Biden Admin Branko Milanovic Foreign Policy

First ‘Summit for Democracy’ Should be the Last

Like in the Cold War, the US is trying to divide the world.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Dec. 8 during Summit for Democracy. (State Department, Freddie Everett)

By Branko Milanovic / Social Europe and International Politics and Society

More than 100 nations’ presidents, prime ministers, and kings met virtually at the Summit for Democracy on 9 and 10 December. It was the first meeting in history on this scale where the application — or ostensible application — of the democratic principle in the governance of national affairs was used as a criterion to invite participants to an international meeting.

There are three ways to look at the summit. A naïve view is to consider it as a meeting of like-minded states, interested in learning from each other about how to improve the application of democratic principles at home. (For that, however, there are already many other venues.)

More realistic is to see it as an attempt to create a loose association of states, which would promote abroad their model of governance, assuming it is the only one compatible with the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The most realistic however is to see it as a prelude to the creation of an unwieldy association of states, which would be used by the United States to spearhead its ideological crusade in the escalating geopolitical conflict with China and Russia.

This is why the summit was, from a global or cosmopolitan perspective (which it pretended to reflect), the wrong idea. It aimed to divide the world into two incompatible camps, between which there could be little intercourse and still less understanding. Taken to its logical conclusion, conflict is then inevitable.

A clash of ideologies

The clash between China and the U.S. is driven by geopolitical considerations — the rising relative power of China and its attempt to reassert its historical prominence in east Asia. It has nothing to do with democracy.

The clash has acquired an ideological dimension through the insistence of each side that its system is more attuned to the world’s needs. China puts the emphasis on its system’s technocratic nature which, it claims, efficiently responds to what people want; the U.S. puts the emphasis on democratic participation by the citizenry.

The geopolitical and ideological clashes however enter into truly dangerous territory when they become transferred into the arena of values. For geopolitical conflict can be solved, as has been done many times in history, by one or other formula securing a balance of power. The same is true regarding the economic or ideological competition of the two systems — it may even be beneficial to the world as each side, in trying to outbid the other, pays more attention to global issues such as poverty alleviation, migration, climate change, and the pandemic.  

But if one side believes that the values it incarnates are in total opposition to the values held by the other, it is difficult to see how conflict can, in the long-run, be avoided. Compromise between different interests is possible — not different values. The creation of an association which enshrines or cements value incompatibility between American-type systems and Chinese-type systems contributes to elevating the original clash of interests to a plane where compromise is near-impossible.

The formalisation of the conflict forces all countries, whether they like it or not, to choose sides. Such alignment projects the US-China clash across the world and exacerbates it.

Justifications for conflict

The lesson we should have learnt from the winding down of the first cold war is that refusal to divide the world into two implacably opposed camps diminished the intensity of the conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and probably prevented a number of local wars. This was the contribution of the ‘non-aligned movement’ of interposed states such as India, Egypt, Algeria, and Ghana.

But this will be impossible now: there is to be no third way. According to the logic of the summit, you are either with us or against us.

The Manichean logic of a struggle between good and evil pervades much western media and political discourse. Many may truly believe they are on the side of the angels, or may have convinced themselves to believe so, but they do not realise they are participating in a very self-serving reading of history and bringing the world closer to open conflict. What they are doing is the very opposite of what a peace-seeking, compromise-building, cosmopolitan approach would require — searching for common ground between systems and countries, and allowing them to evolve naturally towards a better state of affairs.

All great conflicts begin with great ideological justifications. The crusades started with the idea of wresting the control of Jesus’ tomb from the ‘the infidels’. They turned into plundering expeditions which destroyed all societies, Christian or Muslim, in their path.

European colonialism was justified in religious (evangelisation of the ‘heathens’) or civilisational terms. These were smoke-screens for servile labour in Latin America, enslavement in Africa, and control of internal policies elsewhere (India, Egypt, China, and most of Africa).

At the end of the first world war, a similarly megalomaniac project by the U.S. president, Woodrow Wilson, pretended to pursue the principle of ‘self-determination’ he had enunciated. It degenerated into a rubber-stamping of colonial rule, under the label of ‘protectorates’ and ‘mandates’ and sordid territorial deals.

This new grandiose project, if it were to remain alive, would end the same way — recognised as a flimsy cover-up for much more mundane objectives. Though a further, physical, meeting is slatedfor about a year ahead, the first Summit for Democracy should really be the last.

