Advancing Democracy

Despots have long formed coalitions on the international stage. Democracies are finally responding.

Fall 2004

In the Summer 2004 issue of The National Interest, Adrian Karatnycky called for "an effort to press democracy's expansion" that would take advantage of what he described as

"an opening in history when there is a chance utterly to vanquish and banish the worst forms of tyranny and autocracy and replace them with an order rooted in the rule of law and democratic accountability before the people."

He is correct that the end of the Cold War and the attendant U.S.-Soviet nuclear stand-off have created a geostrategic landscape in which there is an unprecedented opportunity for the promotion of democracy. In fact, the United States is already pursuing this course. As President Bush stated in his introduction to the National Security Strategy released in 2002, America seeks "to create a balance of power that favors human freedom" and "will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world."

President Bush is committed to these objectives because they are the right thing to do: The advent of democracy--backed up by the rule of law, limited government and civil society--advances human freedom and human dignity while empowering individuals and societies to reach their greatest potential.

The United States has a moral imperative to advocate that individuals around the world have the freedom to pursue their dreams in a secure, prosperous and peaceful environment. Promoting democracy also advances other important interests worldwide. Most immediately, it is an indispensable component of any viable strategy for winning the global war against terrorism, which poses a grave threat to international security in the 21st century. Democracy facilitates the establishment of legitimate and law-based political systems in states that may become sponsors or havens for terrorists, creates peaceful channels to reconcile grievances that can otherwise fuel bloody and destabilizing conflicts within nations, and instills hope, replacing the sense of powerlessness and despair that sometimes transforms ordinary people into willing terrorist recruits. It can also contribute to broader prosperity, which enhances stability and creates opportunities to expand trade and investment ties between nations.

Democracy-building is a protracted process, and one or two free elections do not a democracy make. A mature democracy requires far more than periodic holding of even free and fair elections. It calls for limited government, with many of the economic, social and cultural issues being handled within a private sphere. The rule of law is another must, with a particular emphasis on ensuring governmental accountability. Even though building a mature democracy may take a long time, we should pursue such a goal with vigor and dispatch.

While we believe that our constitutional structure and political philosophy contain unique insights into how to build and manage a multi-ethnic and diverse democracy, and while we are happy to share our experience, promoting democracy does not mean imposing the American political and constitutional model on other countries. On the contrary, citizens in emerging democracies must be free to develop institutions compatible with their own cultures and experiences. The desire for freedom, the rule of law and a vibrant civil society, and for a voice in one's government, is universal, but the specific institutional expressions of democracy will naturally vary by country.

Under this administration, U.S. efforts to promote democracy have taken several forms. Indeed, they have been as comprehensive and varied as the numerous challenges involved in democratization. One of our most exciting--and perhaps lesser known--endeavors is the Community of Democracies (CD), an unprecedented network of over 130 established and emerging democratic countries committed to strengthening democratic institutions and spreading democratic values worldwide. At its founding meeting in Warsaw in June 2000, an extraordinary group of ministers affirmed these principles in the Warsaw Declaration. Two years later, at the subsequent Ministerial Conference in Seoul in November 2002, the CD moved from affirmation to action, devising an ambitious and practical blueprint for its work. Known as the Seoul Plan of Action, this document spells out concrete areas for cooperative action among the participants, ranging from developing regional human rights and democracy-monitoring mechanisms, to promoting good governance practices and responding to threats to democracy.

Some recent activities of the Community of Democracies illustrate its practical approach and underscore its tremendous potential and growing impact. In June 2003, for example, government officials and NGO leaders from 14 African, Latin American and Caribbean democracies, as well as representatives of the African Union, the Organization of American States (OAS), and other regional organizations, met in Miami to discuss how they could most effectively address local threats to democratic governance. One of the most compelling moments during this gathering was a ten-minute speech by El Salvador's then-president, Francisco Flores, who movingly enumerated his country's enormous achievements during the last 15 years and described them as

"eloquent proof that El Salvador has discovered the path to defeat poverty and to attain prosperity. This path is called democracy, and it is based on this essential concept: that Salvadorans know how to resolve their problems; they just needed a chance to do it."