America & the World
What role does this play in the US global agenda?
Support for democratic values and human rights have been prominent features of the US global agenda for decades, and properly so, according to a group of experts who discussed democracy promotion at the recent Stanley Foundation Strategy for Peace Conference. The following discussion summary is by Tod Lindberg, research fellow and editor, Policy Review, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; David Shorr, program officer, the Stanley Foundation; and Richard Weitz, senior fellow and director, Program Management, Hudson Institute.
Efforts to promote democracy around the world are yet another element of foreign policy made more difficult by the Iraq war. Bringing liberal democracy to Iraq was not the main objective of the military intervention in 2003, but it subsequently became a rationale for the continued US occupation.
Now, the ongoing violence and instability in Iraq and other aspects of the war on terror have tarnished the image of the United States abroad. And at home, the American people have grown cool to promoting democracy.
However, democracy promotion and military intervention need to be delinked. Placing the focus on military action to achieve democracy promotion is to argue from the most extreme and unusual case.
Participants recognized democracy promotion must be weighed against high-priority strategic and security interests, tailoring the approach to suit different countries and situations. However, they also said that American officials should be able to faithfully adhere to three key precepts when dealing with nondemocratic regimes.
Some argue that pressing these issues jeopardizes bilateral relations and national security concerns, but most conference participants rejected that argument. The historical record shows that the US government can promote democratic principles in a country without excluding cooperation on other objectives of mutual interest.
Other Tools in the Toolbox
To underscore the point that forcible regime change is the most extreme means of trying to spread democracy, participants made an inventory of several less aggressive approaches. Current and future policymakers have a range of tools at their disposal for democracy promotion, both with regard to nondemocracies and emerging democracies. Some of the most prominent include:
As an example of the last point, participants highlighted the Islamic concept of justice as an underexplored cultural value related to democracy and legitimacy.
Working With Others
Allies can help with democracy promotion. By pooling resources and drawing on unique advantages, countries supporting democratic principles can help shore up existing democracies and encourage the emergence of new ones. In other words, the United States can most effectively promote democracy when it acts in concert with other democracies.
US policymakers have the option of working through several different multilateral institutions to help promote democracy. Depending on their geographic focus and political-security-economic purposes, these intergovernmental organizations can offer very useful diplomatic avenues for democracy promotion. For instance, the African Union and Association of Southeast Asian Nations have recently given greater emphasis to upholding prodemocratic norms.The United Nations, as the premier universal institution, with a long history of addressing human rights and democratic values, has certain advantages but also some liabilities in this regard. The recent establishment of the UN Democracy Fund underscores the organization’s operational capacity and role in solidifying international norms.
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