Promoting Democracy in the 21st Century: An Essential Tool Against TerrorismPaula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Remarks to the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs
February 9, 2004
Good evening. I’m delighted to be here at the Baltimore World Affairs Council to talk about the advancement of democracy and its role in the War on Terror. Over the past two-and-a-half years, the war has been fought on many fronts and in many ways. This is a war that will not be won on the field of battle alone. While at times we are left with no choice but to defend American interests with the force of arms, this is our last resort. America always seeks other ways to provide for our safety and that of our allies, just as we prefer to forestall threats before they become an immediate danger. It is our belief that the spread of liberal democracy is an essential part of a long-term strategy for preventing danger to America and our friends from materializing.
Promoting democracy is a key component of the National Security Strategy initially released in September 2002. This document, which outlines the Administration’s overall plan for defending the United States and advancing its interests and values, declared that “America must stand firmly for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state, free speech, freedom of worship, equal justice, respect for women, religious and ethnic tolerance, and respect for private property.” It noted further that “We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world.”
President Bush is committed to these objectives not only because they are right, but also because they are essential to winning the War on Terror. In his speech at Whitehall Palace in London last November, the President said that “We cannot rely exclusively on military power to assure our long-term security. Lasting peace is gained as justice and democracy advance. In democratic and successful societies, men and women do not swear allegiance to malcontents and murderers; they turn their hearts and labor to building better lives. And democratic governments do not shelter terrorist camps or attack their peaceful neighbors; they honor the aspirations and dignity of their own people. In our conflict with terror and tyranny, we have an unmatched advantage, a power that cannot be resisted, and that is the appeal of freedom to all mankind.”
But promoting democracy does not mean imposing the American model on other countries. On the contrary, democratic reforms inherently demand that citizens in emerging democracies must be free to develop institutions compatible with their own cultures and experiences. Democratic aspirations and rights are universal -- they belong to all mankind -- but the specific institutional forms and expressions of democracy will naturally vary by country.
What is essential is that democratically elected leaders are accountable to their fellow citizens. Non-elected leaders are at best detached and unaccountable, and at worst isolated and tyrannical. More broadly, those outside their inner circles have limited influence on policy and, in many cases, cannot even express their views without fear of persecution. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to peaceably assemble, serve to empower citizens, legitimize debate, and provide alternatives to violence.
The fair and independent judicial systems present in liberal democracies play a similar role. A truly independent judiciary is a vital check on executive power and a protector of those exercising their rights to free expression. Ensuring that no group is above the law also gives average citizens a greater stake in their political systems.
Absent these democratic attributes, we find conditions that in some instances give rise to sympathy for terrorism. This is especially true in nations where demagogues who preach the language of hate under the guise of religion are the only alternatives to a corrupt or brutal elite. Today, the danger to America comes not exclusively from dictators who make war directly upon us, our allies, and our interests -- it also emanates from dictators who create an atmosphere so poisonous and so brutal that evil sprouts and motivates a small but radicalized cadre to terrorism.
The United States is committed to supporting democracy in every country, on every continent. This begins with our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. In those two nations, we have clearly demonstrated our resolve -- first in subduing an immediate threat, then in staying the course to help establish a free and lasting peace. This resolve has had numerous benefits beyond the initial military victory. It has lent credibility to our diplomacy by showing that the United States is committed for the long haul. It has also enabled us to take a new look at old policies and to seek accelerated democratic reform in the region. During his visit to Great Britain last November, President Bush noted “We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet, this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold.” The change of the status quo in the Middle East, and the prospect of a free and vibrant Iraq offer an enormous opportunity for democracy in the region, which will also set an example for the whole world. This is an opportunity to help millions of people, and while doing so, undermine the terrorists and enhance our security.
In addition to our efforts on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are engaged in promoting democracy at the global level through such initiatives as the Community of Democracies. The Community is a new international network in which young and old democracies of different size and form, gather to strengthen representative government, to share experiences, to help one another, and to coordinate policies in areas of common interest. Well over 100 free nations have come together -- first in Warsaw in 2000 and then again in Seoul in 2002 -- to reaffirm their commitment to consolidating their own democratic institutions and working with other countries to help them along the path of democratization. The next gathering of the Community of Democracies will take place in 2005 in Chile.
The goal of the Community is to achieve practical results that directly benefit democracies and to refocus other international organizations on the ideals of liberty and self-determined government, which are frequently espoused but less frequently attained.
Despite its youth, the Community of Democracies has achieved promising results. In Seoul, we discussed threats to democracy, which ranged from terrorism to coups. Because the security issues facing open societies are different from those of non-democracies, this was a useful discussion among free nations adjusting their security postures to handle new dangers. At the conclusion of the meeting in Seoul, the Community issued a Plan of Action vowing to bolster democracy within their own borders, and to support other governments in their commitment to democracy.
The Community is also assisting individual governments like East Timor, one of the world’s newest democracies. Specifically, the Community is preparing to send a multinational delegation to East Timor to share their experiences in police training, rule of law, and political party development.
