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State of the Order: In June, the world’s alliances strengthened—but concerning risks for the democratic order remain

In June, much of the world saw not only rising temperatures, but also multiplying stresses on the world order. Israel and Hamas still did not agree on a cease-fire, despite hopes earlier in the month that both sides would sign onto a previously floated three-phase plan. Tensions between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his military leadership over war aims magnified, as the Israeli army’s chief spokesman publicly questioned the government’s articulated goal of destroying Hamas. Meanwhile, the United States and its allies ramped up support for Ukraine, with new measures that allow Ukraine to use US-provided weapons to strike inside Russia and a new Group of Seven (G7) plan to use interest on immobilized Russian sovereign assets for a fifty-billion-dollar loan to Ukraine. European Union (EU) elections saw the far right make gains, especially in France, but the center largely held.

Read up on the events shaping the democratic world order.

Reshaping the order

This month’s topline events

Tensions mount within the Israeli government as conflict grinds on. As June ended, Israel and Hamas still had not agreed on a cease-fire, despite hopes earlier in the month that both sides would sign onto a previously floated three-phase plan. Although the United States assured that Israel accepted, it is unclear whether Israel declined the latest three phase. Yet Hamas requested some unworkable changes after all the parties alleged acceptance. Even as the two sides haggled over cease-fire terms, Israeli military operations in Gaza slowed due to operational tempo, but there remained an increase in intensity in the continued tit-for-tat exchanges between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah, driving global concern over a potential war between them that could evolve into a broader regional conflict. Netanyahu dissolved his war cabinet, the unit established to bring a unified approach to Israel’s fight against Hamas. The decision came following the resignation of former military chief Benny Gantz from the cabinet. Gantz resigned amidst protests over the continued lack of a strategic plan to defeat Hamas. Illustrating further divisions within the Israeli government over war aims, the Israeli army’s chief spokesman publicly questioned the government’s articulated goal of destroying Hamas, noting, “Hamas is an idea, Hamas is a party. It’s rooted in the hearts of the people—whoever thinks we can eliminate Hamas is wrong.” Tens of thousands of Israeli people protested in Tel Aviv to demand a cease-fire and the return of hostages.

  • Shaping the order. Tensions within the Israeli government, between Netanyahu and his military leadership, came to a head as the two sides seemed at odds over end goals for Israel’s military operations. There remains limited consensus on the way forward. In February, Netanyahu presented a post-war plan aiming for local officials to govern Gaza, with Israel preparing to test the experimental model with “humanitarian bubbles.” Allies have collectively strategized various pathways and there remains widespread skepticism of the plan. Yet the Israeli government continues to struggle to advance a post-conflict plan and receive sufficient buy-in from the United States, Arab states, and others, which remains a key priority for regional stability and US interests.
  • What to do. The Biden administration should continue to work with allies in Doha and Cairo to pursue a path to a temporary cease-fire and hostage-for-Palestinian-prisoners deal—that would also enable a flood of humanitarian relief in Gaza—despite the low probability of success.

The United States and its allies step up support for Ukraine. The United States expanded its policy to allow Ukraine to use US-provided weapons to strike “anywhere that Russian forces are coming across the border from the Russian side to the Ukrainian side to try to take additional Ukrainian territory,” according to US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. This builds on its May decision to allow Ukraine to use US-provided weapons to strike a limited set of targets, largely across the border from Kharkiv.

The Biden administration, following the G7 meeting in Italy, announced it would rush the delivery of air-defense interceptors to Ukraine by delaying the delivery of them to most other nations. The G7 also agreed to use interest on immobilized Russian sovereign assets to collateralize a fifty-billion-dollar loan to Ukraine. The United States added new and strong US sanctions against Russia and finalized a US-Ukraine ten-year memorandum of understanding on security cooperation.

As US munitions began to reach the front lines in Ukraine, the Russian offensive against Kharkiv lost momentum. Although Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy generation did considerable damage (taking down almost half of Ukrainian electric generation), the US decision to rush delivery of air-defense interceptors may help further mitigate such attacks, as will Romania’s decision to send to Ukraine one of its Patriot batteries. Meanwhile, Ukrainian attacks on Russian military infrastructure in Crimea were taking an increasing toll, and Russian President Vladimir Putin visited North Korea to shore up his relationship with dictator Kim Jong Un and ensure Pyongyang continues providing munitions and arms to Moscow for the war in Ukraine.

