December 08, 2021

Values Are Interests

By Richard Fontaine and Daniel Twining

In U.S. national security policy, a dividing line frequently runs through interests and values. American interests—like physical protection, sovereignty, and free commerce—are necessities often defended with hard-power instruments. They are the stuff of high politics, presidential summits, and deterrence. The promotion of American values, including democracy and human rights, can seem softer and far less pressing—the business of humanitarians and advocates. The differences are stark.

In fact, interests and values are two sides of the very same coin. Both are indispensable aspects of an American foreign policy worthy of its people. This week’s Summit for Democracy offers the Biden administration a chance to demonstrate this truth in action.

It’s also vital that the administration do so. Democracy is on the defensive around the world, and both the number and quality of democracies have declined for fifteen consecutive years. From Burma to Sudan to Belarus, authoritarians are exerting more control, while open societies are increasingly more vulnerable to disinformation, cyber-subversion, and malign foreign authoritarian influence. The stresses on America’s own democracy over the past year have been on vivid display. China and Russia tout their own brand of illiberal autocracy.

The answer to democracy’s problems is not dictatorship. It is, rather, better democracy—and more of it.

But the answer to democracy’s problems is not dictatorship. It is, rather, better democracy—and more of it. The summit should focus on defending and enlarging the free world and ensuring that democracies are strong, working together, and promoting their values. An approach that highlights the importance of liberal order at home and abroad would complement the vital efforts to improve American defenses, enhance American military capabilities, and solidify alliances. Together they augur a balance of power that allows freedom to flourish.

Consider the fundamental distinctions between free and open societies and illiberal autocracies like China.

In democracies, citizen-centric governance yields politicians who are accountable to the people. Leaders who underperform lose office in free and fair elections. Civil society plays a central role in holding government to task and advancing human dignity and justice, including through the freedom to protest peacefully. Free media report openly on government shortcomings. Independent judiciaries dispense justice rather than the desires of ruling politicians. Political parties compete on policy-based platforms over how best to advance national welfare.

Read the full article from American Purpose.