Democracy promotion, long a pillar of America’s foreign policy framework, is viewed either as too soft or idealistic as a response to serious security threats facing the nation; or it is seen as too bellicose — conflated with regime change and the use of military force, says Kenneth Wollack, President of the National Democratic Institute. The real issue, however, is whether advancing democracy is an important means of advancing America’s interests and protecting our national security in a turbulent and often violent world. I think the answer is clearly “yes,” he told this week’s Senate sub-committee on Western Hemisphere, Transitional Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues.
Democracy is being challenged by resurgent authoritarianism, fragile democracies’ poor performance, democratic transitions stymied or reversed by violence and terrorism by non-state actors, or by the inability of democratic movements to move from “protest to politics,” while even established democracies have been beset by political polarization and growing citizen discontent, Wollack added.
Yet there is another, more positive story — a story that should remind us about the universal demand for democracy and progress being made, sometimes in the most challenging of environments. Public opinion polls from countries in every region of the world have shown that vast majorities agree that democracy, despite its problems, is the best political system. One recent study of more than 800 protest movements around the world show that they are not driven primarily by a desire for better economic conditions, but rather by demands for a better democracy, which the protesters believe can better address economic issues. This shows that the desire for improved economic opportunities often coexists with the demand for a political voice.