The Summit for Democracy, between controversy and hope #Forum2000online

February 10, 2022

In this week’s #Forum2000online ChatCharles Edel, the Australia Chair and a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, joined Irena Kalhousová, the Head of the Herzl Center of Israel Studies at the Charles University and member of the Forum 2000 Program Council, to talk about the Summit for Democracy and other initiatives launched by Joe Biden’s administration, which show that Washington — after the experience of Trump’s presidency —  is ready to take the leading role in promoting and defending democracy worldwide.

The USA is back as a defender of democratic values.

In recent years, democracy worldwide has been in retreat, and the surge of authoritarianism has cast a shadow over the future of democratic values both in international and domestic politics. Joe Biden has underlined that democratic backsliding is the biggest challenge facing the democratic community in the XXI century many times. “President Biden, then-candidate Biden, said that he would convene the world’s democracies in his first year. And when a candidate says this, it becomes a pledge,” Edel underlined. A joint effort is needed to counteract and prevent democracies from backsliding, and Washington is ready to lead the way and provide the necessary framework. 

After Trump, American elites are more sensitive to defending democracy. 

The presidency of Donald Trump has unveiled many imperfections of the American system, and the country has experienced its fair share of democratic backsliding. According to Edel, it does not mean that Washington cannot play a leading role in defending democratic values on the international scene. On the contrary, since 2016, internal developments have made the American elites more sensitive to the importance of defending and preserving democracy, both at home and worldwide. The idea behind the Summit — and the broader Joe Biden's democratic agenda — was to put this realization into practice. “The idea was that this is not going to be the United States talking about how wonderful and perfect its democracy is — we all know that’s not true — but rather a conversation amongst democratic societies for how we can aid each other, how we can help each other and, critically, how we can learn from each other," he underlined. 

The Summit for Democracy was inclusive on purpose. 

The invitation list to the Summit has sparked many controversies. Many politicians accused of authoritarian inclinations participated in the event at the White House's invitation, alongside Western leaders and civil society representatives. Edel underlined that criticism was inevitable, but the Biden administration planned to frame the Summit as broadly as possible and avoid casting out countries facing internal problems with democracy. “The way the White House has framed it — rightly or wrongly — is that if you simply have a list of those scored highest on the Freedom House Index, we’re going to have a very small club, and we’re going to be excluding a lot of people who have either backslid or are trying to move forward,” he emphasized.

The Summit is a part of Biden's broader plan to strengthen democracy worldwide. 

The Summit for Democracy will reconvene next year. In 2021, the online format of the event did not impede drawing an agenda. While it has not resulted in any concrete targets, the Summit has brought a framework for action to be discussed during the next meetings. However, we should look at this event as a part of a broader picture. Edel emphasized that the Summit was one of several initiatives that Joe Biden's administration has launched. Washington aims at strengthening the cooperation between democratic countries to counterbalance the negative influence of authoritarian regimes, particularly China. The quadra-lateral grouping between India, Japan, Australia and the United States is an example of such action, alongside other international initiatives. These initiatives should show that democracy is still able to deliver practical results. Edel underlined that, "other initiatives, other groupings of like-minded countries […] working together to show that democracy works, and that it can promote practical, deliverable results for themselves and for others – that’s I really think the measure of what we see happening in terms of the success of democracies being able to offer a positive vision, that’s attractive and useful in the XXI century”.

In this interview, you will learn that:

  • The Trump presidency has sensitized the American elites to the dangers of democratic backsliding.
  • Washington can lead in promoting and defending democracy worldwide as long as it is aware of its own internal problems.
  • The Summit for Democracy succeeded in setting an agenda for further cooperation on discussing the state of democracy worldwide.
  • Joe Biden's administration plan was not to present America as a model example, and authoritarian leaders appeared on the invitation list for a reason.
  • The Summit for Democracy is a part of a broader plan that aims to strengthen and protect democratic values on a global scale.
  • To counter the surge of authoritarianism, the democratic community must be able to cooperate and show practical results.

The interview was recorded on February 3, 2022, and moderated by Irena Kalhousová, the Head of the Herzl Center of Israel Studies at the Charles University in Prague and member of the Forum 2000 Program Council.

In cooperation with U.S. Embassy Prague