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For the second year in a row, Joy London, a member of the OSET Institute’s leadership team attended the Copenhagen Democracy Summit at the scenic Harborside Royal Danish Playhouse this past June 27th-28th. London, the Institute’s Associate General Counsel & Director of International Development, returned to Denmark, where she continued to build the Institute’s network of global democracy advocates, including several members of the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity (TCEI) — an organization, launched at last year’s Summit by the Alliance of Democracies (AoD). Here is her report back on the intensive 2-day conference.

Democracy in Crisis

Despite this summer’s atypical, record-shattering heat wave across Europe, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, founder of the AoD and the Summit’s host, thanked approximately 500 democracy advocates (politicians, business people, academics, policymakers, and journalists) from 75 different countries for traveling from far-away places such as Albania, Indonesia, Iraq, Lebanon, Myanmar, Nigeria, Syria, and Tunisia to discuss critical geopolitical and economic issues facing civil societies.

In his opening remarks, Rasmussen, former NATO Secretary General and former Prime Minister of Denmark, laid out a challenge to political leaders, both Western democratic leaders, as well as autocratic strongmen like Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen  holding the  Financial Times , with photo of Vladimir Putin and headline ‘The liberal idea has become obsolete’  (Photo courtesy AoD)

Anders Fogh Rasmussen holding the Financial Times, with photo of Vladimir Putin and headline ‘The liberal idea has become obsolete’
(Photo courtesy AoD)

Rasmussen offered:

As we meet, democracy is in crisis — with legitimacy undermined at home and autocracies emboldened abroad.  Across the West, political leaders are failing to take a hard look in the mirror.  Perhaps, of course, they may not like what they see.  How many leaders can say they have been fully honest about what they can achieve?  How many tore up their promises the moment they gained power?  How many can say they have really understood and answered legitimate concerns?”

Ending his comments on a note of optimism, Rasmussen observed:

No force is stronger than the individual’s pursuit of freedom, better opportunities, and happiness.That’s why freedom and democracy will prevail over oppression and autocracy even if this guy [referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin], in the Financial Times today, claims that ‘the liberal idea is obsolete.’So, let’s get to work — and let’s prove Putin wrong.”

U.S. Congressional Delegation

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The invited speakers included several congressmen from the U.S. who journeyed from Washington, DC to Copenhagen. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD-5), a Danish-American and the Co-chair of the Congressional Friends of Denmark Caucus, led the bipartisan Congressional Delegation. Hoyer, once a Co-chair of the U.S. Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe (also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission) is an ardent supporter of election reform, abroad and at home. [1]

At the Summit, Hoyer delivered a keynote address about the threats and challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.  Democracy, he said, “is under assault from without and from within.”

Hoyer added:

Beyond the borders of the democratic world those who fear the spread of democracy counter it with propaganda and efforts to hack our elections.  They employ new technologies to engage in old tricks.  The Berlin Wall is being rebuilt – not with bricks but with bots.

Meanwhile, from within, the ability of democratic institutions to deliver for our people is being undermined by doubt and division.Economic strain and uncertainty provide an opening for leaders who promise easy fixes – if only they are allowed a greater share of power and, at times, held above the law.Additionally, the internet and social media have made it harder for voters to discern between truth and fiction.”

Later in the day, Hoyer and Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK-4), the other Co-chair of the Congressional Denmark Caucus, participated in a discussion, moderated by Indira Lakshmanan, on defending democratic values.

Other House members, including Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA-28), Steve Cohen (D-TN-9), Val Demings (D-FL-10), and Garret Graves (R-LA-6), joined Hoyer and Cole on the transatlantic trip.  After the Summit ended, Hoyer and the Delegation left Copenhagen and flew to Hungary and Ukraine [2] to demonstrate U.S. support for efforts to strengthen democracy in Europe, and to assure America’s commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance. [3]  The lawmakers ended their European tour in Luxembourg, where they attended the 28th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

Indira Lakshmanan  interviews Rep.  Steny Hoyer  and Rep.  Tom Cole    (Photo courtesy AoD)

Indira Lakshmanan interviews Rep. Steny Hoyer and Rep. Tom Cole
(Photo courtesy AoD)

Hoyer assured:

The United States stands with our European allies in support of democracy.  This Delegation will deliver a clear message to our allies that the United States is committed to NATO and its principle of common defense.  We must take seriously threats to democracy from within and without.  We will not allow Russian aggression to go unchecked, and we must all work together to strengthen our core democratic institutions.”

Later, in a separate interview, Rep. Schiff, Chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, said he believed that within the U.S. Legislative Branch, there is:

“Very strong, bipartisan, uniform support for democracy, human rights, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, that is not always reflected in the views of the President, and this comes at a critical time when autocracy really is on the rise.