On the diplomatic front, Russia escalated its demands for a cease-fire in an unrealistic fashion, insisting that Ukraine must first abandon territory it currently holds in the four provinces partly occupied by Russia, land that Russia has been unable to take by force. Days after that, from June 15 to 16, ninety-three countries attended a peace conference in Switzerland to discuss Ukrainian terms (its ten-point plan) for a settlement and seventy-eight countries signed a document that called for the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, a key Ukrainian point (more countries have signed on since). China did not attend, however, and some key countries in the Global South such as South Africa, India, Brazil, and Mexico did not sign the conference document.

  • Shaping the order. The Biden administration’s decision to allow Ukraine to use US-provided weapons to strike inside Russia, beyond initial restrictions on targets near Kharkiv, is a significant, positive step in Western support for Ukraine. Using frozen Russian assets to collateralize a loan for Ukraine is another positive step, but the United States and its allies may find they need to go further, using said assets themselves rather than continuing to use their own funds exclusively.
  • Hitting home. Some US experts argue that Ukraine is a strategic liability and that US focus there diverts resources better used in the Indo-Pacific. Russian victory in the war, which is likely to result from a US withdrawal, would cause cascading security problems in Europe that would draw on even more US resources.
  • What to do. The United States and its allies must marshal continued military assistance for Ukraine, including air defense and weapons that support Kyiv’s attacks on Russian military targets in occupied Ukraine, especially Crimea. The United States has the means to intensify pressure on the Russian economy and should use such tools. Washington should consider enforcing sanctions to hit smugglers of technology subcomponents utilized for Russian weapons and evaders of the oil price cap (the latter missing from the otherwise strong June 12 US sanctions package). A successful Ukrainian land offensive may not be possible in the near term. 

The center holds, but the right makes gains, in European Parliament elections. Across the EU’s twenty-seven member states, voters cast ballots to select their representatives to the European parliament. The election saw gains for the center-right and right, but it was a disappointing showing for French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renew party. The European People’s Party, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni), and Identity and Democracy—the hard right—were the main beneficiaries of the elections. These results were overshadowed by Macron calling for a snap parliamentary election after his party’s incredibly poor performance in the European Parliament election (garnering less than half the votes of their far-right rivals, the National Rally): The snap election resulted in the left-wing New Popular Front on top, Macron’s  centrist alliance placed second, and  Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally, which finished third. Yet, the right did not do well in Scandinavia, Spain, and Romania, and had only a modest uptick in Poland, where the ruling Civic Platform came in first place. The parties in Germany’s ruling coalition—the Social Democrats, the Free Democrats, and the Greens—all lost ground in Germany, but the center-right alliance between the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union did well.

  • Shaping the order. Snap elections in France overshadowed the fact that the center mostly held its ground in the EU elections. The far right’s marginal gains will matter, however, if said forces can unite and if center-right parties are willing to engage with the far-right. Even so, the incoming parliament is likely to be more fragmented and polarized than its predecessor. And the French elections, the first round having wrapped, are pointing to a major defeat for Macron and a surge of the right, which is both nationalist and wary about the extent of French support to Ukraine.
  • Hitting home. Even though the center largely held in the European Parliament elections, the increased fragmentation will likely mean less clarity on policy issues that impact US companies.
  • What to do. The United States should constructively engage the European Parliament, encouraging it to hold firm to its moderate stances and not bend to the far right’s proposals.

Quote of the Month

The votes cast put the far-right forces at almost 40 percent and the extremes [on the right and left] at almost 50 percent. This is a political fact that cannot be ignored.
—French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking after the European Parliament elections.

State of the Order this month: Unchanged

Assessing the five core pillars of the democratic world order

Democracy (↔)

  • On June 30, the far-right National Rally won in the first round of the parliamentary elections, although it’s unclear whether they will get a majority with the second-round vote upcoming on July 7. Many French citizens have been protesting against the National Rally out of concern for women’s rights and minority rights, where thousands of women marched in dozens of French cities, including Paris, to protest against Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally.
  • Mexico elected Claudia Sheinbaum, its first female president, in the country’s largest election in history with 98 million registered voters. As Mexico City’s former mayor and the favored successor of outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Sheinbaum was favored to win. Promising to continue López Obrador’s policies, she believes the government has a strong responsibility to address economic inequality and establish robust social security.
  • On balance, the democracy pillar was unchanged.