This is a joint publication by Social Europe and IPS-Journal

Branko Milanovic
Branko Milanovic

Branko Milanovic is a visiting professor at the City University of New York. Prior to that, he was, among other things, senior economist of the research department at the World Bank. For his book Global Inequality. A New Approach for the Age of Globalization he won the Hans-Matthöfer-Prize awarded by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Most recently he published Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World.


  1. Mr. Milanovic,

    You are much too kind in your assessment of the U.S.’s “Democracy Summit”. This is not the beginning of an attempt by the U.S. to divide the world into “those who are with us” and “those who are against us”. Rather, it is an open (and embarrassing) display of the fact that that has been the essence of U.S. foreign policy during it entire history. What changed after WWII is that, due to the utter destruction of other world powers, the U.S. found itself the sole superpower until Russia became competitive, at least superficially, a few years later (after suffering the deaths of about one-fourth of its population during WWII).

    Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. had occupied the position of the sole superpower in the world and has consistently used and abused that power for the benefit of the elites (which we now call the 1%) rather than for the benefit of the people. It had a grand opportunity to use that power, the greatest power ever held by one nation or other entity in the history of the world, for the benefit of all peoples and for the purpose of achieving peace, prosperity and harmony in the world. It chose not to do so and has consistently followed that path to the present time. That path is a path of endless war, aggression and looting of foreign nations and looting of its own people by the 1%. This has greatly accelerated during the last forty years as a result of the adoption of the neoliberal economic system, which has since then become the policy of both major political parties. The result in this Country is the greatest inequality in its history. In conjunction with that policy, which transferred the income and wealth to the 1%, the U.S. has also transferred the political power to the 1% by removing the limits on the amounts of money which can be contributed to political candidates (and also the unlimited use of “dark money” which can be used for “issue ads”, which are also in fact political ads) and adopting the legal fiction that “corporations are people” to enable the mega-corporations to further overwhelm any real political power still left (very little) in the hands of the people. I therefore disagree with your assessment that “the U.S. puts the emphasis on democratic participation by the citizenry”. Yes, that is the pretense of the U.S. version of what is still called democracy, but it is not the reality. The reality is that when we, the people, go to the voting booth, we are faced with choosing between Corporate Candidate No. 1 and Corporate Candidate No. 2. Both have been vetted by the 1% (which effectively owns and operates both political parties) and found to be loyal servants of the 1%. This corrupt system is known here as legalized bribery.

    The U.S. Claim that it “Promotes Democracy” in the world is false.

    The U.S. claim that it promotes democracy in the world is false. In fact, the U.S. is the leading destroyer of democracy in the world, as the historical record clearly shows. The essence of U.S. foreign policy is that the rest of the world must follow U.S. orders, or, in the case of its “close allies” (many of which are among the most brutal dictatorships the world has ever known, at least not interfere with the U.S. objectives, whatever they may be. The sheer hypocrisy and duplicity of the U.S. claim is revealed by countless examples too numerous to mention. I will mention only a couple of them.

    One example is the case of Venezuela, a country which, despite U. S. efforts to undermine it in every possible way, does have a democratic system of government. It is in fact democracy which the U.S. opposes. The U.S. demands that other countries, especially those who citizens are non-white, submit to looting by the elites who are at the time favored by the U.S. (see the United Fruit coup in Guatemala for a 1950s era example). The unforgivable crime of other countries, in the view of the U.S. is that a country will have the audacity to use its resources for the benefit of its own people, a crime committed by many countries, including Iran, Chile, countless others). Now Venezuela is, once again, in the crosshairs of the U.S. guns. After attempting to bring that Country to its knees with illegal “sanctions” and a failed military coup, the U.S. during the Trump administration, declared a political hack named Juan Guaido, virtually unknown to the Venezuelan public, as “President”. No election was held to support this declaration. However, one must remember that, in the U.S. view, it runs the world and the world must obey its dictates. Joe Biden has continued this farce, so the current U.S. position is that this U.S. stooge, Guaido, is the President. At the Democracy Summit, it was Guaido who was invited to attend in his capacity as the “President” of Venezuela. It seems to be that that one example should be about all must say to openly and clearly display the hypocrisy and duplicity of the U.S. views on what “democracy” is. Nonetheless, I will cite one more example, which Honduras.

