Forget the G-7 — Biden needs a D-10 to rally the democracies
On his first overseas trip as president, Joe Biden will join the leaders of America’s closest allies at the G-7 summit. As he recently articulated, this trip is about “rallying the democracies” and ensuring that the U.S. is “flanked by nations that share our values and our vision for the future.” The G-7 is a good place to start. But to coordinate effective action on today’s challenges, including China, the U.S. also needs its Asia-Pacific allies at the table. Biden should embrace British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s proposal for a new D-10 coalition of democracies.
The world is entering new era of strategic competition. For the first time in more than three decades, the U.S. and its allies face a systemic challenge from autocratic rivals. As Biden highlighted during his remarks to the Munich Security Conference in February, the world is at an “inflection point” between democracy and autocracy. China is growing more powerful and Russia more assertive, as they engage in coercive tactics to expand their global influence. Meanwhile, democracies are increasingly on the defensive, dealing with their own internal challenges while trying to counter foreign disinformation, cyber-attacks and election meddling.
To position themselves to succeed, the U.S. and its allies need new avenues to strengthen cooperation. Despite Japan’s presence, the G-7 remains heavily weighted towards the transatlantic. A D-10 would reflect the increasing importance of the Indo-Pacific by ensuring that influential allies, such as Australia, South Korea and possibly India, are at the table. As described in a new Atlantic Council report, the idea is to bring together the world’s leading democracies to work out a common strategic agenda on shared challenges, including those posed by China and Russia.
Johnson signaled his support for the D-10 by inviting these Indo-Pacific democracies, plus South Africa, to this year’s G-7 summit. Johnson’s enthusiasm stems from his desire keep Britain engaged on the global stage after its withdrawal from the European Union. For Biden too, the D-10 offers an attractive platform. It provides a new paradigm for American leadership — treating democratic allies as core partners in shaping a global order that reflects common interests and ideals. Representing about 60 percent of global GDP, the D-10 can help generate results on Biden’s top foreign policy priorities, from Iran’s nuclear program to climate change to disruptive technologies.
But expanding the G-7 will require unanimous consent, and not everyone is on board. Germany and Italy are concerned it could be seen as an anti-China alliance, while France remains skeptical of coalitions of democracies. Japan, too, has raised doubts about including South Korea, in light of their historical grievances and perhaps a desire to remain the only Pacific member in the group.
In making the case for the D-10, Biden will need to address these concerns head on. For Europe, the D-10 provides a bridge to engage increasingly influential Asia-Pacific powers, while anchoring post-Brexit Britain into a broader coalition of allies. While China is the context, the D-10 is not aimed at confrontation with Beijing — rather, it is about advancing shared values and a rules-based system, very much in line with European priorities.
For Japan, the D-10 can ensure that South Korea is grounded in a partnership of democracies, especially given China’s efforts to pry it away from the West. Biden’s efforts to bolster a trilateral dialogue with Tokyo and Seoul could go a long way to addressing issues of contention.
As the world’s largest democracy on the frontlines with China, India could also be a significant contributor to the D-10. However, its recent democratic backsliding and close ties to Russia are problematic.
The D-10 should be limited to a select group of countries that are strategically like-minded and that have a demonstrated capacity for global influence. It should bring to the table the “smallest possible number of countries needed to have the largest possible impact.” Before including India, and potentially Brazil and South Africa, it must be clear that these countries are on the same page when it comes to dealing with critical concerns such as Russia and China.
The notion of a D-10 clearly has Beijing rattled. The Global Times, often a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, recently wrote that “given the current chaotic situations of Western democratic systems, the D10 club is just an illusionary idea.” That Beijing is worried should serve to strengthen the merits of this construct. The D-10 holds promise in its ability to stand together in the face of China’s malign activities.
Given the momentous challenges of this new era, the U.S. and its allies must be prepared to take dramatic steps. By rallying like-minded and capable democracies around a common purpose, the D-10 can serve as a powerful instrument for defending a rules-based democratic order.
It is an idea whose time has come.
David Gordon is a senior adviser at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and former director of policy planning at the State Department.
Ash Jain a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council who oversees the D-10 Strategy Forum and served previously as a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff.