Democracy Talk Is Cheap

By Frances Z. Brown and Thomas Carothers
10 January 2022

U.S. President Joe Biden took office vowing to put global democratic renewal at the center of his foreign policy. In December, after months of hectic planning, his administration made good on one prominent part of that agenda: it convened a Summit for Democracy with partners from around the world. The event, held virtually, brought together nearly 100 leaders to discuss how to counter authoritarianism, combat corruption, and defend human rights.

The present moment calls for urgency. Challenges to democracy, including illiberal drift in countries such as Brazil and India and coups in Myanmar and Sudan, continue to multiply worldwide. Against this backdrop, Washington must define its pro-democracy priorities in a realistic yet ambitious way. That means, among other goals, acknowledging that the United States has a long history of loudly advocating for democracy in principle yet compromising on democracy in practice. That habit will not serve Washington well in the years ahead. Democracy’s fate, after all, lies in the balance in very specific places around the world. Biden’s ability to handle these distinct and localized challenges will inevitably determine whether his administration succeeds in its attempt to bolster global democracy.