    In 2009 Honduras was a functioning democracy. Its elections had been certified as free and fair by international observers. However, it was, like so many other cases, not the kind of democracy favored by the U.S. because it was using the resources of that Country for the benefit of the people rather than following U.S. orders. To remedy this violation of the U.S. rules, the U.S. kidnapped the democratically elected President and installed it chosen puppet, thereby establishing “democracy” in the form approved by the U.S. However, it is noteworthy that the U.S. did not invite Honduras to its Democracy Summit. Why not? After all, the U.S. had, in 2009, declared it to be a democracy after installing the President of its choice. One must wonder. I think it might have something to do with the results of a recent election over which the U.S. was not able to exert as much influence as it would have liked to do.

    Nicaragua could also be mentioned. It is, despite constant U.S. attempts to keep its chosen dictators in power there, functioning as a real democracy, which, ipso facto, disqualified it as an invitee to the Democracy Summit.

    Many pages could be written, and have been written, about the open subversion of democracy by the U.S. in the world. The point I wish to make is that your article treats the U.S.’s open hostility to real democracy, both abroad and here in the U.S. entirely too kindly. You write as if the U.S. acts in good faith in the world. It does not. The sponsoring of the Democracy Summit is hypocritical, duplicitous and, to informed people in the U.S. (of which there are, unfortunately, too few), an utter embarrassment.

    1. Ditto. We live in a democracy of the few, of the 1%. I have no more political power at my local school board than at my federal election booth. School boards are controlled by wildly high campaign financing (VOTECOPE, approximately $6M each year from payroll deductions of teachers) which guarantees with the secretive Union voting bloc that the TU has a 2.5 to 1 advantage out of the gate.

      State indoctrination is called public school. Children are “compelled” from their families into cinderblock sensory deprivation experiments their entire young lives, 13 years and told to pray to the state “under God”, separated from their God(s), their land, and their ancestors. These ancestors are replaced with myths, benevolent “founding fathers” who “tell the truth” and “protect and die for democracy”, the “people government”. It’s no wonder with a bamboozled electorate who view parties as sports teams and root for a “win” then go back to work regardless of outcome — as the above writer notes — “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” Marx. See also Democracy in America?
      What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It?
      Benjamin I. Page and Martin Gilens which shows statistically one person one vote has less than a percent, statistically no percent of affecting political policy.

    2. I must concur with both you and “waynecoe”. American “Democracy” is a complete FARCE. It should ALSO be noted that our Elections systems are completely rigged – to prevent even the appearance of a more popular potentially chosen oppressor, from making it out of the Primaries and into the General Elections.

      To be blunt – Bernie Sanders got ROBBED… Twice… And he appears to be either perfectly ok with the robbery, or COMPLICIT in the theft. There’s a good website that does analysis, on the little that we have in the way of Exit Polling, still, in this country – called TDMS Research. If a US-targeted Nation has more than one or two points of discrepancy between their exit polls and the announced results – the State Department tends to throw a fit. (Sometimes, like in the case of Bolivia, they don’t even need that much evidence to just order up a fascist Coup, instead of the new election to which Evo Morales, had already agreed to countenance.)

      Meanwhile, here in California, Bernie Sanders can poll at 38% popularity amongst registered Democrats, but somehow only win by a 33% plurality, on Election day. That’s a 5% flip in the voting. But nobody in any position of prominence says a word about it. Not even Mr. Sanders, himself. And TDMS Research has all of the receipts, if anyone cares.

      It appears that ONE (of several) way(s) that this is done – is with Fractional Vote Counting Software, installed in the both the machines at your polling places, and again down at the County Registrar-Recorder’s office, in the even more opaque “Tabulation Machines”.

      There’s no such thing as a Fractional Vote, outside of some allegedly progressive voting schemes like Single Transferable Vote (STV) – which is used by no State or local Government in this Country. The only plausible reason, that this is used in our voting systems – is to enable fraud and Election Theft.

      It doesn’t stop just at the Presidential Races, either. Tim Canova appears to have been robbed, in both 2016 and 2018, to benefit the reinstallation of the Clintonite and NeoCon apparatchik – Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. When Mr. Canova SUED, in 2016 – the local elections supervisor Ms. Brenda Snipes, all but confirmed the theft – by ILLEGALLY ordering all of the Ballot evidence destroyed. That was both a State and Federal crime – for which she doesn’t appear to have been even investigated, much less, prosecuted.

      A man named Raji Raab is, to the best of my knowledge, still in Court, trying to prove Election Fraud and Elections Law violations, in his 2020 Democratic Primary race, against Congressman Brad Sherman. But invariably we see that Courts are inclined to allow these thefts to continue, by refusing to order any access to the Administrative Logs on the voting systems. And as the link above shows, the “proprietary” interests of the nefarious, and Intelligence and Political Community-connected Voting systems companies, are always given priority. Even over the rights of both the candidates, and the people, in this alleged “Democracy®” – to know that their votes were properly counted and recorded.

