The Irish Times view on Joe Biden’s democracy summit: room to improve

Welcome affirmation that autocracy will not have it all its own way

In publishing a list of 110 states invited to participate in Joe Biden’s virtual democracy summit next month – and those not invited such as Russia, China, Hungary, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – the US has dodged the charge that it is setting itself up as the model democracy for others to emulate. It is hoping to renew a claim to global leadership of the “free world” after the troubled Trump years despite its, long and inconsistent record of promoting democracy internationally and its unevenrecord at home. Biden’s “must improve” message will also encompass a domesticdimension.

Although he hopes to argue democracies are more likely to deliver sustained economic growth, more equitable societies, and to better combat corruption, as opposed to Chinese or Russian authoritarian models, the former’s economic success and little progress on corruption among invitees such as Brazil and Indonesia make a different summit focus more plausible.

Invitees are asked to reflect on their progress and plans for upholding human rights, fighting corruption and standing up to authoritarian regimes. The meeting will strive to set out a programme of practical work for the next year.

The spectrum of invitees is broad – the majority (77 countries) rank as “free” or fully democratic, according to Freedom House’s 2021 rankings. Another 31 rank as “partly free”, while three fall into the “not free” camp. The democratic credentials of some attending will raise eyebrows including some important US geostrategic allies. China has bitterly complained at the inclusion of Taiwan which it regards as a province.


Hungary is the only member of the EU not invited. Other human rights delinquents like Poland got the nod. Also snubbed is Nato ally Turkey whose leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan was close to Donald Trump.

Democracy has not been having a good year. In 2021 there have been four coups and three attempted coups in countries from Myanmar to Sudan. Biden’s timely initiative, however flawed, is a welcome affirmation that autocracy will not – should not – have it all its own way.