Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, presented ten lessons for promoting democracy responsibly. In brief, they were:
1. Proceed with humility and respect the limits of what we can do. Public opinion surveys show that the desire for basic democratic principles and freedom is remarkably universal.
2. We cannot act unilaterally and must build partnerships with other democratic allies.
3. To be successful in promoting liberal democratic values, political economy must be well understood so that we can have realistic expectations about what is possible.
4. Similarly, we must be realistic about the reforms that can be made. We must help lay the groundwork for democratic change first. This could involve working with political exiles or others who want change.
5. Be prepared to engage in the long haul. We cannot expect a country to be a fully functional democracy after a couple of elections.
6. We need professional promoters who are sensitive to the difficulties of the task at hand.
7. We need to “evaluate more generally what we do,” particularly via independent evaluations of private organizations. Exporting democracy promotion to the private sector probably isn’t a good thing.
8. We need to expand and coordinate democracy assistance and support. Regional organizations show a lot of promise here.
9. Be prepared for surprises and don’t write any country off. We have no reliable predictor theory as to why leaders fall. Changes in power are contingent on accidents and many other factors.
10. Our democracy is very seriously flawed, and if we hope to look credible in the eyes of others, we have to make sure our house is also in order.
Prior to the conference, faculty and students alike engaged in a conversation about the costs, motives and warrants of democracy prevention over allstu. Democracy promotion can be costly, as Professor McAdams pointed out; Professor Schubel questioned if America truly believes in promoting democracy abroad, based on previous support for dictatorships in Latin America and current support for regimes with authoritarian inclinations; and Professor McCarthy pointed out that perhaps America is not even a democracy.
Those who rightly challenged the conference’s question, or even America’s foreign policy track record, could have found at least some answers in the closing remarks. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Diamond really hits the nail on the head in his ten lessons about effectively promoting liberal democracy.
His first point sets the stage for a more serious discussion about the implementation of change in countries that have, more often than not, been subject to oppression. Diamond argues that public opinion data shows that most people, in countries all over the world, truly want at least some liberal democratic values. This doesn’t mean that they want us to completely export our democracy, but rather that basic freedoms are viewed as desirable. So the question then becomes, not if, but how. If we believe that people not only believe that freedom is a good thing, but that promotion of liberal democratic values is in our best interest, then the benefits will ultimately outweigh the cost.
This is not to say that the practice perfectly jives with the theory. Anyone can find a host of examples where America has perhaps abused its power or acted irresponsibly; I believe that this is why Diamond prefaces this point with that “we must act with humility and have respect for the limits of what we can do.” To act with hubris and to adopt an attitude that” the problem with our foreign policy is that we must deal with foreigners” is what will inevitably lead to the atrocities that make people skeptical of democracy promotion in the first place. It seems that, in order to effectively promote democracy, we must both believe and disavow American exceptionalism. This seems to be both confusing and challenging.
Diamond’s emphasis on the long haul is also extremely important. As he rightly argues, many seemingly functional democracies have in fact broken down over the past several decades. The world is perhaps even less free now than it was twelve years ago. Americans cannot simply “walk away” after a few successful elections. Democracy promotion takes patience; it takes time. As Diamond suggested, it is a “long and incremental struggle.” In the short run, democracy promotion is difficult. It truly necessitates a consistent multilateral effort, and to some extent supervision. However, just because it takes time does not mean that we should not do it.
If we believe that people wish to be free, then we should be prepared to engage in some sort of democracy promotion abroad. We should do so carefully and thoughtfully. Diamond’s ten lessons at least move us in the right direction.