UN General Assembly a crucial opportunity to reassert democracy-based soft power


This week’s United Nations General Assembly is a crucial opportunity to reassure the world that U.S. foreign policy is based primarily on the soft power of diplomacy rather than military might, says Zalmay Khalilzad (left), who served as Washington’s U.N. ambassador under former President George W. Bush.

“The world is concerned that our current president may be de-emphasizing America’s soft power and the values America has traditionally been seen to stand for, and he may be more interested in hard power,” Khalilzad [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy], tells VOA .

Mark Green, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is a firm believer in fostering democracy abroad, The Weekly Standard’s Jenna Lifhits writes:

With a slight Midwestern twang, the clean-shaven 57-year-old tells me that he sees the spread of democracy as integral to global stability and American prosperity. Before heading up USAID, he was president of the International Republican Institute, a nonprofit organization that seeks to support and encourage democracy overseas. Now, in what ought to be his dream job, he is serving a president whose foreign policy prioritizes military force and security at home.

The Trump administration has signaled broad skepticism about soft power. Its May budget proposal featured a 30 percent cut in the State Department and USAID budget, with a specific 32 percent cut in funding for democracy-promotion programs, according to the Congressional Research Service.

State Department officials briefed Senate staff on Friday on plans to cut up to $10 billion from the department’s budget over five years, but offered few specifics to ease concerns that the administration risked weakening U.S. standing in the world, Reuters reports.

As part of his plan to restructure the State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is pledging not to concentrate more power in his own hands — for now —according to new material obtained Friday by POLITICO. Investing in upgrading the two institutions’ information technology is a huge part of the plan, as is better prioritizing where the U.S. operates overseas and how it disburses foreign aid.

“There is no intention by State or USAID to take the following actions at this time: moving consular affairs to [the Department of Homeland Security]; eliminating the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; dismantling State or USAID; concentrating power in the hands of the secretary; [and] forcing a preconceived organizational chart on the workforce,” the slide states.

On Friday, the department hosted the Community of Democracies, a conclave of leaders from more than 100 nations. But for months, no one knew whether the meeting would actually take place and embassies finally received the official invitation on Sept. 7 — eight days before the event began, The New York Times reports:

The delay meant that only a handful of the nearly 30 foreign ministers invited and about a third of the activists expected were able to attend, according to Robert Herman, a vice president at Freedom House, which received a grant from the State Department to help organize the event. Some foreign activists were not able to get visas in time, while others had long since made alternative plans they could not break, he said. Those who did come had to pay premium prices for last-minute arrangements, he said. The delay was just truly egregious, and it had a really deleterious impact,” Mr. Herman said.

Tillerson called on member states to strengthen and sustain their commitment to democratic values and practices.

The Community of Democracies brought together young and old democracies to strengthen representative government by sharing experiences and through coordination of policies, said Thomas Garrett (right), the CD’s secretary-general:

Very often the help given appears modest. As former Secretary of State Condi Rice said recently, “Democracy assistance is not always dramatic, but I can tell you support to democracy is important.” Those united around freedom and democracy need to come to one another’s aid, need to come to one another’s support.

In Gambia, for instance, the Solidarity Center, with support from the National Endowment for Democracy, and working in close collaboration with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), has proposed a year-long program of intense leadership training for elected union officials and others.

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