Thanks so much, Roger, and it’s so wonderful to see many friends, old and new ones, today. And the Reagan Institute, for inviting me today to celebrate the launch of the Working Group’s Report and the 40th anniversary of President Reagan’s groundbreaking Westminster speech. Little did we know at that moment how soon Soviet Communism would follow leg warmers and New Coke into the ash heap of history. More seriously, your report reflects important bipartisan consensus on challenges to freedom and democratic governance across the world, and where we need to focus going forward. So I am thrilled to share with you my views on this timely topic and what the Biden Administration is doing, with partners like you, to renew democracy around the globe.
When President Reagan addressed the British Parliament at Westminster in 1982, he said, and I quote, “optimism comes less easily today, not because democracy is less vigorous, but because democracy’s enemies have refined their instruments of repression. Yet optimism is in order because day by day democracy is proving itself to be a not-at-all-fragile flower.”
What is striking to me, four decades later, is how compelling President Reagan’s call for optimism and multi-stakeholder action in defense of democracy remains in today’s disrupted world. Yes, four decades later, authoritarian regimes have refined tools to suppress their own citizens, stifle independent media and civil society, and export repression beyond their borders. But looking at the brave men and women of Ukraine makes me optimistic. So does recent data telling us our collective efforts, embodied in international solidarity behind Ukraine, make a difference. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer released on May 23, people in the United States, the U.K., Germany, and France reported notably higher levels of confidence in their democratic institutions in May of this year compared to January 2022. Now, while this is but one survey, I think the results begin to tell a story that we must keep pursuing.
So while the global geostrategic balance and authoritarian tactics have changed immeasurably since 1982, the impetus from repressive governments and non-state actors alike to undermine democracy is the same. To respond to such threats, we are relying on our legacy infrastructure as well as introducing 21st century tools. For instance, we could not counter authoritarianism without the indispensable contributions of the National Endowment for Democracy and its family of organizations. NED Family is an enduring legacy of Westminster, and it will continue to be at the forefront of strengthening democratic institutions and safeguarding democracy worldwide. At the same time, we are refining our diplomatic and foreign assistance approaches to modernize U.S. approaches to advance our shared, democratic goals.
For example, in response to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the United States publicly exposed Kremlin disinformation networks through an unprecedented, timely declassification of U.S. intelligence. Also, we are bolstering the cybersecurity of the Ukrainian government and maximizing global support on the use of export controls, sanctions, and visa restrictions to achieve our objectives. For example, the U.S. Administration has announced sanctions and visa restrictions on over 3,000 Russian and Belarusian officials, proxies, and private individuals. These people were involved in corruption, committed unconscionable human rights abuses, violated Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, or took actions that suppressed dissent and undermined democracy.
In the face of sustained authoritarian overreach, the Biden Administration is taking a three-pronged approach to promote and protect democracy that integrates these 21st century tools. So let me briefly highlight our approach.
First, we are shoring up our alliances and partnerships to advance a common vision and a unified front in the face of authoritarian overreach. The clearest example of this is Ukraine. The United States has rallied Allies and partners to defend Ukraine’s democracy, push back against Russia’s aggression, and impose unprecedented costs to curtail the ability of Putin’s regime to conduct its illegal war. This is exactly the type of global democratic solidarity that President Biden had in mind when he hosted the Summit for Democracy last year. This was the largest gathering of world leaders the United States has ever convened, with 100 leaders coming together with hundreds of civil society organizations and the private sector over three days to make concrete commitments to build democratic resilience and counter authoritarianism around the world. Governments made over 740 specific commitments at last year’s virtual Summit. During this 2022 Year of Action, we are working around the clock to ensure that these pledges are fulfilled.
