The Biden administration is inviting around 120 countries to join its Summit for Democracy next week, but two of its NATO allies aren’t getting a call.
Turkey and Hungary have been left off the invitation list for the major summit, which Team Biden bills as one of its hallmark foreign-policy initiatives, meant to shore up democracies worldwide and stanch the rise of autocracies.
Backsliding. The spurning of two NATO allies, confirmed by three U.S. officials who spoke to SitRep, reflects a mounting concern with the degree of democratic backsliding in Turkey and Hungary, even though Washington is relying on both to support the West’s strategy against Russia as the war in Ukraine rages on—and needs both to approve Finland and Sweden’s bids to join NATO as full-fledged allies.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has consolidated power and dismantled elements of the country’s democracy, but he faces the toughest challenge yet to his 20-year rule with upcoming elections in May.
Hungary, under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has alienated itself within the European Union and NATO for its own democratic backsliding and Orban’s close ties with Russia, even in the aftermath of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Orban’s government, for its part, has constantly rebuffed criticism from Washington and its EU neighbors over accusations of backsliding, even as it blocks a steady stream of EU-wide initiatives on aid for Ukraine and sanctions on Russia.
The snub is likely to inflame tensions between Washington and the two NATO allies even further as well as widen the distance between the rest of the NATO and EU alliance and the two outliers.
The upcoming Summit for Democracy, scheduled from March 28 to March 30, involves a hodgepodge of in-person and virtual events in Washington and four partner countries—Costa Rica, South Korea, the Netherlands, and Zambia—with U.S. President Joe Biden and around 20 of his most senior administration officials participating.
Outside experts hope the summit can revive some momentum in the global network of democratic governments after years of global democratic backsliding.
“There is a fundamental split right now between leaders taking their countries into a more repressive, closed, and authoritarian direction versus those that are going in a more open and inclusive direction,” Thomas Perriello, executive director of the Open Society Foundations and a former Democratic congressman, told SitRep. “And the other side, frankly, has a lot of money and power to throw around.”
He said the summit, if pulled off right, can help serve as a “counterweight” to the rise of autocracies as well as help mature and emerging democracies compare notes.
The importance of an invite list. Administration officials who spoke to SitRep insist that the summit is about more than who made the invite list and who didn’t.
“The United States is not interested in this event being seen as an all-encompassing judgment on the strength of another country’s democracy. That’s not the intention,” one senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told SitRep.
“When it comes to both Turkey and Hungary, we are committed to further strengthening our relations with both countries. They’re both important NATO allies, and we’re working together on many issues of mutual interest,” the official added.
This is the second Summit for Democracy the administration has organized. The first was in late 2021. Turkey and Hungary didn’t get an invitation for the first summit either, prompting Hungary at the time to block the EU from taking on a joint role in the summit.
Some new additions to this summit. The 2023 summit will invite all the same countries, with eight additions, according to officials familiar with the matter: Honduras, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Mauritania, Mozambique, Tanzania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Liechtenstein. (No word on why the small but mighty microstate of Liechtenstein got snubbed in the 2021 summit, but congrats to them for securing an invite this time around.)