More than 70 years ago, Britain’s Winston Churchill warned that an iron curtain was descending across Europe dividing the continent into the throes of democratic states and the Soviet Union. In a speech in Fulton, Missouri, the great wartime leader urged free nations to “stand together in unity,” otherwise “adversity could overwhelm us all.”
His speech attracted the then Soviet leader Joseph Stalin who dubbed Churchill’s warning “a call for war”. But three years later democracies heeded Churchill’s rallying cry and NATO was born with the United States, Canada and several Western European countries signing a Collective Defense Charter that many historians believe. that the war on the continent of Europe was prevented from starting again.
This week, Joe Biden is hosting a Summit for Democracy, a virtual conference beginning Thursday in which more than 100 nations are participating, which the US leader hopes will help the United States and around the world. Will help to renew democracy, and one that will send a message of resolve to Moscow and Beijing.
Like Churchill’s Fulton speech, Summit for Democracy is provoking the ire of the Kremlin and this time also the Chinese government. Neither Russia nor China has been invited to participate. “The US calls itself the leader of democracy and organizes and manipulates the so-called Democracy Summit,” Xu Lin, deputy minister of the party’s propaganda department, told a news conference in Beijing on Saturday. “It breaks and disrupts countries with different social systems and development models in the name of democracy,” he said.
The intoxication of authoritarian disapproval began last month with a joint opinion article by Russian and Chinese envoys in Washington. He said the summit was a product of Cold War thinking and argued that it would lead to “ideological confrontations and rifts in the world, creating new ‘dividing lines’.” China appears particularly outraged by the inclusion of Taiwan, which it claims sovereignty over and says should be under its rule.
But it looks like the “dividing lines” need a little help from the vertices. The virtual conference comes against the backdrop of rising tensions between the West and authoritarian governments in Moscow and Beijing.
The Kremlin has been accused of interfering in Western elections and of using propaganda to assassinate Russian dissidents and critics on European soil. US and Ukrainian officials say Moscow is increasing the number of troops along its shared border with Ukraine, the largest number of Russian troops, tanks and missiles since Russian occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and incursions into its Donbass region in 2014. There is movement.
Biden, who is due to speak with his Russian counterpart on Tuesday, has pledged “the most comprehensive and meaningful initiative to make it very, very difficult for Mr. “
And a virtual summit between Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping last month has done little to quell strained US-China relations, fueled by Beijing’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and the repression of its Muslim minority in the Chinese province. are filled. Xinjiang, where the communist government has held more than a million Uighurs in detention centers, according to rights groups.
The US and other Western powers also accuse China of unfair trade practices and economic coercion, including encouraging poorer countries to take out large Chinese loans, which can then be taken by Beijing for political purposes, called loans. Known as -trap diplomacy.
Biden has repeatedly highlighted differences with China and Russia in his broad call for the US and its allies to demonstrate that democracies are ready to defend themselves and provide humanity with a better and more just path from autocracy. are able to do. A Treasury Department spokesman said that next week, the administration will announce a series of new sanctions to mark the summit for democracy, to highlight that democracy has teeth, against corruption, serious human rights abuses and Will target people trying to undermine democracy.
“The Treasury will take a range of actions to designate individuals who engage in malicious activities that undermine democracy and democratic institutions around the world, including corruption, repression, organized crime and serious human rights abuses,” he told reporters.
Administration officials expect other participants to demonstrate readiness to act against enemies, but will signal their readiness to renew and strengthen democracy in their own countries, adding that the focus of the summit is “democracies”. and will provide a platform for leaders to announce, both individual and collective commitments, reforms and initiatives to protect democracy and human rights at home and abroad.
US officials have sought to avoid framing the summit in the context of superpower conflicts and focus less on geopolitics and more on the lasting physical benefits of democracy. Since his presidential election campaign, Biden has spoken of the importance of leading America by example to unite the world in the face of common challenges. He has argued that Americans need to strengthen their own democracy and that other democracies need to do the same.
One of the major objectives of the summit is to try to prevent democratic backsliding. The decision to exclude Hungary, the only EU member state not invited, was meant to send a clear message that Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán and other democratic backsliders cannot do Washington any favors, according to some analysts.
Steven Feldstein, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for the US, says: “As far as Hungary is concerned, its rapid democratic decline combined with the upcoming elections next year and the possibility that Orbán will seek a way to legitimize his re-election. Democracy summit, making Hungary a proper country to exclude.” Of the state
But Feldstein and others, who have attended from more than a hundred countries, worry that the summit may become a talking shop producing only few practical results.
“There is a risk that a large virtual gathering will generate far less tangible action,” said Feldstein, who is now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, a Washington think tank. “Biden’s team has tried to address this issue by calling for a ‘year of action’ after the summit that will attempt to turn the pledges into concrete commitments – it remains to be seen how effective this effort will be.”
However, Feldstein said, “by growing up, the summit is able to include more marginalized democracies that could benefit from more attention.”
Joshua Kurlantzik, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is less optimistic than Feldstein, saying the Biden administration may have hindered its own summit. “It invited more than 100 countries, including many states that do not fit the definition of democracy—Pakistan, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, the Philippines, and others. In other words, they freely and fairly don’t contest elections from the U.S., and don’t allow enough civil liberties.”
He suspects that some countries were invited for strategic reasons and not because they are democracies.
But officials in the Biden administration say the summit is an opportunity for the United States to highlight civil liberties, freedom of conscience and peaceful dissent at a time when democracy around the world is in a fragile state.