Now, an integral component of rallying our alliances is reasserting U.S. multilateral leadership, most notably in the UN Human Rights Council. We are leveraging our leadership in the UN and elsewhere to work with the global community to stand up to authoritarianism as well as to open and protect space for civil society globally. On March 2, 141 members of the UN General Assembly voted to condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine, and just two days later 34 of the 49 members of the Human Rights Council voted to establish an independent Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses by Russia in Ukraine. On April 7, 93 UN member states voted to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, only the second time in the Council’s history this has happened.
The United States, along with our allies and partners, are keeping Russia’s illegal war and the devastating and widening impacts at the top of the UN Security Council’s agenda. At the UN Ministerial on Global Food Security two weeks ago, we focused the world on the growing food security crisis caused by Putin’s brutal and irreponsible aggression. We will continue to leverage multilateral fora to highlight how Russia and other malign actors are misusing technology to erode global peace and destroy all forms of security.
These efforts are bolstered by our shared commitment to human rights as part of our foreign policy DNA. We saw such bipartisan commitment in Congressional adoption of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which President Biden signed into law last December. The Act prevents the importation of goods into the United States that are tainted with the use of forced labor in Xinjiang, where the PRC continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups. Furthermore, we are working with our allies and partners around the globe to hold the PRC accountable for these atrocities. Last year, along with the EU, UK, and Canada, we took joint action to impose financial and visa restrictions on several individuals and entities responsible for the atrocities in Xinjiang.
Second, we are broadening the chorus of champions to defend democracy. Today’s threats demand that we update our approaches and expand our collaboration beyond our invaluable Transatlantic allies. As part of their Summit commitments, Japan appointed a senior government official to advise the Prime Minister on human rights with whom I am working directly to partner on countering authoritarianism globally. Lithuania is bringing together “frontline democracies” like Chile, Moldova, Nepal, and Zambia that are at the forefront of creating resilient democracies and encouraging global cooperation to push back against authoritarian regimes.
Beyond the context of the Summit for Democracy, there is the leadership role of The Gambia to safeguard human rights. Its seminal case against Burma for its alleged violations of the Genocide Convention against Rohingya is an excellent example. The Department of State is proud to have supported this case by sharing information, which helped inform Secretary Blinken’s own determination that the Burmese military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya.
Broadening the chorus, though, is not just about governments. Democracies deliver better results when they engage businesses and labor. So, we are strengthening our work with the private sector and workers to understand the many threats they are facing from those pushing authoritarian models. Democratic governance drives a bigger bottom line, and Russia’s unjustified war against Ukraine has shown that businesses and labor play a vital role in reinforcing democratic values. We saw the impact of this collaboration between our government and the private sector in the creation of Welcome.US to support Afghan asylum seekers who have come to the United States, and the expansion of these efforts to support those now coming from Ukraine. Also, we see it in how the global labor movement marshaled funds and manpower to help the ongoing humanitarian effort in Europe, including educating Ukrainian school children displaced in Poland.
Another critical partner is civil society, as we recognize that governments cannot succeed in this endeavor alone. So we are expanding and diversifying the civil society groups with which we engage to reach the activists on the front lines. This includes leaders in the areas of racial equity, labor, anticorruption, faith communities, global conflict resolution, gender equality, LGBTQI+ human rights, disability, indigenous issues, and others. This summer, we will be consulting dozens of organizations representing diaspora groups and global movements on democracy reform and how to use the Summit for Democracy to truly rally global citizens. This is in addition to the more than 1,400 domestic and international civil society groups with which we already engage as part of the Summit for Democracy’s Year of Action effort. As your report points out, such engagement is vital, and it sends a strong signal to the world that civil society is an equal partner with us in defending freedom and democracy.
