Does Democracy Matter? The United States and Global Democracy Support


Although most would agree that US interests are better served in the long run by the spread of democracy abroad, some argue that “hard” security interests must always take precedence, at least in the short term, the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute notes. Others see the consolidation of democracies abroad as a core strategic interest in itself. But even among this latter group, many advocate that we must urgently develop more effective approaches to supporting democracy internationally.

These are the issues that will guide a forthcoming discussions between contributors to a new book – Does Democracy Matter? The United States and Global Democracy Support (see below).

The ideas featured in this edited volume, made up of contributions by 11 democracy scholars and experts, ring true now more than ever, notes analyst Maia Otarashvili. One of the most eminent scholars of the study of democracy, Larry Diamond, goes even further by urging “the physician to heal himself:”

The first imperative is to address the manifest ills of our own democracy in the United States, and in other Western democracies. . . . The accelerating trend toward hyperpolarization and institutional gridlock has not only damaged our own national strength but has challenged the appeal of democracy and the credibility of the United States in promoting it. And the surge of illiberal, nativist, anti-immigrant appeals in the electoral politics of the United States, France, Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, and other European democracies has done even more damage to the image of democracy as a universalistic value.

Any curbs or cuts to democracy assistance projects could wreak damage to democracy three ways, argues Temple University’s Sarah Bush, a contributor to the book:

  • First, scholarly evidence on U.S. democracy assistance finds that it is, on average, associated with increases in countries’ overall levels of freedom.
  • Second, research also suggests that democracy assistance can help countries maintain peace after civil conflict.
  • Third, specific types of democracy assistance – such as support for international and domestic election observers – have proven successful at deterring electoral fraud.

If the U.S. democracy assistance project survives but spending declines sharply, a recent study suggests two lessons about how it could spend the remaining funds most effectively, Bush adds:

  • First, this kind of aid works best in countries that are already partly free. In such settings, domestic actors are likely to be seeking international support and aid is less likely to be co-opted by authoritarian governments.
  • Second, democracy assistance programs tend to be the most successful in countries where the U.S. government can back them up with diplomacy. By this logic, it makes more sense to support democracy assistance in Tunisia, where democratically elected leaders cooperate with the United States on counterterrorism, than it does in Egypt.


10:00am: Welcoming Remarks  Matthew Rojansky, Director of Kennan Institute

10:05am–11:00am: Keynote Remarks and Discussion 

Carl Gershman (right), President, National Endowment for Democracy 

Interviewed by: Christian Caryl, Editor of Democracy Post Blog, The Washington Post

11:00am-12:00pm: Panel Discussion and Q&A

Amb. Adrian Basora, Co-Director, Foreign Policy Research Institute, Eurasia Program

Melinda Haring, Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute, Eurasia Program

Richard Kraemer, Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute, Eurasia Program

Amb. Kenneth Yalowitz, Global Fellow, Kennan Institute, Polar Initiative

Moderated by: Maria Stephan, Senior Policy Fellow, United States Institute of Peace


Print Friendly, PDF & Email