Who will win the World's Cup in 2023?
My World Cup analogy has its limits, but it recalls the comment of a former Liverpool manager who said that football isn’t a matter of life and death – it’s more important than that. If you replace football with dignity and democracy, that might be the message of those that are giving their lives in Iran, Myanmar, Ukraine, or indeed many other of our countries around the world.
In WFD’s thirtieth year, we had cause to reflect on democracy’s trajectory since we launched at the end of the Cold War – triumph, optimism, neglect – and now crisis. Against the background of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the climate emergency, the economic crisis, and the January 6th hearings, democracy was the subject of innumerable conversations with friends and colleagues. However, it is still not cutting through with those deciding on the focus of national strategies. Instead, what mattered to them were weapons, the cost of living, and COPs 27 and 15.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for that focus, be they a market trader in Carthage, a family in a bomb shelter in Kyiv, a forest ranger in Kenya, a struggling parent in Kathmandu, or for that matter an MP in Westminster. War, food, shelter – these are all-consuming immediate priorities for so many people in the world right now.
But it really does feel more important than ever to do better this year. Some progress has been made – the US national security strategy uses “democracy” or “democratic” 83 times, and the UK Integrated Review included an important section on supporting “open societies”. Let’s see what the first ever German national security strategy will say when it is finished. Let’s also see whether the second Summit for Democracy at the end of March can move the agenda forward.
How can those of us following the wider arc of the fight for democracy help those with national security responsibilities to get with the programme in 2023? Here are a few suggestions:
- Wake up call: We can tell security specialists that democracy levels are now back at 1989 levels. Then ask them to think what it would be like if Putin won the war and India, South Africa, and Brazil all became dictatorships.
- Unpack “democracy”: My shorthand is “preventing the abuse of power”, and my menu is accountability, inclusion, representation, rule of law, and free media. “Democracy vs. autocracy” is a useful but false binary – most countries are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum and we need to invest long-term in the relationships and skills that will support deeper democracy.
- Self-interest: The risks we face from conflict, migration, disease, economic instability, and energy insecurity are made worse by countries without democratic protections for their citizens. Democracy is not some idealist’s nice-to-have – actually it’s perhaps the greatest global public good.
- Mainstreaming: We need our security, trade, investment, and development policies to consider their impact on democracy in our partner countries. A good democracy strategy won’t try to trump those national priorities, but it can find win-wins by working with them to improve their outcomes
- Strategy: Reversing democratic decline won’t happen by accident. In my dreams, I think of an effort equivalent to NATO, with clear purpose, a strategy, contingency planning, and close co-ordination among allies. In reality, I hope for good dialogue within each government and co-ordination among my friends in the democracy support community.
- Simplify: Our democracy objectives can be corralled into two main themes: (i) democratic delivery and (ii) democratic resilience. Democracies need to help solve the problems that people face, and be able to resist efforts by a range of countries to undermine their democratic processes and institutions
Finally, my three work highlights of 2022 were:
- The new WFD Strategy – sometimes those feel routine but this one captured the gravity of the moment and the ambitions of our staff around the world;
- Our Conference on Environmental Democracy which enabled us to show how relevant accountability, inclusion and justice are to tackling the climate and environment emergencies and;
- Seeing our colleague Marina after she arrived in London from Kyiv last month – the love and warmth that filled the office will sustain all of us that were there.
May I wish you all a peaceful and enjoyable 2023.