Advancing democracy vs national security a false dilemma


The argument that national security imperatives such as fighting terrorism demand a “hard power” focus at the expense of “soft power” subjects such as democracy promotion rests on a false juxtaposition, says a prominent analyst.

State killings, terrorism  and even homicide are all linked by a single thread: rotten governments that extract most of a country’s wealth, favor certain groups of citizens, and leave most of society to fend for themselves, the Carnegie Endowment’s Rachel Kleinfeld writes for The Hill.

“U.S. democracy assistance has a track record of helping people in such countries help themselves. That’s why Russia hates it and has been funding lobbying efforts in the U.S. to curb the paltry money the U.S. spends helping civil societies,” adds Kleinfeld​, a member of the advisory committee to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Penn Kemble Forum.

Any curbs or cuts to democracy assistance projects could wreak damage to democracy in at least three ways, argues Temple University’s Sarah Bush, a contributor to Does Democracy Matter? The United States and Global Democracy Support.

Several of the book’s authors contend that the core national security interests of the United States and of its key allies very much require continued efforts to reinforce democracy abroad, FPRI’s Maia Otarashvili notes. The failure to counter the serious erosion of democracy that has been evident over the past decade would be to ignore an existential threat to the liberal international order – the essential framework that has made the United States secure and prosperous over the last 70 years.

Credit: USIP

“The United States does confront a genuine dilemma,” Stanford University’s Stephen D. Krasner (right) said in recent testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs:

For reasons associated with our own security – especially related to transnational terrorism and pandemic disease – we need to improve governance in badly governed states, but at the same time our traditional aid programs, which assume that political leaders in non-democratic states want to do the right thing for their own people, have not been successful.

“Poorer states will not easily become dynamic market economies where economic changes can threaten the political leadership, but political leaders will want to provide more jobs for their populations,” adds Krasner, a board member of the United States Institute of Peace:

No foreign assistance program can guarantee sustained positive growth over the long term, but we can provide some growth, and higher levels of per capita income.  More jobs will make countries more stable and make it more likely that they will ultimately transition to democratic regimes.


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