The Essence of Joe Biden’s Summit for Democracy

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As we have indicated in one of our articles entitled “What to expect from the administration of 46th U.S. president Joe Biden?”։ “Biden’s foreign policy will be more proactive and aggressive. Priority will be given to the protection of human rights in different countries of the world, which the United States can use as a lever in building relations with any country. The implementation of the foreign policy will be carried out taking into account such important principles as the U.S. global leadership and maintaining the status of the only global superpower (restoring the role of world leadership). In this regard, Biden’s PR team will once again use the term “leader of the free world”, which did not fit the description of Trump’s policy, and has not been used for the past four years.”[1] Thus, the Democracy Summit to be held on December 9-10 and initiated by the U.S. President Joe Biden, should be considered within this framework.

Still during the U.S. presidential campaign candidate Biden announced that as a president, he will strengthen the U.S. security, welfare and values by taking steps to reestablish the U.S. democracy and alliances, protecting the future of the economy for once again placing the United States “at the head of the table” leading the world face the most urgent global challenges. Having that goal, candidate Biden promised to organize the Democracy Summit in the first year of his tenure in case of being elected. The Summit will unite the world’s democracies to strengthen democratic institutions, to address the challenges of those nations, which see a democratic decline and to form a unified agenda to face the common threats to universal values.[2]

After taking office, the Biden administration has frequently indicated that the reinstatement of democracy in the U.S. and the whole world is vital for facing the unprecedented challenges of our time. On the international day of democracy, Biden stated that “No democracy is perfect, and no democracy is ever final. Every gain made, every barrier broken, is the result of determined, unceasing work.”[3]

Adhering to his promise, on August 11 President Biden announced that he will unite the leaders of the world democracies in the Democracy Summit that will take place online in December. The second Summit will take place exactly a year later but this time it will be in person. The second meeting will be within a year after implementing consultations, coordination tasks and taking concrete steps for presenting the recorded progress.[4]

Before the Summit for Democracy, the Foreign Ministry of Lithuania hosted the “Future of Democracy ” forum on November 19-20 in support of Joe Biden’s  Democracy Summit to be held in December. Among the participants of the summit were foreign ministers, representatives of international organizations, as well as representatives of civil society and media. There is no specific information on those present at the Forum, however, it is known that from the U.S. side Uzra Zeya, the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights was present.[5]

The first Democracy Summit, which will take place on December 9-10, 2021, will unite the leaders of the governments, the representatives of the civil society and the private sector. The Summit will be a platform that will allow the world leaders to make announcements, commitments with regard to democracy and the protection of human rights.

The Summit will be based on three pillars:

  1.  Defending against authoritarianism
  2. Addressing and fighting corruption
  3. Promoting respect for human rights 

The leaders will be encouraged to announce domestic reforms and international initiatives related to their concrete actions and commitments, which will advance the Summit goals. These promises will include domestic and international initiatives for implementing the aforementioned three objectives of the Summit.[6]

Some highly appreciate the promotion of human rights and freedoms by Joe Biden, its reinstatement as priority of U.S. foreign policy “in contrast to former President Donald Trump, who openly supported such leaders as president of Egypt Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Still, the invitation of countries with controversial human rights records raises doubts as to the real objectives of the initiative.[7]

Who are the Invitees?

Around 120 countries are invited to the Democracy Summit. In this regard, democracy indices, such as “Freedom House” and “Varieties of Democracy” (V-Dem) provide an interesting picture. Thus, 8 invitees have low democracy index: Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Serbia, and Zambia. 4 more countries raise serious backsliding concerns connected to high level of autocratization and serious limitations of freedom of speech in the last 10 years. These countries are Brazil, India, the Philippines, and Poland. The rationale behind the choice of the invitees can be explained by a few reasons. First reason is connected to regional realities. For example, in the case of the Middle East, if democracy indices were strictly applied, only two countries would have been eligible to participate in the summit: Israel and Tunisia. Tunisia was not invited considering the domestic situation in the country now, and inviting Israel only would have been a failure. Thus, Iraq was also invited. Second reason is connected to U.S. strategic interests. Pakistan, the Philippines, and Ukraine are all flawed democracies with corruption and abuses of the rule of law. However, they are important partners for the USA: the Philippines- to counter Chinese expanding influence, Ukraine- for countering Russia, and Pakistan- for the fight against terrorism. The relevant U.S. State Department bureaus surely raised these arguments to secure an invitation. And third, not sending invitations to leaders of such countries as Hungary and Turkey is connected with the fact that Biden most probably does not want to take steps that would in any way support the reelection of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.[8]Moreover, according to some observations, the intention was to shame the Hungarian and Turkish leaders.[9]

