Biden Opens Democracy Summit With $690M03/29 06:06
President Joe Biden is opening his second Summit for Democracy with a pledge
for the U.S. to spend $690 million bolstering democracy programs around the
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden is opening his second Summit for
Democracy with a pledge for the U.S. to spend $690 million bolstering democracy
programs around the globe.
The Biden administration wants to use the two-day summit that begins
Wednesday to zero in on making "technology work for and not against democracy,"
according to a senior administration official. Some 120 global leaders have
been invited to participate.
Biden frequently speaks of the U.S. and like-minded allies being at a
critical moment in which democracies need to demonstrate they can out-deliver
autocracies. The summits, something Biden promised as a Democratic 2020
presidential candidate, have become an important piece of his administration's
effort to try to build deeper alliances and nudge autocratic-leaning nations
toward at least modest reforms.
The new funding will focus on programs that support free and independent
media, combat corruption, bolster human rights, advance technology that
improves democracy, and support free and fair elections.
The official, who previewed the summit on the condition of anonymity, said
the administration has also come to an agreement with 10 other nations on
guiding principles for how the governments should use surveillance technology.
The surveillance tech agreement comes after Biden signed an executive order
earlier this week restricting the U.S. government's use of commercial spyware
tools that have been used to surveil human rights activists, journalists and
dissidents around the world.
The world has had a tumultuous 15 months since Biden's first democracy
summit in December 2021. Countries emerged from the coronavirus pandemic, and
Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the largest-scale war in Europe since
World War II. Biden has also tangled with Beijing, speaking out repeatedly
about China's military and economic influence in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
"Worldwide, we see autocrats violating human rights and suppressing
fundamental freedoms; corrupting -- and with corruption eating away at young
people's faith in their future; citizens questioning whether democracy can
still deliver on the issues that matter most to their lives and to their
livelihoods," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a pre-summit virtual
event on Tuesday.
The U.S. hosted the last summit on its own. This time, it recruited four
co-hosts -- Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia -- after
ambassadors from China and Russia criticized the first summit and accused Biden
of causing a global divide with a Cold War mentality.
Still, some countries would rather not get between Washington and Beijing.
Pakistan announced, as it did in 2021, that it received an invitation but
would skip the summit, a move seen in part as an effort by the impoverished
Islamic nation to assuage longtime ally China, which was not invited.
The Biden administration has also expanded its invitation list.
Bosnia-Herzegovina, Gambia, Honduras, Ivory Coast, Lichtenstein, Mauritania,
Mozambique and Tanzania were extended invitations to this year's summit after
being left off the list in 2021.
The first day of the summit will be a virtual format and will be followed on
Thursday by hybrid gatherings in each of the host countries, with
representatives from government, civil society and the private sector
Costa Rica will focus on the role of youth in democratic systems. The Dutch
are taking on media freedom. South Korea is looking at corruption. Zambia is
centering on free and fair elections
The U.S. is no stranger to the challenges facing democracies, including deep
polarization and pervasive misinformation.
Lies spread about the 2020 presidential election by then-President Donald
Trump and his supporters have convinced a majority of Republicans that Biden
was not legitimately elected, normalized harassment and death threats against
election officials, and been used to justify efforts in Republican-controlled
legislatures to adopt new voting restrictions.
Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in a racial gerrymandering
case from Alabama that voting rights advocates fear could virtually dismantle
the nearly 60-year-old Voting Rights Act. Congressional efforts to shore up
that federal law and increase voting access have failed.
Biden came into office vowing that human rights and democracy would play
significant roles in his approach to foreign policy. But he's faced criticism
from some human rights activists for being too soft on Saudi Arabia and Egypt
over their human rights records. The administration sees both nations as
important partners in bringing stability to the Middle East.
More recently, Biden administration officials have been at odds with close
Mideast ally Israel, as conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to
push forward a far-reaching judicial overhaul that the administration worries
will diminish Israel's democracy.
Marti Flacks, the director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said "there's been a
disconnect" between the Biden administration's messaging and actions on human
rights. The administration may get higher marks from allies for how it has
approached stresses on democracy at home.
"The fact that the Biden administration has been very open and transparent
about the challenges that the U.S. is facing domestically on the democracy
front has increased their credibility on these issues externally," said Flacks,
a State Department and National Security Council official during the Obama
administration. "Because one of the big questions that I think they faced
coming in is how can you begin to talk about human rights and democracy
overseas if you can't address those problems here at home."
Following his appearance at the plenary session of the summit, Biden will
host President Alberto Fernndez of Argentina for talks in the Oval Office.
Fernndez, who was also taking part in the summit, is looking for backing
from Biden as his country tries to renegotiate the country's $44 billion
lending program with the International Monetary Fund.
Argentina is asking the IMF to revise its requirements for release of the
latest installment of the deal, arguing that it has been negatively impacted by
a drought and by higher energy prices caused by Russia's war in Ukraine.