Many nations in the Community have also joined in seeking a democracy caucus at the United Nations. We are committed to helping reform the UN, and we believe a caucus of free nations with representative governments will advance this goal. It could also help to refocus the organization on the all-too-often neglected principles of its founding Charter. A democracy caucus is also critical to generating credibility for the UN Commission on Human Rights -- a forum populated by too many non-democratic states -- like last year’s chair, Libya -- whose participation mocks the very purpose of the organization.
America is also enlisting the creativity and flexibility of the non-governmental sector to help advance our goals. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) -- a private, non-profit organization supported predominantly by the United States Government -- is an excellent example. NED has worked for over 20 years to strengthen democratic institutions through its multiple components: the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, the Center for International Private Enterprise, the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, as well as direct grants to non-governmental organizations. In his State of the Union Address, President Bush announced that he will seek from Congress a doubling of the Endowment’s annual budget through the appropriation of an additional $40 million to be used for programs supporting democracy in the Middle East. Organizations like Freedom House also play an invaluable role in promoting democracy and holding non-democratic countries accountable for their actions. Others, such as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, focus on elections and civil society. And there are many more.
We have redesigned our foreign aid to reward the countries that work the hardest for the interests of their people. The Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), as this initiative is called, breaks with past development assistance programs by providing increased assistance to countries that are committed to governing justly, investing their own resources in their people, and working to provide a proper climate for economic growth. This proposal implements the President’s commitment to increase core development assistance by 50% over the next 3 years, thus adding $5 billion to the $10 billion now spent on these programs by FY 2006. The MCA will help these nations spark what economists refer to as a “virtuous cycle,” in which improved governance and adherence to the rule of law leads to increased capital flows from the private sector, which will in turn lead to economic growth and stability.
We have also reinvigorated our efforts at disseminating information about America, and about the universal values of democracy and freedom. Dictators and terrorists have no greater enemy than the truth, and as we did during the Cold War, we are striving to provide those who lack access to a free press with information that can empower them and steel them in their determination to make liberal democracy a reality in their own countries. President Bush recently spoke of the need to “cut through the barriers of hateful propaganda” that are found in parts of the world -- especially in the Middle East. We are doing this by expanding the programming of Voice of America and other broadcast services, including a new Arabic television service. We seek to ensure these tools have the resources they need, and are focused on the critical task of changing minds.
To counter terrorism, we seek genuine representative government that brings liberty and democracy to all of a country’s citizens, including those who often have been excluded -- especially women. Women have a critical role to play in democracy, in civil society, and in ensuring that democratic ideals are instilled in future generations. As Queen Rania of Jordan said recently, “Development will not achieve its goals unless women participate in it as complete and effective partners in all fields. We are in this together; we all share in a common future.” We have pushed governments to extend to women the prerogatives that are their birthright, and we commend nations that have made strides in achieving this equality. One such nation is Morocco, which recently did away with a system that made women legally inferior to men. We are encouraging other nations in that region and elsewhere to follow suit, through programs like the Middle East Partnership Initiative, which is reaching out to talented women in the Middle East and encouraging them through education and training to take their rightful places in their societies.
The battles waged so far in the War on Terror have involved coalitions of the willing that vary with the individual mission. I am often asked if our engagement of non-democratic nations in our campaign against the terrorists has sidelined U.S. efforts to promote democracy in those nations. The implication is that we cannot ask countries for help at the same time we pressure them to change. The reality is counterintuitive. In some instances, the War on Terror has given us increased access to nations with which we previously had limited interaction. By engaging these countries, by forging ties, and by finding areas to work together, we have gained influence and leverage. We have explained to them that a society that protects the freedoms of all citizens, pursues a rule of law, and provides citizens the right to have a say in their future, is a more secure society. We have made clear that fighting terrorism and promoting freedom are not mutually exclusive -- in fact, they are one and the same. While we would like to see more rapid change in many instances, we believe we are making more progress than we were before we asked for these nations’ assistance.
We also make it clear that our ultimate desire is to see freedom and democracy flourish in all nations. Every day a country deprives its people of these rights, it falls farther behind the free world in development, and runs the risk of catastrophic instability. The 2002 Arab Human Development Report, which links low standards of living to the absence of democracy in the Arab world, makes this case starkly. This Administration will always speak up for those who strive for democracy. Speaking about the heroic democratic dissidents of the 20th century, President Bush said, “they knew of at least one place -- a bright and hopeful land -- where freedom was valued and secure. And they prayed that America would not forget them, or forget the mission to promote liberty around the world.” We will not forget, and there should be no doubt that we stand with those who yearn for liberty from Damascus to Tehran, from Rangoon to Harare, from Pyongyang to Havana, and in all places where freedom and representative government are not the norm.
The United States will conduct the War on Terror on many fronts with various tools. Our long-term strategy is to strike at the heart of terrorism by depriving it of its havens, its recruitment grounds, and its foot soldiers. We will do this in no small measure through the avid promotion of democracy and freedom. Last month, President Bush made our intentions crystal clear: “America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace -- a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman. America acts in this cause with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special calling: This great republic will lead the cause of freedom.”
Released on February 10, 2004