 Armenia is also in the list of invited countries. Pashinyan confirmed his participation in the Summit. It is interesting that Armenia’s participation in the Summit was actively circulated  by the RA Secretary of Security Council Armen Grigoryan on November 16, when the military forces of Azerbaijan launched an attack infiltrating into the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia.[10] Thus, only Armenia and Georgia were invited from the South Caucasus, but Azerbaijan was not invited.

Chinese and Russian Stance

However, such countries as Russia, Iran and China are not invited to the Democracy Summit.[11] The Democracy Summit has big geopolitical ambitions. It reflects a vivid viewpoint of the Biden administration, according to which forming a global coalition of democracies can help counter China’s rise and Russia’s continuous aggression.[12]

 It is not a coincidence that Russia and China are not among the invitees, in contrast to such countries, which have similar records of democracy and human rights as Russia and China. Hence, the two Summits for Democracy and the commitments made and projects implemented within the latter’s framework will become  another tool for restraining Russia and China.

 The anti-Russian and anti-Chinese sentiments of the Summit were visible in Biden’s statements about the Summit during the presidential campaign. More specifically, according to Biden, the Summit will call the private sector, including technology companies and social media giants to make specific commitments. The aim is, for example, in the case of technology companies to ensure that their algorithms and platforms do not empower repression, spread hate and spur people to violence, to facilitate repression in China and elsewhere. And as an example of certain steps the world needs, Biden mentioned the Trans-Atlantic Commission on Election Integrity the aim of which was “to fight back against Russia’s attacks on Western democracies.”[13]

Apparently, this situation caused concern in Moscow and Beijing. Their response did not take long. Particularly, The spokesman of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov, described the situation in the following way: “”We fought in the early 1990s to reduce and remove dividing lines, but now the United States prefers to create new dividing lines and divide countries into good, to their mind, and bad, also to their mind.” According to the spokesman, the United States is “trying to privatize the word democracy. That is, [in their view] democracy is only that which corresponds to the understanding of Washington. Obviously, this cannot and should not be so. This, in fact, is not the case.”[14]

A more comprehensive response came from the Ambassador of Russia to the USA Anatoly Antonov and the Ambassador of China to the USA Qin Gang in a joint article published in the National Journal. Russian and Chinese Ambassadors called the Summit “an evident product of its Cold-War mentality,” which will strike up “ideological confrontation and a rift in the world, creating new ‘dividing lines.’” China was especially angry about the inclusion of Taiwan in the list of the invited countries of the Democracy Summit, however, Taiwan is not mentioned in the article.[15]

According to Antonov and Qin “Democracy is not a prerogative of a certain country or a group of countries, but a universal right of all peoples” which “can be realized in multiple ways, and no model can fit all countries.” According to the Ambassadors “No country has the right to judge the world’s vast and varied political landscape by a single yardstick, and having other countries copy one’s political system through color revolution, regime change and even use of force go against international law, and are obviously anti-democratic.” In the article, Communist China is described as a “whole-process socialist democracy [which] reflects the people’s will, suits the country’s realities, and enjoys strong support from the people…It has been proved that the whole-process democracy works in China, and works very well.” On the other hand, in the article Russia is described as “a democratic federative law-governed state with a republican form of government.” Summarizing the article the Ambassadors urge not to “worry about democracy in Russia and China.” According to them “Certain foreign governments better think about themselves and what is going on in their homes.”[16]

