Giving advice to people in another country about how to organize their political life is always a sensitive endeavor, notes Thomas Carothers, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But in earlier decades, the United States was emerging victorious from its long ideological rivalry with the Soviet Union and exuding political confidence at home and abroad. The health of its own democracy seemed almost beyond question. In the ensuing decades, that has greatly changed.
Americans still tend to talk about many countries outside North America and Europe as “new” democracies that are grappling with basic political building blocks, he writes for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab:
But many countries, like Chile, Estonia, Ghana, Indonesia, Mongolia, and Romania, have moved past the initial post-authoritarian phase of setting up democratic institutions. They now have democratic constitutions, regular elections, alternation of power, elected parliaments, active civil societies, and a good amount of political openness. They are fighting to make their political institutions and processes work well. They are trying to improve the quality of political representation, lessen state capture by vested interests, avoid intolerance from surging populists, and engage politically alienated citizens. In short, their political challenges are often very much like those of the United States.
The United States can still make important contributions to helping other countries strengthen their democracies. A country doesn’t have to be politically trouble-free to be able to help another improve its own political life. U.S. democracy aid shouldn’t end — but it should change.