How to stall the global democracy retreat


Even under the basic principles of transactional realism, it is not in America’s interests to abandon a commitment to advancing democracy, argues Pippa Norris, a lecturer in comparative politics at Harvard, laureate professor at the University of Sydney, and director of the Electoral Integrity Project.

It is impossible to demonstrate the value of programs in democracy, governance and human rights on a dollar-and-cents basis. But when we drill down to the details for programs of international assistance intended to strengthen democratic governance around the world, my research demonstrates that many standard interventions do work: for example, quota policies increasing the number of women in elected office; training that improves the skills of local electoral officials; and constitutional and legal reforms, she writes for The New York Times:

Some risky investments may not pay off. Some countries — like Venezuela, Poland and Hungary — have clearly moved toward autocracy in recent years. In the longer term, however, as Freedom House, an American watchdog organization, demonstrates, there have been widespread gains worldwide. Progress is often incremental and rarely featured in newspaper headlines — but it happens all the time. Advancing democracy and human rights helps to generate the underlying conditions most favorable to peace and stability, ensure the delivery of public services, and build allies and friends. It is also, quite simply, the right thing for America to do.

Significant commitment, knowledge, and capacity on supporting democracy and human rights abroad still exist in many parts of the U.S. foreign policy and assistance bureaucracies, in Congress, and in the wider community of U.S. nongovernmental organizations dedicated to democracy building, according to Thomas Carothers (right), Senior Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Numerous U.S. diplomats abroad and in Washington intend to continue to employ diplomatic and economic levers to help troubled democratic transitions abroad move forward and blunt backsliding autocrats. Providers of U.S. assistance plan to keep carrying out programs to help foster democratic reforms and activism abroad. U.S. officials and activists engaged with multilateral organizations that support democracy globally are dedicated to preserving crucial forms of U.S. support for and work with these institutions.

But just as they have learned to take a long-term approach in their work abroad—not letting the daunting vicissitudes of democratization make them give up—they will now need to apply the same determination and persistence to survive, Carothers adds:

This will mean many things: making the case again and again that strengthening democracy often directly advances U.S. economic and security interests, quietly refuting the idea that democracy support is all about lecturing and imposing, demonstrating the futility of counterterrorism strategies that neglect the fostering of political inclusion and institution building in countries that are generating terrorists, showing a willingness to take action at crucial places where democracy is at risk abroad….RTWT

Carothers and Norris are both contributors to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy.

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