Indira Lakshmanan  interviews Rep.  Adam Schiff    (Photo courtesy AoD)

Indira Lakshmanan interviews Rep. Adam Schiff
(Photo courtesy AoD)

Rep. Schiff continued:

I think, for those of us who grew up in the post-WW II generation, we had this belief that the trend towards further democratization, with year-after-year, more people living in  free societies, more people being able to practice their faith, to write what they will, to say what they will, love whom they would, was somehow inexorable, as Martin Luther King said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” it felt like it was always bending toward greater, more liberal democracy and representative government, only to find out there was nothing inexorable about it. 

And, we’re at an inflection point, and it really requires all of us to be champions of democracy and human rights, that this expectation that somehow this was on autopilot proved to be a dangerous expectation, so I think what you’re seeing is the Congress, in appearances like this, which are very bipartisan, and in the Munich Security Conference [4] . . . the Congress is asserting itself and making sure we reinforce around the world that America remains committed to democracy, to human rights, to freedom of expression, and even though we don’t always see that reflected in statements coming out of the White House, that is very much the convictions of the representatives of the people in the US, and we are going to be champions [from both parties], without a question.

Schiff also noted:

America remains committed to democracy, to human rights, to freedom of expression, and even though we don’t always see that reflected in statements coming out of the White House, that is very much the convictions of the representatives of the people in the United States, and we are going to be champions [from both parties], without a question.”

Democracy and Technology

Schiff, responding to Indira Lakshmanan’s question: did you see President Trump ‘phoning’ into the Summit — a reference to an earlier screening of an AI-generated, ‘deepfake’ video — launched into a discussion about the national security challenges of these fake videos, made to look and sound real.

Democracy and Technology – Solution or Problem Panel  Jeanne Meserve  interviews  Nick Clegg ,  Michael Chertoff ,  Lars Seier Christensen  and  Sasha Havlicek   (Photo courtesy AoD)

Democracy and Technology – Solution or Problem Panel
Jeanne Meserve
interviews Nick Clegg, Michael Chertoff, Lars Seier Christensen and Sasha Havlicek
(Photo courtesy AoD)

Eileen Donahoe, Executive Director of the Global Digital Policy Incubator at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center and TCEI member, led an interactive workshop on deepfake technology, where she highlighted the need to balance two competing interests: users’ right to free speech versus the government’s interest to regulate malicious content on the Internet.  The TCEI, with assistance from Faculty, a London-based AI company, is building a Deepfakes Civic Education Platform to help citizens identify deepfake audio and video recordings used to influence public opinion and undermine political campaigns and elections.

Democracy in Crisis – Autocracies Emboldened

Nico Jaspers, CEO of Berlin-based Dalia Research, AoD’s polling partner, presented his company’s research findings from the second annual Democracy Perception Index (DPI), a survey, this year, of approximately 177,000 respondents in 54 countries.  Rasmussen said, the key findings showed continuing support for democracy — “voters do not want less democracy; they want more democracy” (79% of people around the world say that democracy is important to have in their country).  But when respondents were asked whether the United States was a positive or negative force for democracy in the world, the responses were unflinchingly grim: minus-47 in Austria; minus-40 in Germany; minus-32 in Canada; minus-16 in France; and minus-15 in Australia.

Schiff noted:

It is surprising and it’s obviously disturbing for me to see, among our strongest allies, such profound concern over whether we are a force for good, in terms of promotion of democracy, or if we are part of the problem.”

On the other hand, we’re just killing it in Nigeria,” Schiff joked.

For Further Reading

About the Author

Joy London is the Associate General Counsel and Director of International Development at the OSET Institute, where her work focuses on critical democracy infrastructure, election law, public policy and international government relations.  Joy earned her JD from Temple University School of Law and is licensed to practice law in the State of New York.  Ms. London has held several positions at international law firms, and most recently, worked at one of the Big-4 management consulting firms.  She earned a Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy & Risk Analysis from Utica College, and published a Capstone research paper: The Threat of Nation-State Hacking of State Voter Registration Databases in U.S. Presidential Elections.

End Notes

[1] As a U.S. lawmaker, in 2002 he co-sponsored the Help America Vote Act, and in the 115th Congressional session, and in the current legislative session, Hoyer sponsored the Election Security Act (H.R.5011) and the For the People Act of 2019 (H.R.1), respectively.

[2] There are several bills, resolutions, and amendments in the 116th Congress that support democratic reforms, including the defense of democratic norms (in Hungary - H.Res.400 and S.Res.30); funding for democracy assistance (in Armenia - H.Amdt. 346); and opposition of Russian interference in elections (in Ukraine - H.Res.249 and S.Res.109).

[3] H.Res.291 – a Resolution recognizing that contributions of NATO are vital to U.S. national security; and S.482 - Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019, a bill to strengthen NATO, to combat international cybercrime, and to impose additional sanctions with respect to the Russian Federation.

[4] Schiff’s U.S. Congressional colleague, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), led the largest bipartisan Congressional Delegation ever — 7 Senators, 10 Representatives — to the Munich Security Conference (February 2019).

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