      While it wasn’t anywhere near a perfect, complete or total audit, or designed to create any real legal consequences…the audit of Maricopa County Arizona’s 2020 General Election DID, in fact, find evidence of crimes. Nowhere but in a few alternative media locations on the left, and amongst Trumpers will you find this discussed.

      One of the few places, where one can see discussions of Electoral Integrity and Security issues, is on a HEAVILY SUPPRESSED, and recently demonitizeeld channel on YouTube and on RokFin, called “The Convo Couch”. They have also been Election Observers, internationally – doing ‘live’, on the ground coverage of the recent elections in Peru, Nicaragua, and Honduras… Their coverage is still up and available for viewing.

      As an important aside on the “Summit for Democracy”, and following on to your own analysis, and that of the author…it should be noted that included in the Empire’s newly minted list of approved “Democracies®” were the oppressive and hardly democratic regimes of both Israel and the Philippines, along with the Overtly Fascistic Coup Government that we established in Ukraine, in 2014 – using ACTUAL NAZIS and followers of Stepan Bandera, like the Azov Battalion.

      And if course this New Imperial construct is closely aligned with brutal and tyrranical regimes, like Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf Monarchies. When facts like this are taken into account – it really stops looking like this has anything at all to do with democracy, and more to do with creating a Global Empire.

  2. Overlay the Corporatocracy that has become a dominant power over Government and the Military with its Fascist ideology and we have a true recipe for disaster. If we left the worlds issues to the people of each country, I believe they would come up with a solution which would incorporate all of the strengths of each country eliminating the weaknesses, resulting in a people driven solution to getting along as we move forward in addressing the major problems the planet faces. These massive problems are not going to be solved by governments and their nationalistic agendas. We as human beings must commit to a world approach which we can irrespective of what the governments say.

  3. the 1 true amerikan Marxist, Henry Ford wrote, “if americans understood the US money and banking system there would be a revolution”
    Neil Postman wrote: “American politics is baby talk–a vaudeville act….americans do not converse (Tocqueville) they entertain each other. americans do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. the problem with americans is not Orwellian: it is huxleyan—americans love their oppression”

  4. “China puts the emphasis on its system’s technocratic nature which, it claims, efficiently responds to what people want; the U.S. puts the emphasis on democratic participation by the citizenry.”
    What a ridiculous comment. China provides ample ways for the people to contribute to the laws made in their name, starting locally and electing reps. Polls show that the people are in general satisfied.
    Try this for USA “democracy”! Candidates are chosen by lobbies and money. Laws are promoted and debated based on the support of the rich and corporations, as shown in Page and Gilens mentioned above. Courts are partisan and the SCOTUS rarely even looks at cases of importance to “ordinary people”.

  5. In the face of the assault on voters’ rights in app. 35-45% of this barbaric country, Branco is quite happy-go-lucky in his prescription for citizens who have the privilege to vote should NOT band together against the likes of Trump’s evil associates in Global Fascism, despite the capitalism running our lives via the pols who feed from the single trough of global capitalists, as if Branco has not looked outside his ivory tower since 2014 to sniff the smoke and mirrors of fascism snuffing out the privilege of voting wafting up to his willingly oblivious nostrils.

    That Branco was ever an economist of record working for the imperialistic World Bank completely negates his credibility on any economic topic unless he, like the capitalists at the World Bank he seemingly now abhors, also should fear his wrath against any Cold War-styled org attempting to DEFEND voting rights wherever they are allowed, despite those voting nations’ imperfectly clunky organizational detriments.

    Bulletin, Branco, this just in: Prepare yourself: Global fascism’s most virulent tin pot potentates, including those running China’s sweat shops and Warmonger Supreme King Vlade’s subjects who are disallowed to vote him out in favor of someone human are ALSO the WORST of capitalists, Branco, MUCH more so than those of the current US government variety. That Branco sees a puny grouping of representative democracies being tacked together by a relative pacifist (Biden) acting in COMMON DEFENSE against the onslaught of outright dictatorships in Branco’s mind constitutes a scary threat to anti-representative capitalist dictators who see representative governance as backward and primitive, informs me Branco is of THEIR ilk. Not ours. The likes of Branco should not be heeded AT OUR PERIL. That Scheerpost allows him to pollute minds on their venue is an indication of extremely poor judgment on their part.

