Joe Biden Democracy Summit Can Spark New 'D11' Alliance Against China, Russia–Ex-NATO Head

  • "It is high time that the world's democracies rally around certain principles"
  • As China applies pressure, "free societies...should come to the aid" of Australia and Lithuania
  • "The autocratic regimes do not share strategic interests"

Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen believes President Joe Biden's Democracy Summit—taking place this week—can serve as a springboard for a new democratic alliance to face down creeping authoritarianism worldwide.

Biden's summit began on Wednesday, involving representatives from 110 nations. The president will address attendees on Thursday morning.

Rasmussen—whose own Alliance of Democracies Foundation has been working to rally democracies worldwide since 2017—told Newsweek that Biden can send a strong signal to fellow democracies and rival autocracies.

"I don't think we should have too high expectations as regards to concrete outcomes and statements from 110 countries, but it could be the start of a process," Rasmussen said.

The event comes as the White House grapples with the threat of another Russian invasion of Ukraine and increasing Chinese aggression towards Taiwan.

The Freedom House think tank warned that 2021 marked the fifteenth consecutive year of democratic retreat around the world, and this year was the first time the U.S. was added to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance's list of "backsliding" democracies.

Tensions in Ukraine and Taiwan, particularly, "make clear to everybody the urgency of assembling the world's democracies," Rasmussen said.

"It is high time that the world's democracies rally around certain principles," he added, urging nations to focus on three key areas: Economics, technology, and backing for democratic activists around the world.

"My long-term vision for this project is to create an alliance of democracies," Rasmussen said. Members would have to fulfill key democratic criteria and would be led by "strong democracies as a steering group."

The body could be overseen by a permanent secretariat, similar to the current role of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, he explained.

This alliance, Rasmussen said, could be led by a "D11" group of democracies, built out from the current G7—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S.—with the addition of Australia, India, and South Korea.

"We don't have an international organization based on freedom and democracy," Rasmussen said. "So we need that, not as an alternative to the United Nations, but as a forum that can coordinate our views on how to reform other multilateral national organizations and—first and foremost—to counter the advancing autocracies."

Democracies, Rasmussen said, must be more assertive on the issues and technology that will shape the future. "The purpose of an alliance of democracies that I'm advocating is to be a driving force for setting global norms and standards for the use of emerging technology," he said, such as AI, social media, and others.

Rasmussen said this democratic alliance should also create an "economic Article 5"—inspired by NATO's Article 5 collective defense commitment, in which an attack on one member nation is considered an attack on all—to protect nations from economic coercion.

China is the worst autocratic offender. Beijing is tightening the screws on Australia and Lithuania, wielding its mammoth economic and trade powers in disputes over censorship, human rights abuses, and transparency on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I think, in that case, other free societies of the world should come to the aid of Australia,'' Rasmussen said.

"We should adopt free trade agreements with Australia, we should increase our economic relations with Australia. Now the same goes for Lithuania...of course we should help Lithuania.

"Once democracy is attacked by China or another autocratic regime, then we should help, we should consider it an attack on all and we should unite and help that country."

Some observers have already declared a new "Cold War" between the U.S. and China. COVID-19 has supercharged demands from some Westerners to decouple from Beijing.

In the U.S., a bipartisan China-skepticism is revising the American foreign and economic policies that encouraged China's rise, and American leaders are pushing Europeans to take their side.

New Russian-Chinese cooperation has raised concerns that autocracies, too, are looking to team up in an increasingly multipolar diplomatic environment. Some have even suggested Moscow and Beijing might coordinate attacks on Ukraine and Taiwan to spread the Western allies too thin to resist.

Rasmussen dismissed concerns that a new democratic alliance might spur deeper autocratic cooperation. "The autocratic regimes do not share strategic interests," he said. "Russia and China, for instance, share an interest in countering the American and democratic dominance of world affairs...apart from that, they don't."

China's Belt and Road Initiative and Russia's dream of a Eurasian union, for example, unavoidably conflict. "I do not share that concern that they will join forces," Rasmussen said.

The former NATO chief stressed that a D11 would not constitute a decoupling from non-democratic nations. Global problems—climate change, technological advances including AI, pandemics, economic crises, etc.—need global solutions.

"I'm not advocating a complete cut of ties with those countries," Rasmussen said. "Obviously, we need to engage with, in particular, China, which is a rising economy.

"I think the most efficient means to convince the autocrats that they are better off engaging with us than confronting us would be to unite among the world's democracies.

"Together, we represent more than 50 percent of the world economy. So if we could unite, if we could stand together, then we represent a formidable force that could put more pressure on autocrats."

Elected leaders, Rasmussen said, must accept that democracies have failed for decades to address serious concerns among voters. Inaction on the ills of globalization and mass migration, in particular, he said, has encouraged the growth of populist and radical parties.

Democratic leaders must advance and protect their allies on the world stage while grappling with rot at home. As Biden welcomes democratic representatives to Washington, D.C., the Hill is still dealing with the ripples of the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Future D11 leaders should also be wary of overreach, Rasmussen said. Blocs like the European Union and NATO can be powerful forces for good, though both have been accused of inaction as members—Turkey, Hungary, Poland—slide away from democratic norms.

"I'm clearly in favor of having a critical dialogue with all governments on how they are fulfilling democratic principles," Rasmussen said.

"My advice would be for both organizations to be very hesitant to interfere with domestic politics. Intervention from Brussels—either from NATO headquarters or from EU headquarters—tends to strengthen those governments."

Rather, trust should be placed in voters, Rasmussen proposed.

Biden's Democracy Summit could yet prove pivotal, Rasmussen said: "I hope it will not be a one-off event but the start of a process: a year of action leading up to the next summit.

"I hope that our [Alliance of Democracies] Copenhagen Summit 2022, which will take place exactly half a year after the Washington summit, could be a stock-taking summit where we could take stock of our progress regarding freedom and democracy."

Anders Fogh Rasmussen ex-NATO in Denmark
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Secretary-General of NATO, is pictured arriving at the Ukraine Reform Conference on June 27, 2018 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Ole Jensen - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images