Third, we are modernizing our foreign policy and foreign assistance toolkit. Recognizing corruption’s corrosive impact on emerging and established democracies, the White House launched the first U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption in 2021. To support this strategy, the State Department, working with the Departments of the Treasury and Justice, and is providing up to $15.1 million to launch the Democracies Against Safe Havens Initiative. This initiative will build the capacity of partner governments to deny corrupt actors the ability to hide ill-gotten gains and promote accountability by building a larger coalition to impose sanctions and visa restrictions. Moreover, we are partnering with other governments to expand the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium, which in its first four years generated more than 200 law enforcement investigations or arrests, legislative or policy changes, sanctions against corrupt actors, and institutional actions, including personnel dismissals. The strength of our commitment to working with partners against corruption is evidenced by our foreign assistance investment, which in fiscal year 2020 equaled approximately $258 million dollars for anti-corruption programming. The United States is continuing to lead globally by hosting the 2023 Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption. This Conference is a critical opportunity for us to work with our partners to positively shape the global anti-corruption agenda for years to come. Furthermore, we will soon announce a first-ever Coordinator on Global Anti-Corruption at the State Department to align building-wide efforts and better support our embassies in the field on this core national security priority.
We are also developing new approaches to address growing misuse of digital technologies by authoritarian regimes. To this end, the United States and our partners are developing a voluntary code of conduct on export controls and human rights during this 2022 Year of Action. This framework will help reduce the potential for human rights abuses enabled by dual-use technologies, such as surveillance tools. At the same time, the Biden Administration has taken several actions to hold the companies accountable that develop, supply, or use spyware or other technologies that enable this malicious activity, including through Entity Listing.
Across this vital democratic renewal agenda, we must make our policy and assistance more inclusive, diverse, and equitable. This starts at home, in building a State Department workforce that better represents America in all its diversity. I am thrilled to support Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, our first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, in leading this charge. We also need to ensure, though, that our foreign policies and assistance programs embrace diversity and equity. So as part of the Summit for Democracy’s Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, we committed to provide up to $33.5 million to launch the Advancing Women’s and Girls’ Civic and Political Leadership Initiative, which will help facilitate the full and safe exercise of women’s rights and representation. Additionally, we announced up to $5 million to launch the Global LGBTQI+ Inclusive Democracy and Empowerment (GLIDE) Fund. This is a new program that will facilitate the participation and leadership of LGBTQI+ community members in democratic institutions. We also proposed a record $2.6 billion to advance gender equity and equality through foreign assistance requested in FY 23, more than doubling the commitment proposed the previous year.
Finally, modernizing our toolkit requires greater flexibility and agility within our foreign assistance structures to support democratic reformers. As part of the Summit for Democracy, the State Department launched the Fund for Democratic Renewal with pooled funds from bureaus under my direction. The goal here is to establish a flexible fund that prioritizes new approaches and risk-taking within the confines of our current appropriations, and we look forward to further collaboration with Congress to this end.
So let me end by talking about where I think we go from here.
- First, today’s democracy agenda must reflect today’s challenges. It must include new leaders, new voices, new ideas and new approaches. We need to embrace the issues on which citizens feel democracies are failing to deliver – whether that is on corruption or human rights, or equitable access to clean water, housing and work.
- Second, we need to build our own U.S. capacity to meet today’s challenges. At the State Department, we recently launched a new cyberspace and digital policy bureau as part of Secretary Blinken’s modernization of American diplomacy.
- Third, there is a need to catalyze bipartisan support in Congress for democratic renewal, which includes ensuring we are regularly speaking, collaborating, and sharing our ideas. We seek to engage in an open dialogue about what authorities and resources we need to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and to be held accountable when we don’t meet the mark.
- Lastly, we need to be honest about the work we need to do here at home. America’s global leadership is stronger when we candidly talk about and confront our democracy challenges at home. As President Biden and Secretary Blinken say often, it is that constant striving to fix our flaws towards a more perfect union that sets democracies apart.
President Reagan’s call on the global community to shore up the infrastructure of democracy is as meaningful today as it was in 1982. And a free press, independent labor unions, a robust civil society, free and fair elections , equal protection under the rule of just laws and independent judicial systems, are just as indispensable today as they were in 1982. We have a tall order before us at home and abroad. But I’m grateful to count on you all as partners – and occasional critics – as we roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Thank you and I look forward to the discussion.