November 12, 2021

Biden’s Democracy Summit Needs to Produce More Than a Bland Statement

By Richard Fontaine and Jared Cohen

U.S. President Joseph Biden is preparing to fulfill a campaign promise by convening a virtual group of over 100 world leaders in early December for the first-ever “Summit for Democracy.” Nearly a year into his administration, however, the president’s team has already learned that keeping promises can be harder than making them. And from Beijing’s testing of nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles to the rapid fall of Kabul, the last few months have made clear the challenges facing the world’s democracies.

The administration’s commitment to the summit signals a desire for greater democratic unity, as well as the United States’ unique responsibility to rally likeminded nations. Next month’s event cannot be the high-water mark in that campaign—it should be the start of an ambitious effort to demonstrate that democracy works in the 21st century.

While the United States must continue strengthening democratic institutions at home, it can and should support the growth of freedom abroad at the same time. The Summit for Democracy can be a key part of that effort.

The Biden administration has been circumspect about the details. A tentative list of invited countries came out only recently. The agenda—defend against authoritarianism, fight corruption, and promote human rights—is laudable but abstract. A follow-up summit is planned for next year, aimed at reviewing the intervening progress and emphasizing that the December gathering is no one-off. But exactly what the summit aims to achieve remains unclear, as does its longer-run future.

The process used to decide which countries will participate is also unknown. Freedom House labels as free only 83 out of the 210 countries and territories it analyzes, fewer than the number (108) invited to the summit. Of the 63 countries Freedom House labels as partly free, several were included in the summit roster, but many were not. It’s not clear what factors went into that decision, but the dilemmas inherent in it highlight the inevitable tradeoff between inclusion and cohesion.

Read the full article from Foreign Policy.