You try democratizing Belarus!

Peter Savodnik has a Slate essay comparing and contrasting US and EU efforts to promote a viable democratic opposition in Belarus. For the past decade, Alexander Lukashenko has pretty much ruled the country according to his own increasingly erratic whim. The Americans, the Europeans, and a fair number of Belarusians would love to see his ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

Peter Savodnik has a Slate essay comparing and contrasting US and EU efforts to promote a viable democratic opposition in Belarus. For the past decade, Alexander Lukashenko has pretty much ruled the country according to his own increasingly erratic whim. The Americans, the Europeans, and a fair number of Belarusians would love to see his back. However, as Savodnik recounts, there is a transatlantic split on how to promote democracy in Minsk:

Peter Savodnik has a Slate essay comparing and contrasting US and EU efforts to promote a viable democratic opposition in Belarus. For the past decade, Alexander Lukashenko has pretty much ruled the country according to his own increasingly erratic whim. The Americans, the Europeans, and a fair number of Belarusians would love to see his back. However, as Savodnik recounts, there is a transatlantic split on how to promote democracy in Minsk:

As things stand now, the only money the European Union spends on Belarus is money that has been approved by the Lukashenko regime. These so-called Tacis (Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States) funds, first appropriated in 1991, aim to foster democratic reform and economic modernization from within—that is, by working in tandem with government officials. The problem, as anyone at the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry (or the U.S. National Security Council or, in a rare unguarded moment, the European Union) will point out, is that Lukashenko has no interest in working with the European Union. Why should he? As the Belarusian well understands, engaging with the West means becoming more Western. And that is exactly what he opposes. Sure, he’s happy to get help cleaning up the Chernobyl zone or to send a few engineering students to France for the summer. But anything vaguely threatening (read: liberalizing) is verboten. This is why, a few years back, Lukashenko expelled the U.S.-taxpayer-funded International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute from Minsk. Why? Because unlike the more humanitarian-minded Europeans, these groups foster real reform—you might call it revolution in slow motion—by building democratic parties, running polls for the opposition, and helping identify future leaders (as in the case of Ukraine’s Viktor Yuschenko). Now NDI’s Belarus desk is in Kiev, and IRI’s is in Vilnius, where Belarusian reformers go when they need a conference room free of listening devices. European officials say this is evidence the American model doesn’t work; Americans counter this proves they’re doing something right. While the European Union has spent plenty of money in Belarus since it gained independence from the Soviet Union—developing “civil society” and organizing educational trips, among other things, according to the EU Web site—it’s unlikely that a single euro has been spent directly on the democratic opposition.

Savodnik makes it clear that he wants the EU to change its strategy — but to be honest, I’m not sure what would be a better strategy. If the EU were to pursue a more “American” approach with its aid, Lukashenko would doubtless boot them out of the country as well. I’m no real fan of the EU’s current strategy, but it’s far from clear that there’s a better alternative. There are, alas, all too many foreign policy dilemmas like this one — when all the policy options stink to high heaven. Perhaps I’ve become too cyncical, however — readers are encouraged to devise a better policy to promote democracy in Belarus.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

More from Foreign Policy

Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.
Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.

Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America

The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.

Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.
Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.

The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense

If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.

Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War

Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.

An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.
An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.

How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests

And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.