Our Take

Sen. Ron Johnson and Republican state lawmakers’ push to take over Wisconsin’s election system indicates that the United States is failing to uphold the election integrity standards that it promotes around the world, ASD Director Laura Thornton writes in The Washington Post.

China’s economic coercion is becoming more frequent, targeted, and explicit, Co-Director Zack Cooper said in testimony before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China

The European Commission’s proposed anti-money laundering agency should choose entities to directly oversee based on a range of circumstances, not only the number of member states in which the entities operate, Non-Resident Fellow Joshua Kirschenbaum said in testimony before the European Parliament.

What to Watch at the Summit for Democracy

In lieu of the usual news and commentary, ASD is setting the stage for the Summit for Democracy, which will bring together delegations from 110 countries and governments this Thursday and Friday.

On involving diverse voices:

Laura Thornton, Director: There are several big-picture things I’ll be looking out for at the summit. The first will be how inclusive the event is and the space provided for voices that do not represent the ruling executives of the invited countries. The second area of interest to me will be how much the summit focuses on innovation and sharing solutions and best practices to address challenges facing our democracies. Finally, I am keen to learn more about the so-called “commitments” countries had to put together for the event.

Elen Aghekyan, Junior Fellow: It will be important to watch whose voices are elevated in both discussions and in the commitments that participants have been asked to make. Civil society members, women, youth, representatives of minority communities—theirs are the voices that should be at the center of the conversation. Participating countries have been asked to announce commitments to defend democracy at home and abroad, and the success of those commitments will depend on collaboration between governments and their citizens, and across sectors of society.

On responding to democratic backsliding:

Kristine Berzina, Senior Fellow: It’s been a bad stretch for democracy recently. Ideally, the summit would kick-off a global effort similar to the COP process for climate change, with clear commitments, targets, and regular reporting. Yet without true buy-in from the participants—and even co-ownership—building such a forum may prove too challenging.

David Levine, Elections Integrity Fellow: Over the last several years, we have seen the lengths to which autocratic actors, both foreign and domestic, will go to take advantage of any cracks in the foundation of democracy. Unfortunately, adversaries are finding increasingly fertile ground for their efforts. This week’s Summit for Democracy could go a long way towards determining whether the current assault on democracy is a threat that will ultimately be confronted or condoned.

David Salvo, Deputy Director: I’ll be anxious to see how the administration addresses the United States’ own democratic backsliding at the summit. From the insurrection in January to state laws politicizing the administration of elections, we have plenty of challenges ourselves. If the administration can make commitments at the summit that demonstrate serious attempts to repair American democracy, then the United States can lead by example.

On building resilience to authoritarian interference: 

Josh Rudolph, Malign Finance Fellow: The White House has already kicked off the week leading up to the Summit for Democracy with a bang, by publishing the first-ever U.S. government strategy on countering corruption, which represents the most sweeping anti-corruption policy campaign in U.S. history. The departments and agencies are continuing to announce specific programs, regulatory efforts, and policy actions, setting a high bar for other democracies to match the U.S. level of ambition at the summit later this week.

Bret Schafer, Senior Fellow: While there will be an understandable desire to come out of the summit with a collective pledge to reject digital authoritarianism, the philosophical differences between and among attendees means that such a statement will likely lack substance. The real thing to watch for, therefore, is whether the summit can force democratic countries to start to have tough conversations about the kinds of online benefits and protections democratic countries should offer their own citizens.

Maurice Turner, Cybersecurity Fellow: The asymmetrical cyber capabilities of regimes that do not adhere to democratic principles are expanding almost unchecked. While the summit will not stop these interference attempts, I hope that participants will at least coalesce around the idea that a stronger collective cyber deterrence strategy is necessary to prevent further erosion of democratic institutions and backsliding toward techno-enabled authoritarianism.

