Biden is not asking Turkey, a crucial NATO partner, nor Hungary to his second “Summit for Democracy,” which is unusual among European Union states.
As Russia assaults Ukraine and China launches a diplomatic offensive, the United States seeks a united front against authoritarianism as it kicks off its second Summit for Democracy on Tuesday (March 28).
After his predecessor Donald Trump’s erosion of democratic standards and the attack on the Capitol, President Joe Biden assumed office promising to support democracy. In his first year in office, he delivered on that promise with the inaugural summit, which aimed to reestablish US leadership.
In response to complaints that the initial edition was flawed, this time around,
Biden has chosen co-hosts from each continent this time around, including the presidents of Zambia, Costa Rica, and South Korea as well as the prime minister of The Netherlands, in response to criticism that the first edition focused too much on US introspection.
He has invited 121 leaders in all, eight more than in 2021, for the three-day summit that will take place primarily online.
Threats to democracy are changing from being viewed as an important issue, albeit a somewhat slow-moving threat, to one that is both important and urgent, according to Marti Flacks, director of the human rights initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This is why the summit is taking place at this time.
Civil society representatives will participate in the meetings to examine a variety of issues that threaten democracy, such as surveillance technologies, which the United States views as an increasing threat as China makes significant technological advancements.
The administration must engage bilaterally with other nations and businesses on voluntary activities that can be implemented in the interim, according to Flacks, in the absence of any impending congressional action in that area.
Shunning Turkey, Hungary
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will participate in a virtual discussion on peace in Ukraine to kick off the summit on Tuesday.
A strong contrast to the inaugural summit’s clean-shaven, sharp-dressed Zelenskyy, now a wartime leader in military fatigues, will be made in both the message and the venue.
While Biden has kept his campaign pledge at the democracy summit, he has disappointed some human rights activists by easing his earlier vows to shun autocratic leaders.
Last year, Biden traveled to Egypt, which was hosting a meeting on climate change and is a partner of the US in regional security. He has also collaborated more on Ukraine with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
None of those three nations received an invitation to the summit, which is a sly dig at Erdogan in particular since he is up for reelection on May 14 and has been criticized for edging closer to authoritarianism during that time.
Biden is not inviting Hungary, the only country in the European Union where the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has been accused of departing from liberal norms by repressing the press, demonizing non-European refugees, and praising Moscow. Orbán won a fourth term last year.
Singapore, whose elections are usually regarded as democratic, but which restricts free assembly and controls media, and Bangladesh, where hundreds have been detained under the Digital Security Act, were among the American allies avoided for the conference.
The State Department declined to talk about the qualifications for admission.
A spokesperson for the State Department stated, “But, we reaffirm that for the summit we strive to be inclusive and representational of a regionally and socioeconomically varied slate of countries.”
“We are not attempting to categorize which nations are democratic and which are not,”
India’s neighbor and arch-rival Pakistan, where Imran Khan was last year ousted as prime minister and later charged, is also on the list.
More Africans invited
Of the countries that received invitations after being kept away in 2021, five are in Africa including Tanzania, where President Samia Suluhu Hassan has promised to restore competitive politics, and Ivory Coast, where tensions have eased since 2021 elections passed off calmly, as well as The Gambia, Mauritania, and Mozambique.
In Latin America, Biden is for the first time inviting Honduras, which won praise for authorities’ improved conduct in 2021 elections, despite persistent violence and its recent dumping of Taiwan ties for China.
The summit comes as the United States focuses on Africa, where China and Russia have both been making inroads.
Vice President Kamala Harris will travel during the week to Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia — whose president, Hakainde Hichilema, has been held up by Washington as a model of democracy and will hold his events as a summit co-host.
Freedom House, the US-backed research group, in its latest annual report saw an overall deterioration in global democracy but also a growing number of bright spots.
Katie LaRoque, the group’s coordinator for the summit, said that while a single meeting would not in itself be decisive, the gathering gives an opportunity.
Democracies can “coordinate policy changes that can contain rampant authoritarian aggression,” she said.