Pro-democracy foreign policy reconciles interests and values


In the current global context of rising authoritarianism (left) and closing civic space, consistent omission of values in foreign policy equals public abandonment of moral purpose, argues Kate Bateman, a visiting fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs fellow. There are a few plausible reasons for this avoidance, she writes for The National Interest:

  • First, the [belief] that the United States shouldn’t judge another country’s way of governing itself; besides, America’s democracy is always a work in progress. Despite an element of truth here, this approach is short-sighted and misguided. It surrenders one of America’s most powerful tools of influence: the moral and philosophical strength of our values. Defending freedom and rights around the world need not be an act of moralizing or an affront to sovereignty. Rather, it means lending our support to forces striving to advance democracy and the rule of law.
  • Second, the administration might view democracy promotion as futile. This thinking takes an extreme—and wrong—lesson from the U.S. experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. It ignores the historic success of U.S. investments in democracy in post–World War II Germany and Japan, and more recently, in Eastern Europe, Colombia, Burma and elsewhere.
  • Or perhaps the administration would argue that standing up for American values in private is more effective than doing so publicly—that shaming has never been an effective coercive tool. Indeed, diplomacy at times requires discretion in the pressure that the United States puts on oppressive regimes. But this must be the exception, not the rule. ….

But Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, is at least one forceful advocate for human rights and democratic values, Politico reports.

“There is no room here for cultural relativism,” she has insisted, with respect to equal rights for women.

“Haley is seizing the opportunities the U.N. position offers,” said Elliott Abrams, a Council on Foreign Relations analyst who served as a deputy national security adviser to former President George W. Bush. “Everyone understands she isn’t secretary of state or national security adviser and is not the key policymaker. Spending her time analyzing U.S. military strength or how to defeat ISIS or North Korean nukes would not be very smart. So what can a U.N. ambassador do? Speak boldly … about American values,” said Abrams, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Ignoring values in our foreign policy is a mistake. Even George Kennan, the grand don of American realism, recognized that there was value in supporting human rights, notes Ivo H. Daalder, President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs:

He wrote in his political memoir in 1993 that US and UN promotion of human rights had produced outcomes that were “in a number of respects beneficial,” particularly in influencing non-democratic regimes. “Even where these regimes have by no means been able to show a perfect human rights record, there has at least been inflicted upon some of them a certain self-consciousness before world opinion — a certain reluctance to be caught out in the more flagrant abuses of human freedom and dignity — which otherwise would have been lacking,” Kennan wrote.

Asian allies are anxious to see America remain a guarantor of democratic values, The Economist reports.

What are the costs of deemphasizing American values? Bateman asks:

  • For one, it emboldens authoritarian figures like Duterte, Egypt’s el-Sisi, Turkey’s Erdogan (right), Hungary’s Orban and others. Even as such rulers oppress liberal forces within, they seek international favor and prestige without. When the United States fails to speak against their brutality, the costs of that brutality diminish. And crucially, autocracies are far more likely than democracies to fuel terrorist groups, internal violence and inter-state conflict. Americans are thus safer when autocrats are deterred, not tolerated.
  • Inversely, the administration’s current course endangers activists and reformers abroad—the very forces whom it is in America’s long-term interests to strengthen. America’s failure to speak out weakens the hands of dedicated reformers who share its values, depriving both us and them of a valuable ally. It also erodes the normalization of democracy as the most desired form of government.
  • Finally, [she adds] silence on democracy and rights in fact works against the “vital interest” of strong alliances. …RTWT


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