< Distinguished speaker series

Robert Gilchrist

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy Human Rights and Labor

Former United States Ambassador to the Republic of Lithuania 2020-2023

Global Democratic Renewal: An American Priority, a Collective Challenge

DATE: January 30, 2024 5:30 pm

LOCATION: World Trade Center Baltimore

Event information

On receiving the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago, Russian journalist Dimitry Muratov made the jarring observation that the world “has fallen out of love for Democracy.”

Two years later he describes a far more perilous situation.

“I think we are facing a major global conflict,” Muratov said at the Hanway lecture at Loyola University in October. “It is a conflict between an Alliance of Dictatorships and the Union of Democracies.  This is the time when Democracy needs protection as never before. And it is a fact that it is weak as never before.”

Muratov, whom the Putin regime has recently labeled a “foreign agent,” sees implications for world peace.

“The fewer democracies we have, the more dictatorships and wars. That’s the simple rule.”

Is Democracy in peril?

President Biden says that bolstering democratic governance is “the defining challenge of our time.”

And what is his administration doing about it?

To find out, we invited the State Department to send a top official, and Ambassador Robert Gilchrist will be our guest on January 9.  He is currently the principal deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and was previously the U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania, a good post to observe the state of democratic development in the former Soviet empire.

Ambassador Gilchrist has also served in top diplomatic posts in Sweden, Estonia, Iraq, Romania, and was Director of Nordic and Baltic Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. He’s a graduate of Wake Forest University and the University of Virginia. He doesn’t mince words.

“We’re all concerned about the slide towards Autocracy,” he told Council president Roy Gutman recently. “The surge of Autocracy…could not have been imagined 10 to 15 years ago.”

One leading scholar sees the U.S. government as partly responsible. “While powerful autocracies have waged muscular, technologically adroit assaults on Democracy, we have retreated from the ideological struggle,” Stanford professor Larry Diamond said in the recent Libset memorial lecture. “We are not waging the ideological struggle, the normative struggle, the informational struggle for Democracy and for freedom with the energy, the resources, conviction, coordination and technological ingenuity of which we are capable and which the times demand.”

So that’s the issue. Please join us January 9 at the World Trade Center for what should be a lively discussion on the struggle between Democracy and Autocracy.



Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy Human Rights and Labor, 2023-

United States Ambassador to the Republic of Lithuania, 2020-2023

Director of the Department of State’s Operations Center

Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States Embassy in Sweden

Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States Embassy in Estonia

Director of Nordic and Baltic Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs

Deputy Political Counselor at the United States Embassy in Iraq

Chief of the Political Section of the United States Embassy in Romania

Special Assistant in the Office of the Deputy Secretary of State

MA, University of Virgina

BA, Wake Forest University


Democracy vs. Autocracy:

The Summit for Democracy – This year, President Biden co-hosted the second Summit for Democracy, an assembly of world leaders showcasing progress since the first Summit. The first Summit for Democracy, hosted by President Biden in 2021, organized collective action to address the emerging challenges threatening democracy. The Republic of Korea will host the third Summit for Democracy.

The Biden-Harris Administration’s Commitment to Domestic and Global Democratic Renewal

  • In December 2021, President Biden launched the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, with a focus on the following to defend democratic resilience through diplomacy and foreign assistance:
    • Advancing technology for democracy
    • Supporting free and independent media
      • Providing aid to the Promoting Information Integrity and Resilience Initiative
    • Fighting corruption
    • Bolstering human rights and democratic reformers
      • USAID is creating a first-ever Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance
    • Defending free and fair elections

To learn more, visit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/03/29/fact-sheet-the-biden-harris-administrations-abiding-commitment-to-democratic-renewal-at-home-and-abroad/

Advancing Technology for Democracy

  • Expanding the Advancing Digital Democracy Initiative
    • USAID that “fosters open, secure, and inclusive digital societies in which technology advances democratic principles and respect for human rights”
    • Pilot programs in Serbia and Zambia
  • Strengthening the Freedom Online Coalition
    • Program of Action in which 36 governments focus on Internet Freedom
  • Growing the Multilateral Surge and Sustain Fund for Anti-Censorship Technology

Countering the Misuse of Technology and Rise of Digital Authoritarianism

Technology is increasingly being weaponized by non-democratic governments to repress citizens. In addition, in both democracies and autocracies, technology is used to spread harassment and abuse. The following actions, initiated by the Biden-Harris Administration, aim to curtail the dangers of technology:

  • Executive Order Prohibiting the Use of Commercial Spyware that Poses Risks to National Security
  • Joint Statement on Efforts to Counter the Proliferation and Misuse of Commercial Spyware
  • Restrictions on Post-Service Employment with Foreign Entities of Concern
  • High Risk Community Protection Initiative
  • Strategic Dialogue on Cybersecurity of Civil Society Under Threat of Transnational Repression
  • Guiding Principles on Government Use of Surveillance Technologies
  • Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative—Code of Conduct for Enhancing Export Controls of Goods and Technology That Could be Misused and Lead to Serious Violations or Abuses of Human Rights

Shaping Emerging Technologies to Ensure Respect for Human Rights and Democratic Principles

  • National Strategy to Advance Privacy-Preserving Data Sharing and Analytics
  • National Objectives for Digital Assets Research and Development
  • Launch of Trustworthy and Responsible AI Resource Center for Risk Management

To learn more, visit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/03/29/fact-sheet-advancing-technology-for-democracy-at-home-and-abroad/

The Economist’s country of the year for 2023


Examining U.S. Relations With Authoritarian Countries – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace