Democracy assistance programs supported by the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the congressionally-funded National Endowment for Democracy are helping countries such as Tunisia to combat vulnerabilities to extremism, she writes for The Hill:
By deploying our expertise to support and strengthen democratic institutions such as the rule of law, representative government and free expression, the U.S. can help to stabilize and strengthen vulnerable countries and undercut the appeal of violent extremism. This approach complements military and counterintelligence efforts, and has been widely cited by military leaders as a crucial means of preventing costly future interventions.
Providers of foreign assistance in the West, the should accept a sobering conclusion: Where we can make a difference in transforming poor governance into better if not democratic governance, we have a clear self interest in doing so; but it is very hard to make a sustainable, transformative difference, according to Stanford University’s Stephen D. Krasner.
Many uses of foreign assistance are directly related to the threat to American national security posed by transnational terrorism, pandemic diseases, and other non-traditional challenges, all of which emanate from badly governed or weak states, he writes for The American Interest:
We ignore badly governed, failed, and malign states at our peril because even states with very limited capacity can threaten the security of the United States. It is easier to ignore these threats when straightforward, more or less old-fashioned great power issues take center stage, but it is still a mistake to do so. If states are reasonably well governed, at least if they have adequate internal security, then terrorism, potential pandemic diseases, and massive migrant flows can be better contained. If states are weak, failing, or governed by malign autocrats, our security challenges will be greater because of them.
“Democratic governance and human rights are critical components of sustainable development and lasting peace,” according to USAID. “Countries that have ineffective government institutions, rampant corruption and weak rule of law have a 30-to-45 percent higher risk of civil war and higher risk of extreme criminal violence than other developing countries.”
Employing a wide range of tools is simply “making good use of government’s other resources to help protect America’s vital interests in the world…..including humanitarian relief, democracy promotion and economic development,” Senators John McCain and Tim Kaine write for POLITICO.
It is, though, very difficult to put failing, weak, or malign states securely on the path to democracy and a market-oriented economy, adds Krasner, a member of Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute and Hoover Institution:
The rich democratic countries of North America, Western Europe, and East Asia are historically the exception, not the rule. … Governments that occupy the Madisonian sweet spot—strong enough to maintain order but accountable enough to not be oppressive—have been and remain relatively rare, and there is nothing inevitable about more such governments coming into being. There is no natural progression from poverty to prosperity, from autocratic rule to democratic rule.
A modern liberal democracy rests on three major pillars, says Krasner’s Stanford colleague, Francis Fukuyama:
[I]t’s a modern state with the capacity to use its power effectively, based on the rule of law and on democratic accountability. These three pillars are in constant tension – if the state becomes too strong, it endangers democratic accountability and the rule of law, but, on the other hand, too much democratic accountability may paralyse the state. Currently, many of the populist leaders elected in legitimate elections are using their democratic mandates to undermine the rule of law.
“Modernization and economic development do have important consequences for political systems,” Fukuyama adds. “However, I never argued that this was driven by some kind of deterministic process which will inevitably lead people to liberal democracies. There is more human agency involved, much depends on choices made by individual leaders.”
Modernization theory’s assumption that higher levels of growth would generate a larger middle class which would serve as the social base for a democratic political regime has not been realized in practice (with the exception of South Korea), so the United States confronts a genuine dilemma, notes Krasner, who previously served as Director of the State Department Office of Policy Planning :
- First, therefore, we have to work to change the incentives of leaders in relatively poorly governed states. Under the Bush Administration, the United States implemented a new program, the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), which rewarded countries for doing well on third-party indicators of governance, investing in health and education, and economic openness. This program has worked. ….
- Second, the U.S. government needs to improve its intelligence about and relations with potential leaders in the developing world. The preferences of political elites in developing countries can vary from gross theft, corruption, and repression to patronage (a much better form of corruption than gross theft), some economic growth, and security with limited repression. The U.S. government needs to be able to identify flesh-and-blood partners, real individuals, with whom it can work. This requires engagement and intelligence, and so requires a larger Foreign Service, not a smaller one.