A specter of treason hovers over Donald Trump. He has brought it on himself by dismissing a bipartisan call for an investigation of Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee as a “ridiculous” political attack on the legitimacy of his election as president.
Seventeen US national intelligence agencies have unanimously concluded that Russia engaged in cyberwarfare against the US presidential campaign. The lead agency, the CIA, has reached the further conclusion that Russia’s hacking was intended to influence the election in favor of Trump.
Authoritarian democracy is on the march on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite alarming parallels, the U.S. remains better positioned to preserve and rebuild true democracy.
The election of Donald Trump shows what happens when democracy misfires. It echoes recent developments in Europe, most notably in Hungary and Poland, where elected leaders are attacking democratic pluralism, minority rights, and civil liberties, keeping the forms of democracy without the substance. The same trends are proceeding in France, the Netherlands, the U.K., and other European democracies where far-right parties under the banner of populist nationalism are pursuing racist and xenophobic objectives.
Having returned to the United States this fall after seven years in Hungary, I am struck by the shocking parallel between what is happening in Europe and here at home. The Trump election signals a sharp turn toward the populist far right. The presidential campaign was marked by the denigration of women and minorities and the rhetoric of racial extremism. The president-elect’s early appointments include people with these views. Civil liberties are threatened. Foreign alliances are in jeopardy. The risk of war is heightened.
Countless studies have shown that democracies are less likely to go to war, torture their own citizens, and censor the media. That's one reason why Western governments and philanthropic foundations funnel more than $10 billion every year into promoting democracy overseas. For example, donors fund efforts to help train election observers, educate voters about their rights, and train local media outlets to cover political issues.
In the last year, more than $70 million have been spent on such projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a poor and fragile country emerging from over two decades of armed conflict. That may sound like a lot of money, but in relative terms it's not. The American, British and Canadian governments alone spent more than eight times that amount on democracy promotion in Afghanstan during the country's most recent elections.
Burundi, South Africa, and the Gambia are not violating international law merely by announcing their withdrawal from the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court. In accordance with Article 127 of the Rome Statute, they have every right to go.
Contrary to what some commentators seem to believe, the ICC and the Rome Statute system will not disappear because of some withdrawals. The Statute can still function with 121 states or even less. Think about it this way: in 2003, I was appointed as ICC Prosecutor by 78 states. In those days, the Bush Administration was embarked on military operations in Iraq ignoring the position of the majority of the UN Security Council members, authorizing the use of torture, campaigning against the International Criminal Court and threatening states party of the Rome Statute with economic sanctions for not providing immunity for US troops. Despite those conditions, less than 100 states parties were able to provide the cooperation and support that the Court needed to function. Thirteen years later the system developed by the Rome Statute is a reality, part of international law’s landscape. Its existence is not at risk—its relevance, as with the relevance of international law to manage conflicts, is in question. Just Security produced three important opinions.