    1. That is 100% US EMPIRE-friendly bullshit. Vladimir Putin is 70% popular with Russians. What are Joe Biden’s numbers? Less than majority. “Let’s Go Brandon” is more popular. And Russia and China AREN’T encircling the World in Military Bases, and new aircraft carriers. The US spends more than it’s top ten competitors COMBINED on Militarism. Joe Biden is IN NO WAY MILD – except that his brand of FASCISM is called NeoLiberal Corporatism. He just lacks the charisma and mental acuity of a Mussolini.

      FFS – Joe Biden thinks that Juan Guaido is the President of Venezuela, still. And he NEVER WAS. That was a LIE when Mike Pompeo dreamt it up. But ‘Orangeman Bad’, don’t forget. It’s just his policies that we can’t get rid of – because their Joe’s policies too.

      You’re so busy looking for evil dictators abroad – you can’t see the biggest one in the world – RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Joe Biden is acting not in “common defense” but like a COMMON CRIMINAL. NUREMBERG CRIMES at home – and WARCRIMES abroad. All US WARS are UNILATERAL, and ILLEGAL WARS OF AGGRESSION – the highest kind of Warcrime, because it includes all others. Daniel Ortega just won in Nicaragua, by a landslide – in a FREE AND FAIR election, as reported by international observers, including several from the USA. Why EXACTLY can’t the US swamp creatures acknowledge democracy – unless a CIA STOOGE (like the Chamorros) wins?

      Branko’s only problem in this piece, that I can see, is that he’s not critical ENOUGH of the US’ Bullshit. You’re spreading that manure awful thick. Take a whiff of it. You’re sitting atop Bandini Mountain.

  6. Milanovic’s reference to a clash of ideologies is reminiscent of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations. What’s ideological is such conceptualizations of intelligentsia from ruling institutions like universities and think-tanks and, not least of all in this case, the World Bank. Their frameworks and historical narratives help provide cover for the real-world interests of transnational capital, which as Milanovic’s most recent work announces rules the world, whether through “liberal capitalism” in the US and the West or “political capitalism” in China, Russia, and other ‘nonaligned’ nations.

    Huntington’s clash of civilizations articulated rationale, or rationalization, for continuing bizzness as usual among those who are out to own and control it all, or as much of the world’s real estate and resources as possible, beyond the cold war’s cover for that, as in ‘explaining’ or mystifying neocolonial campaigns which constituted a Third World war in the name of rival ideologies of capitalism and communism (both terms demonstrating arbitrary and self-contradictory meanings by ruling powers which employed them).

    It even found initial application in Milanovic’s former home of Yugoslavia, which contrary to his claim above is a glaring example of intensified local wars with the cessation of US-USSR rivalry, as is subsequent US-NATO encroachments upon Ukraine, along with such potentials from militarized backup to economic warfare waged upon Easter Europe and Russia itself.

    Of course, the clash of civilizations proved most useful in the launch of the 9/11 war on/of terror upon peoples and lands of the Middle East, or ‘Islamic/Arab civilization,’ contributing to the usual collective delusion of the ‘other,’ the ‘enemy,’ as not like us (they hate our ‘freedoms’!). And the deployment and interventions of US-NATO and UN ‘peacekeeping’ forces throughout these so-called cultural regions, including Africa, particularly in little known dirty wars, further demonstrates ongoing bizzness as usual of imperialism.

    Now subject peoples and lands of the world are being set up for cold war 2.0, which conveniently can provide cover for the “masters of mankind” (Adam Smith) in casting enemies for us to be preoccupied as they continue to loot the world of its resources, including human resources which for them are so much collateral damage in serving as means to their ends.

    If Milanovic seems opposed to (intransigent) bipolarization between rival superpowers of today, it’s only to entrap us in the kind of ‘international community’ subject to neoliberal global governance, as with the World Bank, which itself is hardly in our common human interests, either. In reality, and as implicitly acknowledged by Milanovic, the seeming ideological rivalries between the US and China, both in the name of democratization and progress and blah, blah, blah, provide the competitive dynamic to bring both sides and their zones of influence under the same technocratic rule and biodigital security state which the globalists seek.

    And expect to hear more, ad nauseam, about the latest manufactured threats to humanity like pandemics and climate change, along with the old crocodile tears cried by ruling class ideologues over inequality and migration, to keep reminding us of the humanitarianism of the organized crime of class rule. Whatever positioning assumed by their partners in crime among intellectual apologists and apparatchiks, we lose.

  7. “…the US puts the emphasis on democratic participation by the citizenry.”


    Does the writer of this piece really believe this?

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