Shadow Government

In Support of Supporting Democracy

Democracy is the best foundation for global peace, stable and secure societies, and open markets, and supporting democracy is both in the interest of the United States, and consistent with American values and decades-old commitments.

<> on August 7, 2009 in Washington, DC.
<> on August 7, 2009 in Washington, DC.

A wide-ranging, diverse group of foreign policy experts — former members of Congress, retired ambassadors, former senior public servants, NGO heads, academics, and other thought shapers — issued an open letter, published yesterday by Foreign Policy‘s Democracy Lab, calling on the U.S. presidential candidates to commit to making democracy a central part of their foreign policy platforms. The signatories have varied political affiliations and hold diverse views, and don’t always agree on issues. But they agree on the case laid out in the letter.

The case is simple: Democracy is the best foundation for global peace, stable and secure societies, and open markets, and supporting democracy is both in the interest of the United States, and consistent with American values and decades-old commitments.

We are facing an unprecedented number of highly complex foreign policy challenges and immediate, pressing issues. Many of these — from North Korea and Iran’s missile testing, to Assad’s murderous campaign against Syria’s citizens, to Russia’s adventurism in Europe and the Middle East — are borne out of illiberal governments that rebuff international security or human rights norms. The radicalism we see in many parts of the world has emerged, in part, as a reaction to repressive, corrupt regimes that have long oppressed opponents and denied a public space for the peaceful exchange of views. Our foreign policy must consistently address not only today’s challenges, but also the root causes that allow these problems to fester.

This is not the United States’ issue alone. Courageous activists and bold leaders around the world are fighting for democracy and basic freedoms on a daily basis. The United Nations and almost every regional organization has identified democratic values as a cornerstone to security and development. The question is whether the United States will stand and partner with the rest of the world by making this a central part of our foreign policy engagement in the coming years.

But this is not just a pragmatic choice that will build the foundation for peace. It is the right thing to do, consistent with American values. The United States has long led the world in promoting human rights and dignity, and many look to the United States as a leader on these issues.

No signatory to this letter would claim that democracy is perfect, nor would they claim that supporting democratic development is easy or quick. It is not a matter of one election or another, but rather a systematic, concerted, and sustained effort to invest in all of the institutions of a democratic society, from civil society, to free media, transparent institutions, capable judiciaries, strong legal frameworks, and much more. No one denies the democracy is a long-term — and at times messy — process that will look different in different contexts. America’s own history bears that out. But because democracy is unquestionably the system that provides the most peace, security, and protection in pluralistic societies, as we see in those regions of the world where democracy has taken hold, it is essential that the United States support democracy globally. Our investment now in standing for democracy and supporting those who are calling for freedom in their country is an investment in the future of our country and global stability. Our failure to make this a cornerstone of foreign policy because of short-term interests, or an unwillingness to stay the course, will have profound consequences for global security and prosperity.

In this time of hyper-partisanship, this letter is a nonpartisan call for a pragmatic and principled foreign policy commitment. In a time when candidates and voters are sorting through a panoply of short term policy options and weighing what role the United States should play in the world, this is a call for a commitment to build on our legacy of supporting democracy, in support of pragmatism and American values.

How the candidates respond to this letter will be an important indication of what we can expect for the next four to eight years, and how they view this issue that has long been foundational to U.S. foreign policy.

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images 

Nicole Bibbins Sedaca is a professor in the practice of international relations at Georgetown University and the chair for the global politics and security concentration in the Master of Science in foreign service program. She is the chair of the board of directors of the International Justice Mission. She served for ten years in the United States Department of State, working on democracy promotion, human rights, human trafficking, religious freedom, refugees, and counterterrorism. The views are hers and not those of these organizations.

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