Written by Vansh Yadav DP1
The 2020s are shaping up to be a decisive decade for the future of democracy.
Across the globe, the ideals of freedom, equality, and the rule of law are under siege. Amidst the chaos of COVID-19, dictators have been given free rein by once-powerful alliances now too weak or too afraid to act. If anything, the ongoing invasion of Ukraine is but the latest in a long list of international transgressions by despots who have found themselves emboldened in this era.
The world watched silently as China brutally quashed Hong Kong’s liberties and legal autonomy, as a Syrian autocrat infamous for unleashing chemical weapons against his own people was left alone to brutalize the fragments of his country, and as Hindu nationalists in the world’s largest democracy continued their scapegoating of Muslims and ruthless crackdown on the freedom of the press. Less than eight months ago, the world failed to act as fundamentalist Taliban fighters steamrolled through Afghanistan, instantly undoing decades of socioeconomic reform for the country’s people and institutions. All while the United States frantically evacuated its troops from an almost 20-year long occupation. Everywhere else, the stories are similar. Myanmar. Hungary. Poland. Autocrats have been hard at work stamping out the last remnants of dissent, shifting the international balance in favour of tyranny. Much of the world now lives in backsliding democracies or authoritarian regimes. The future seems bleak.
All this comes at a time of great weakness for the United States, a country considered to be the policeman of the world. America’s hegemony—which once promised peace and stability under Euro-Atlantic domination—has dwindled. With its hard– and soft– power crumbling, the United States can barely uphold the very geopolitical order it established. Four years of incompetence under Donald Trump followed by weak leadership under Joe Biden has eroded U.S. credibility. Contested elections, misinformation, baseless accusations of voter fraud, insurgencies on Capitol Hill, deteriorating race relations, voter suppression, and police atrocities have dented its democracy. Its partisan division and dithering foreign policy has alienated its allies. Though the invasion of Ukraine has given NATO a newfound unity, its circumstances are ephemeral at best. The writing is on the wall, Pax Americana is coming to an end.
With many powers vying to fill the power vacuum left by America, one particularly malign regime stands out among the rest: China. Its meteoric rise has transformed it into a major political and economic powerhouse, one that is now openly challenging U.S. power in Asia and around the globe. Set to become the world’s largest national economy, China is the biggest exporting country and controls critical supply chains, thus exercising massive influence over the developed and developing world. As a totalitarian surveillance state, a Chinese hegemony would entail the imposition of its model of authoritarian repression upon the rest of the world. This is the confrontation of values the world finds itself embroiled in, and right now, it looks like democracy is losing.
It remains to be seen if all is lost. If Biden’s declaration of “America is back” holds, then perhaps there is hope. If the U.S. and Europe can reconcile their contrasting interests, a strengthened NATO could fend off Russian aggression. With the QUAD Alliance—the so-called “Asian NATO”—and the recently struck AUKUS security pact, it might be possible to resist China regionally and internationally. Generally, if the scourge of totalitarianism is to be defeated, the free world must build solidarity amongst itself. For now, we can only wait, watch, and hope that democracy survives this decisive decade.