The New York Times' Biden Rallies Global Democracies as U.S. Hits a ‘Rough Patch’ The president kicked off his summit as critics questioned the guest list and whether the United States could be an effective advocate for democracy amid problems at home. includes the following

But in a sign of the difficult times, even organizing the summit, which goes through Friday, raised murky questions about the definition of democracy, and who should and should not be invited. It was no surprise that China and Russia were not included, but the administration was second-guessed for its decision to invite other countries with checkered human rights records, like the Philippines and Nigeria, while excluding NATO allies Turkey and Hungary, both led by rulers with authoritarian streaks.

Question: Did the Biden administration have a working definition of democracy when it chose which countries to invite to its "democracy summit"?

Is there any evidence that the US' Biden administration had, and used some kind of working definition of democracy when choosing which countries to invite to this summit?

I would imagine that the question has been asked at press conferences and to administration officials during interviews, has there been any definitive response, or was the selection process opaque and black-box-like?


1 Answer 1


The Biden administration has not released any specific invitation criteria, as such, but it has provided some guidelines that were apparently followed when considering invitees. There was, as far as I can tell, no explicit working definition of democracy used in the selection process.

The Congressional Research Service report IN11817 The U.S. Summit for Democracy notes:

The Administration invited a total of 111 governments, but has not publicly articulated the criteria that guided invitation decisions beyond a stated desire to be "as inclusive as possible" and ensure participation among "a regionally diverse set of well-established and younger democracies whose progress and commitments will advance a more just and peaceful world."

These quotes have been drawn from the response to the question "Why were some countries invited while other countries were not invited?" on the State Department's website:

  • The United States reached out to a regionally diverse set of well-established and younger democracies whose progress and commitments will advance a more just and peaceful world.
  • Our goal is to be as inclusive as possible. We are working to ensure that all relevant voices and viewpoints feed into the Summit process.
  • We will continue engaging with Summit participants and other governments around the world to counter democratic backsliding, promote respect for human rights, and fight corruption both at home and abroad – whether that work occurs within or outside of the Summit framework.
  • We seek to engage any and all countries that show a genuine willingness in making commitments that support the Summit’s goals.

Furthermore, in a background press call on the 7th of Decemeber, administration officials made the point that democracy at all levels of government and society were taken into account - they give the examples of parliamentarians and municipal-level leaders.

... with respect to both governments that are invited to the summit — and some that aren’t — we are very conscious that democracy is about more than just a single leader or a single party or a single moment in time. It’s a process that involves many actors inside and outside of government at national and subnational and local levels.

And that’s why, as my colleague mentioned, part of the full agenda of the summit brings in not just national leaders, but also parliamentarians and municipal-level leaders.

We really want the summit to be about entire societies. And so, we made our invitation decisions with all of those factors in mind. And one of our objectives is to highlight the great work that’s being led in some countries, as I mentioned, by local leaders, while urging positive democratic reform at the national level.


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