Answering the question related to the choice of the invited countries, a senior U.S. official, who is engaged in the organizational work of the Summit mentioned that the invitations were sent to the countries with different levels of democracy from different regions of the world: “This was not about endorsing, ‘You’re a democracy, you are not a democracy.’ That is not the process we went through.” The official added that they “had to ‘make choices’ to ensure regional diversity and broad participation.”[17]

The origins of the Summit

The idea of Biden’s Democracy Summit is similar to several other initiatives implemented in the past. In particular, there is an opinion that this summit is similar to the Helsinki process of the mid-1970s, which involved non-democratic leaders, urging them to make certain human rights commitments for which they could later be held accountable.[18]

According to another opinion, this project is similar to the initiative called the Community of Democracies. The latter was established in 2000 as a joint initiative of the former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek. The number of the invited countries was 106, almost the same as in the case of the Democracy Summit, but Russia was considered as a potential democratic country, and several Arab countries were also invited. Within the framework of the conference 106 countries signed the Warsaw Declaration, which is a short but comprehensive list of human rights that must be respected in the democratic countries. However, it failed because it was convened at the level of foreign ministers, while Washington’s  Summit for Democracy is at the level of heads of states and governments. The Community of Democracies was originally seen as Albright’s and Geremek’s personal initiative. But Geremek was ousted from the Polish government three days after the Warsaw Summit. Albright also resigned a few months after the U.S. presidential election. The Community of Democracies still has a permanent secretariat in Warsaw, but it has always been seen as the personal project of two leading figures, not really intergovernmental initiative, so it has no serious political influence, [19] unlike the Democracy Summit, which is a more ambitious initiative at the level of the state leaders with obvious geopolitical aspirations.

In contrast to other summits, this Summit will most probably have continuous character, as long as Joe Biden is the leader of the White House. Essentially, the aim of this Summit is not only to divide the world into democratic and non-democratic countries, but to put specific pressure on non-democratic countries. No one can deny the fact that the Summit will be a specific tool to press the U.S. main rivals- Russia and China.

[1] Ի՞նչ սպասել ԱՄՆ 46-րդ նախագահ Ջո Բայդենի վարչակազմից, Լույս հիմնադրամ,

[2] The Power of America’s example: The Biden Plan for Leading the Democratic World to meet the Challenges of the 21st Century,

[3] The Summit for Democracy, U.S. Department of State, February 2021,

[4] President Biden to Convene Leaders’ Summit for Democracy, the White House, August 11, 2021,

[5] Lithuania is organising a high level forum on resisting authoritarianism – Future of Democracy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, November 5, 2021,

[6] Supra note 3.

[7] Pamuk H., Lewis S., Biden’s democracy summit: Problematic invite list casts shadow on impact, Reuters, November 7, 2021, .

[8] Feldstein S.,  Who’s In and Who’s Out From Biden’s Democracy Summit, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 22, 2021,  

[9] Aslund A., What Should Be the Aim of President Biden’s Democracy Summit?, Just Security, November 24, 2021,

[10] Փաշինյանը Բայդենի հրավերով կմասնակցի «Հանուն ժողովրդավարության» գագաթնաժողովին, նոյեմբերի 16, 2021, Sputnik Armenia,–hanun-zhvoghvovrdavarutjan-gagatnazhvoghvovin-35407971.html.

[11] Participant List, U.S. Department of State,

[12] Pepinsky Th., Biden’s Summit for Democracy should focus on rights, not economics and geopolitics, Brookings, November 22, 2021,

[13] Supra note 2.

[14] Кремль назвал решение США о саммите без России «приватизацией демократии», РБК, 24 ноя, 2021, .

[15] In joint op-ed, China and Russia decry US democracy summit, France 24, November 27, 2021, 

[16] Antonov A., Qin G., Russian and Chinese Ambassadors: Respecting People’s Democratic Rights, The national Interest, November 26, 2021,’s-democratic-rights-197165.

[17] Supra note 7.

[18] Fried D., Jackson R., How to get Biden’s democracy summit right, Atlantic Council, November 9, 2021,

[19] Supra note 9.