Security (↔)

  • Chinese forces seized Philippine small boats that were attempting to resupply a Philippine military outpost at Second Thomas Shoal. Multiple Philippine vessels were damaged, and sailors were injured in the incident. One US official called China’s actions “deeply destabilizing.”
  • Houthi rebels launched an aerial drone, striking and damaging the Transworld Navigator in the Red Sea, one of more than sixty attacks targeting specific vessels. The attack comes after United States recalled its USS Dwight D. Eisenhower after an eight-month deployment. Shipping in the corridor—crucial for connecting Europe, the Middle East, and Asia—has slowed significantly. The Houthis said they would continue the attacks as long as the Israel-Hamas war continues.
  • On balance, the democracy pillar was unchanged.

Trade (↔)

  • Amid the European Commission’s anti-subsidy investigations into electric vehicles (EVs) coming from China , the European Union announced additional tariffs on  imported Chinese EVs. The tariffs range from 17.4 to 38.1 percent—and that’s on top of the 10 percent duty already in place. As a result, Chinese car companies may consider raising prices or establishing factories in Europe, as the continent recently became China’s largest EV export market.
  • On balance, the democracy pillar was unchanged.

Commons ()

  • The United Nations conducted a worldwide poll that revealed 80 percent of people want governments to take more action on addressing climate change. The survey noted majority support for stronger climate action in twenty of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters and majority support globally a quicker transition away from fossil fuels. Despite the increasing state of global conflict and rise of nationalism, the desire to set aside geopolitical differences and work together on climate change is expanding.
  • Record-breaking heat, fueled by climate change, affected millions around the globe, scorching four continents and surpassing last summer as the warmest in two thousand years. There were more than forty thousand suspected heat stroke cases in India between March 1 and June 18, and in Saudi Arabia, over one thousand people died participating in the Hajj pilgrimage amid soaring temperatures. Devastating forest fires spread in Europe and northern Africa, and a heat dome trapped large regions of the United States, preventing cool air from getting in.
  • On balance, the commons pillar was weakened.

Alliances (↑)

  • For the first time in twenty-four years, Russian President Vladimir Putin and dictator Kim Jong Un met in North Korea, reinforcing their commitment to cooperate and protect each other’s interests. As part of the meeting, they signed a mutual military-assistance treaty, with Putin announcing that Russia could provide weapons to North Korea—with potentially destabilizing effects for the democratic world order.
  • The leaders of the G7 convened in Apulia, Italy, for the 2024 G7 Summit to discuss supporting Ukraine, pushing back on unfair economic practices, combating climate change, addressing food and health insecurity, leveraging critical technologies, and partnering with like-minded countries around the globe.
  • On balance, the alliances pillar was strengthened.

Strengthened (↑)________Unchanged (↔)________Weakened ()

What is the democratic world order? Also known as the liberal order, the rules-based order, or simply the free world, the democratic world order encompasses the rules, norms, alliances, and institutions created and supported by leading democracies over the past seven decades to foster security, democracy, prosperity, and a healthy planet.

This month’s top reads

Three must-read commentaries on the democratic order

  • Michael Doyle, in Foreign Affairs, argues that democratic peace is back in vogue and great powers can prevent the tensions between democracies and autocracies from escalating into full-blown global cold war.
  • Robert C. O’Brien, in Foreign Affairs, outlines a Trump administration foreign policy centered on the return of peace through strength.
  • Célia Belin and Mathieu Droin explore in Foreign Policy what a far-right victory would mean for French foreign policy.

Action and analysis by the Atlantic Council

Our experts weight in on this month’s events

  • Niva Yau, in an  Atlantic Council report, shows how China is training future authoritarians overseas in order to secure its interests in Global South countries and beyond.
  • Matthew Kroenig and Dan Negrea, in Foreign Policy, explain that the United States’ competition with China should be focused on weakening and defeating the Chinese Communist Party regime.
  • Daniel Fried, in the New Atlanticist, offers seven ways to reboot G7 sanctions on Russia, stating that United States and its allies must commit to dedicating resources to identifying targets for taking economic steps against Russia.
  • Andrew Michta, in a piece for the German Council on Foreign Relations, contends that Germany must commit to significantly expanding its defense industrial base so that it will be well positioned to establish strong cooperation with whichever candidate wins the next US presidential election.

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The Democratic Order Initiative is an Atlantic Council initiative aimed at reenergizing American global leadership and strengthening cooperation among the world’s democracies in support of a rules-based democratic order. Sign on to the Council’s Declaration of Principles for Freedom, Prosperity, and Peace by clicking here.

Patrick Quirk – Nonresident Senior Fellow
Dan Fried – Distinguished Fellow
Ginger Matchett – Project Assistant

If you would like to be added to our email list for future publications and events, or to learn more about the Democratic Order Initiative, please email pquirk@atlanticcouncil.org.

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