USAID Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick’s Keynote Address at a Community of Democracies Event

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For Immediate Release

Tuesday, January 28, 2020
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email:

January 28, 2020
Warsaw, Poland

Remarks As Prepared

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR GLICK: Good afternoon everyone and welcome. I’m so grateful to be able to join with you here today.

I’ve just spent a couple of very somber days in Krakow and at Auschwitz-Birkenau, marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The war crimes of the Holocaust are a reminder that democratic institutions are not self-perpetuating. They can be undone from within, as with the Nazis’ rise to power in 1930s Germany. Those same institutions can also be eroded from outside. This is the threat free societies face today, with direct threats coming from malign governments in Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran.

It isn’t enough for political leaders in those capitals to seek to discredit impartial judiciaries, free and fair elections, independent media, and systems of checks and balances in their own countries -- they target them in their neighbors’ and rivals’ countries, as well.

I want to talk today about those threats and the U.S. Government’s work to bolster free societies wherever they’re under assault.

Putin’s Kremlin, the Chinese Communist Party, the mullahs of Iran, and their small imitators like dictators Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua -- they have all told their people that free elections and free markets cannot work in their societies. That is how they stay in power, and they often attempt to shore up that power by undermining the democratic efforts of their neighboring countries.

Those authoritarians are trying to export their system of government by exploiting weak legal systems, burdening countries with unsustainable debt, and exercising a dangerous grip on other countries’ digital and energy infrastructures. Disinformation campaigns discredit legitimate institutions in the eyes of the populace. And state sponsors of terrorism deploy their proxies to intimidate free thinkers.

The United States, by contrast, offers what I see as a great product. USAID’s Countering Malign Kremlin Influence initiative identifies four areas where we can best support our partner countries: first, strengthening rule of law and democratic institutions; second, rebuffing disinformation; third, facilitating open energy trade and secure energy infrastructure; and, fourth, fostering attractive enabling environments for transparent and accountable investments. We complement that initiative by promoting religious freedom throughout the world to protect religious and ethnic minorities and cultivate tolerance among people of diverse backgrounds.

Allow me to address how USAID carries out each of these tasks. We understand that to bolster democracy and rule of law, we must cultivate an independent civil society in addition to government officials, legislators, and the judicial branch. Each of these groups contributes to a nation’s capacity to resist internal and external polarization, interference, and corruption.

As we know, the Kremlin loves to foster and enrich anti-democratic candidates for office. We know of countries where those candidates have won. In others, the Kremlin has been satisfied simply to sow uncertainty and confusion about democracy’s merits and the legitimacy of elections.

Bosnia has local elections coming up in October, as does Georgia for Parliament. Ukraine is not far behind. Rather than leave them in peace, the Kremlin pumps propaganda into their political discourse. Thousands of Kremlin-paid teams known as trolls flood social media platforms and peddle content designed to create confusion, distrust, and cynicism about democratic and Western institutions.

USAID’s projects are not the headline-makers that Russian bots and troll farms are. But we are cultivating the very attitudes, institutions, and practices that combine to create the foundation of any successful democracy.

This means encouraging political party development that enables local groups to coordinate citizens to advocate for themselves at the municipal level. Having more stakeholders in democratic processes boosts nationwide resilience. So we supplement our women’s economic empowerment work by engaging both women and youth in political activity. To make government representatives more accountable to their constituencies, we advise civil society organizations and parliaments on electoral reform and improvements to transparency.

Public administration and judicial reform are other key areas where USAID is working to improve governments’ capacities to better serve their citizens.

In the information space, we know that the internet can give billions of people immediate access to information. Nothing has better served people’s urge to exchange information so freely and openly. Yet Russia’s contribution to that innovation has been to muddy the waters of truth and deliberately to conflate fact and fiction. In other words, to sow disinformation with the goal of harvesting political disorder.

USAID programs help countries resist Russia’s manipulation of their information sources, journalism, and overall public discourse by bolstering the capacity of their news outlets to provide professional, trusted coverage… and to strengthen the legal and regulatory operating environment for press freedom. Our support for independent media restores the power of truth to the people and away from malign foreign actors.

USAID-backed initiatives crowdsource efforts to identify and track anti-Western disinformation by working with hundreds of people online to translate fair and balanced media outlets into non-majority languages. With our support, 11 independent and credible media partners across Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia are expanding their audiences, diversifying their revenue sources, and elevating their digital media presence to push back on disinformation.

Secure digital infrastructure not only protects the free exchange of information. With the processing speed of 5G revolutionizing how we think of “smart cities,” the internet directly affects the stability of all of our countries’ critical infrastructure, including energy.

Just as the United States is encouraging our friends not to become dependent on authoritarian powers for their 5G infrastructure, we are similarly explaining the vulnerabilities that accompany a country’s dependence on Kremlin-controlled energy resources, which Moscow uses to pressure its neighbors and to control critical energy infrastructure. This monopoly’s negative repercussions extend beyond the economies of places like Ukraine, Georgia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina to also include harm to their environments and citizens’ health.

