How Democracy Has Been Weaponized


Democracy is the system of governance that defines the West. Based on Ancient Greece, democracy is defined as the rule of the majority where individuals vote for representatives in government. In the current Westphalian System, each country has its own, sovereign right to organize its government as seen fit, objective to the moral high ground that democratic nations exert in regard to their governmental structures. Nevertheless, the concept of democracy has been used as a weapon to promote the interests of the West in ways that are quite literally undemocratic. Democracy has long been a scapegoat for the West to justify interventionist and exploitative behaviors across the globe for reasons that, in their essence, have nothing to do with democracy at all.

The issue with this stems from the ulterior motives hidden behind such a nation’s push for democracy. Most commonly, these motives revolve around economic and security-related incentives, such as access to resources and the promotion of national interests abroad. The most notorious example of this comes from United States foreign policy, which is largely defined by the goal to advance democracy worldwide. The US is not the only culprit guilty of weaponizing democracy but can be regarded as the leader of the Western trend through its 20th-century hegemony.

Other nations have begun to take note of this tendency and call out the US for such nonsense. To illustrate, following the US-held “Summit for Democracy” in 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China released a compelling statement on the very topic:

“Recently, the United States held a so-called “Summit for Democracy”, drawing the ideological line and turning democracy into a tool and a weapon. It sought to thwart democracy under the pretext of democracy, incite division and confrontation, and divert attention from its internal problems. It attempted to preserve its hegemony over the world, and undermine the international system with the United Nations at its core and the international order underpinned by international law. This move by the United States goes against the trend of the times, and has been widely opposed by the international community.”

For context, former US President Bill Clinton believed that “the best strategy to ensure our security and to build a durable peace is to support the advance of democracy elsewhere,”. From the American perspective, democracies would not go to war with one another and would make better allies across all realms. This, coupled with unspoken national interests, is the pretext for US foreign policy.

While an exhaustive list of examples exists to display the ways in which the US has intervened militarily to overthrow a government for the so-called promotion of democracy (as ironic as that sounds), here we will look at the case study of Iran. 

In 1953, Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, was overthrown in a military coup backed by the CIA and reinstated the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. While declassified documents from the CIA explain that the coup was orchestrated to combat ‘Soviet aggression’, aka the spread of communism, and thus promote democracy, the relationship between the US and the Shah suggest ulterior motives. Following his return to power, the Shah granted 40% of Iranian oil fields to US companies, implying that the coup was done in order to promote US interests but was disguised as protecting the country from communism. The obvious hypocrisy also arises from the fact that the US aided in the ousting of a democratically elected leader for a Shah. The irony of this phenomenon is that democracy is supposed to be an enhancer of liberties and freedom, but the very act of imposing a governmental structure onto a sovereign nation separate from oneself undermines any basic elements of liberty or freedom. In doing so, the US (and other Western nations) is able to impose its governance models onto the elites of other nations in such a way that transforms them into proxies for the US government.

In more modern times, the West is weaponizing democracy in new ways, such as using the ideal as a way to combat the expansion of nations like China and Russia that challenge the US-led Western hegemony. At the 2021 G7 Summit for Foreign and Development Ministers, the then-British Foreign Secretary and later former-prime minister, Elizabeth Truss, urged the West to “come together strongly to stand up to aggressors who are seeking to limit the bounds of freedom and democracy.” The ideology of democracy is being blurred into a narrative of right versus wrong, or good versus evil. While democracy is seen by many as a positive thing, there does not exist an objective truth on how the government should be organized, nor is democracy a perfect system. Nevertheless, the true danger lies in using the term ‘democracy’ as a scapegoat to promote the economic and militaristic interests of the West.

The scope of this argument does not extend to the analysis of democracy as a governmental system, but rather the way in which it has been utilized as a means to extend the interests of certain governments across different regions of the world. I am grateful to live in a society where I have a voice, but I reprehend the ways in which democracy has been weaponized by powerful nations to exert their power over those more vulnerable to outside influence. The idea of democracy can be beautiful, but we should not allow it to be constantly weaponized in ways that deprive it of its original meaning.

Featured image: Unsplash

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