On strengthening relationships:

Zack Cooper, Co-Director: If carefully conducted, this summit could tighten relationships with key friends and demonstrate that shared values are an enduring competitive advantage for the United States. But if handled poorly, the summit could prove divisive, making it harder to build coalitions on security, economics, and technology issues. The messaging will have to be perfect if the Biden team is to walk this tightrope successfully.

Bryce Barros, China Analyst: The Summit for Democracy can be one of the first venues where U.S. officials can encourage and guide counterparts from Taiwan and Central and Eastern European countries (specifically the Baltic States) to have serious conversations about Taiwan’s overall defense posture. Officials from all parties should use this venue to discuss the soft and gray forms of defense.

Etienne Soula, Research Analyst: Europeans view the Summit for Democracy with a mix of curiosity and skepticism. Europeans are intrigued to see what Washington can come up with to strengthen democratic values and institutions at a time of increased assertiveness from autocratic regimes in Moscow and Beijing. On the other hand, Europeans are worried that the focus on democracy risks creating divisions in both NATO and the EU, and that it will make cooperation with autocratic states on issues of common interest, such as climate change, more difficult.

Read our full thoughts on what to watch here

In Case You Missed It 

  • The United States announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to protest the Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing genocide in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses. 
  • U.S. President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that the United States and its allies would impose strong economic penalties against Russia should it invade Ukraine. 
  • Meta removed Facebook and Instagram groups and accounts linked to the Belarusian KGB that posed as EU journalists and activists, and posted content criticizing Poland’s  treatment of migrants.  
  • Australia passed new sanctions rules modeled after the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which will allow Canberra to sanction human rights abusers, corrupt officials, and cyber criminals. 
  • Far-right activists are exploiting Twitter’s new privacy information policy to hinder open source research on extremist activity and ensure their identities remain concealed. 
  • Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Google France launched a program to train journalists on fact checking and monitoring to combat disinformation ahead of the French presidential elections. 

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media last week focused on two main topics:

  • Ukraine: Russian diplomats blamed NATO for escalating tensions in Ukraine, while RT warned, “the risk of an all-out armed conflict in south-eastern Ukraine is extremely high.” 
  • Summit for Democracy: Russian officials and state media aimed to discredit the Summit for Democracy by criticizing the democratic credentials of participating states and arguing the summit was designed to fuel great power competition. 

Chinese diplomats and state media last week focused on three subjects: 

  • Democratic systems: Chinese state media and officials circulated multiple government reports, which argued that China’s one-party system is more democratic than the U.S. system.
  • Summit for Democracy: The spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs railed against the summit, claiming that the meeting is “neither justified nor legitimate.” 
  • Africa: Nine of the ten most retweeted posts by Chinese official and state media were about Africa, with some of the most popular tweets promoting Ethiopia’s ability to resolve internal conflicts free of outside interference. 

Read the full report here.

ASD in the News

Politically Motivated Ransomware Attacks: Science Fiction or Reality? Communications Intern Rylie Munn and Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner write on ASD’s Interference Matters blog

A New Era for US Efforts Against Kleptocracy. Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph interviewed on the Hudson Institute’s Making a Killing podcast

Facebook: Fake scientist used to spread anti-US propaganda. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in AP 

Biden’s ‘Summit for Democracy’ includes countries that hardly seem to qualify. Director Laura Thornton quoted in The Washington Post

Biden calls for sweeping new push to expose and punish financial corruption. Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph quoted in The Washington Post

For Russia a zing, a snub for Beijing. Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph quoted in Politico

Tracking the CCP’s Efforts to Undermine Democracy featuring Etienne Soula. Research Analyst Etienne Soula interviewed on The Heritage Foundation’s China Uncovered Podcast

Quote of the Week

“Convening global democratic leaders and others to reaffirm that democracy and democratic values remain the best answer to what ails us sends a message of solidarity, confidence, commitment and clarity.”

  • President of the National Democratic Institute Derek Mitchell told Politico on December 7, 2021.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.