with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab to help regulate and curate its newsfeeds, effectively giving up partial control to the NATO-aligned organization. It also hired a former NATO press officer as its intelligence chief earlier this year.
Other big social media companies like Reddit have similar ties to the military alliance. When organizations like the Atlantic Council, whose board features no fewer than seven former CIA directors, control what the world sees and reads online, it becomes difficult to see where the fourth estate ends and the deep state begins. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the entire conference was sponsored by Facebook and Google, there was little talk of breaking up or nationalizing these online behemoths.
While very few people actually watched any of these events (the livestream rarely had more than 30 viewers at any time), that does not mean it was not important. The lineup of presidents, generals and CEOs makes it clear that what was stated is effectively the collective view of the world’s elite and a window into their thinking and the debates they are having. What they decide will affect all of us, whether we realize it or not.
A threat to democracy, not its champion
The entire premise of the conference — that China is a threat to global democracy and that Western business and political leaders must rally together to save it — was heavily undermined by its own study, published just days before the event.
The poll showed that only around 53% of people worldwide think they actually live in a democracy, including fewer than half of Americans. Fewer than 50% of respondents in other key Alliance of Democracy countries such as Italy and Belgium felt their countries were democratic. Embarrassingly for the AoD, Chinese people were among the most confident in the world that their country is democratic — far more so than most of the countries the Alliance of Democracies would like to represent. Almost three-quarters of Chinese people polled claimed to live in a democracy, more than in Germany, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Israel, and even famously “democratic” Sweden. Indeed, the only states of the 53 scoring significantly higher on the democracy scale with their citizens than China were Norway, Switzerland and Denmark. Vietnam, another country ruled by a Communist Party and also labeled a dictatorship by Western NGOs, scored as highly as China did. Acknowledging this enormous contradiction with its own position, the Alliance of Democracies report explained that, “people don’t think their countries are very democratic — even in democracies,” a statement equal parts Orwellian and patronizing at the same time.
Another, even more embarrassing finding for the study, which polled more than 53,000 people in countries representing more than three-quarters of the world’s population, was that despite global media concern over China’s aggressive actions, the international public still considers the United States to be a considerably greater threat to their democracy than China, with 44% of the planet identifying the U.S. as such.
Across East Asia, in countries openly hostile to China (such as Japan, the Philippines and South Korea), populations still see the U.S. as the chief danger. Therefore, the AoD summit’s calls for an Asian NATO to protect the continent from a rampaging China are likely to alarm Asians rather than assuage their fears. And although more Taiwanese see China as a threat, still 58% of the population considers the U.S. a serious danger to their democracy. So when President Ing-wen asks for more Western intervention in the South China Sea, it is far from clear that the Taiwanese population is behind her.
Even among the U.S.’ closest allies — such as Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom and Ireland — Washington is seen as a far greater threat than Beijing by their populations. The study also showed that fear of the U.S. is rising year-on-year.
Also undermining Nathan Law and the U.S.’ argument on Hong Kong is the finding that only slightly more than one third of Hong Kongers say their nation is not democratic enough. There has also been a notable decline in Hong Kongers stating they want to see more “democracy” on the island.
However, by quite some way the biggest threat to democracy, according to the world’s population, is economic inequality and the power and influence of the super wealthy. The malign influence of Russia and China were the least threatening, with the U.S. higher and inequality higher still — with 64% of respondents identifying it as a chief problem. This is another embarrassing finding for the AoD, which is funded by giant corporations belonging to Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and many of the other richest and most powerful people on the planet and featured a number of extremely wealthy and well-connected speakers.
Upside down world
We live in an upside down world, where those responsible for destroying the Middle East can present themselves as defenders of liberty everywhere, proudly proclaiming their intentions to bring their visions of democracy worldwide. As Secretary General of NATO, Rasmussen said he was “proud” of his achievement in bringing freedom and democracy to Libya in 2011 — that liberty apparently including open-air slave markets and the complete destruction of society.
Rasmussen’s Orwellian conference brought together the people and organizations his own polling data shows the planet thinks are the chief threats to democracy and freedom, so they could wax lyrical about upholding and enforcing their twisted view of democracy over the entire planet. The world does not want this version of “democracy” that these tech billionaires, senior politicians and military generals are offering. But, considering their overwhelming power and the lack of an organized opposition to it, we might just get it anyway.