Biden's 'Summit for Democracy' to urge commitment from participants

Participants of the U.S.-sponsored Democracy Summit will be expected to “deliver on both domestic and international commitments that advance democracy, fight corruption, and protect human rights,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson told Ahval on Tuesday. 

Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden, while responding to a question over China during his first press briefing after taking office, once again referred to the Democracy Summit, and said that he was going to “invite an alliance of democracies to come here to discuss the future”.

Biden vowed to organise a summit with democracies around the world in his first year as the president in the run up to the election in a bid to bring back multilateralism and tackle international issues including corruption of politicians.

“The triumph of democracy and liberalism over fascism and autocracy created the free world. But this contest does not just define our past. It will define our future, as well,” Biden said in an article published in Foreign Affairs' March-April 2020 issue.

The fight between democracy and autocracy is the defining struggle for Biden’s vision, and may perhaps evolve into the Biden doctrine.

Biden has been in office for only two months, and there have already been plenty of quotes from his officials speaking about democracy and human rights, in general terms as well as specifically on Turkey.

In the same Foreign Affairs article, Biden said that the summit would “bring together the world’s democracies to strengthen our democratic institutions, honestly confront nations that are backsliding, and forge a common agenda”. 

A National Security Council spokesperson told Ahval that the White House “aim[s] to include both well-established and emerging democracies”, but that the Biden administration didn’t have “a participant list to share at this time”. 

Such an organisation will work to galvanise “significant new country commitments in three areas: fighting corruption, defending against authoritarianism, and advancing human rights in their own nations and abroad,” according to Biden.

To push back countries like Russia or China, Biden said in last week’s press briefing that the United States “(has) to have democracies working together”.

During a Feb.19 speech addressing the Munich Security Conference via tele-conference Biden once again put the democracy fight in the centre of his foreign policy vision, stating, “I believe with every ounce of my being that democracy must prevail.”

Planning for the summit is currently in preliminary development, the White House official told Ahval, and that additional information would be made available in time.

Even though Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan haven’t spoken on the phone yet, the former has described the latter as an autocrat and sees him as a leader that embodies all the hallmarks of an autocratic leader. 

In such a juncture, Erdoğan's record on human rights, fighting against corruption and advancing democracy all fail. Will Biden try to get Erdoğan in the democracies and emerging democracies summit to put some responsibilities to deliver the results or left him out to punish further? Nobody knows.

There will be a debate within the State Department between human rights backers, who argue against including backsliding democracies, and ambassadors who argue that certain important states can’t not be invited, U.S. Representative Tom Malinowski said on a panel at the International Anti-Corruption Conference in December.

“Turkey is a great example,” Malinowski, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said.

“They’re a NATO country, they’ve got an elected president, an elected parliament, and at the same time hundreds, thousands of lawyers, judges, activists (are) in prison and (there has been) severe crackdown on civil liberties for the last several years,” Malinowski added.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.