USAID assistance is helping our European partners diversify the sources of their electricity, improve the resilience and capacity of energy transmission networks, and develop transparent energy markets that are integrated with neighboring countries.

Expanding on this energy program, we are working to help reduce other economic vulnerabilities in countries where we work. USAID technical advisors provide expert guidance to government officials that promotes the diversification of exports, and creates regulatory environments to enable local companies and financial industries to meet compliance requirements and compete in western markets.

Poland and Estonia both provide examples of the fruits of successfully following this path. The solidification of democratic governance has led to strong economic growth as well as membership in NATO and the EU, further countering the looming presence of Russian neighbors and former Soviet occupiers. I salute my colleague, the Ambassador from Estonia on the panel. It’s saddening to see your country battling on the front line and subjected to the Kremlin’s assaults on your economy. And the world uses your cybersecurity experience to design world-class protections across networks everywhere.

I now want to spend a little time on an issue that extends beyond Europe: the relentless assault on people of faith worldwide. Eighty percent of the world’s population lives in countries where religious freedom is threatened, restricted, or banned. This is intolerable for any society.

Surely Poles know this. They welcomed home Pope John Paul II with chants of: “We want God.” I am certain -- as someone who grew up in Chicago -- that the world heard Poland’s cries. Today, as much as in Warsaw in 1979, the United States will not ignore people’s hunger for religious liberty. That desire is trampled on by sadistic leaders, like the Chinese Communist Party persecuting Uighurs; the Burmese military displacing Rohingya; and, the mullahs in the highest offices of the Islamic Republic of Iran swearing to wipe Jews off the map. And we see attacks on religious liberty at street-level, too, as men and women dressed identifiably as Jews in Europe and the United States increasingly suffer physical attacks and harassment. We must instill in our youth pluralistic attitudes that they then employ when building communities and developing political organizations.

Democratic systems and economic prosperity combine to be the best antidote to religious persecution. History has shown that free and open societies can durably preserve environments of peaceful and tolerant co-existence -- because the ultimate solution to ethnic conflict is a respect for the basic rights of everyone.

Democracy is humanity’s most fertile soil for nurturing tolerance because it rests on respect for the individual’s right to contribute to her society’s political future regardless of political, religious or other persuasion. These sorts of open political societies are also the systems most likely to host enabling environments necessary for open markets, and, in turn, strong and sustainable economic growth.

Autocrats do not attempt to undermine those free societies because the dictators are in positions of strength. Quite the contrary. They do it because they’re scared.

In Moscow, Beijing and Tehran, leaders are keenly aware that the principle Thomas Jefferson called “the consent of the governed” is engraved in the DNA of the human soul. And they know that every time the model of democracy and economic freedom works nearby, it undermines their claims to their own populations that somehow it can’t work at home.

We believe it can. More broadly speaking, USAID’s governing philosophy is called the Journey to Self-Reliance. It centers on engaging with the private sector to help emerging economies build their commitment and capacity to plan, manage and finance their own development.

In a nutshell, the agenda to insulate freedom from authoritarianism is building toward the day when foreign assistance is no longer necessary -- because countries can plan, finance and implement their own development agendas in their own ways.

We lean heavily in this undertaking on our relationships with organizations like the Community of Democracies, whose Governing Council includes countries like Georgia and North Macedonia as well as several Central and Eastern European nations that have already reached the point that they no longer seek formal USAID programming and are taking steps to become donors themselves.

There are many such groups, and we’re grateful for all of them, but few others have the Community of Democracies’ breadth and depth, not to mention the delightful triumph of having been born in the same city where the Soviet Union imposed the Warsaw Pact upon its satellites in 1955.

To grasp the difference between the economic power of democracy and that of authoritarianism, you need to look no further than the stagnation of those unfortunate countries behind the Iron Curtain compared to the economic growth of the free NATO members. Those of you here who grew up under Communism, I know you understand me all too well.

I’m going to quote my boss here, USAID Administrator Mark Green. “There is no other way to put it,” he said last summer. “Moscow is working relentlessly to undermine economic liberalization, reverse democratic development, and weaken the sovereignty of individual states.”

This is how the Kremlin operated under the Soviet Union, and Moscow hasn’t changed its stripes. Fortunately, once roused to action, we in the free world know a little about pushing back.

Which brings me to the key point I want to emphasize today.

2020 is the Year of Democracy for USAID. We’ve launched a campaign called #Democracy Is... to highlight the many interlocking and self-reinforcing components that make democracy possible. Freedom to determine one’s own destiny is a universal aspiration. At the national level, it’s the aspiration to be self-reliant.

We believe that good leaders strive to lead their countries, even very poor countries, on a trajectory toward self-reliance. There is dignity in that journey.

That said, it’s also worth remembering, as Ronald Reagan noted, that while democracy “is not a fragile flower… it does need cultivating.” So I’m looking forward to today’s discussion on how we can work together to do just that to strengthen and to cultivate our already close partnerships in the ongoing fight for free societies, free markets, and democracy.

Thank you very much.