A bipartisan group of 21 high-level political experts has come together on behalf of continued U.S. support for democracy around the world. In a statement of principles released by the Center for American Progress and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) this month, the group outlined the long-term benefits of supporting democratic change and made recommendations on how the U.S. can work with other governments and international organizations to build more inclusive societies abroad.
The group is co-chaired by Madeleine Albright, former U.S. secretary of state and NDI chairman, and Vin Weber, former congressman and former chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). NDI President Kenneth Wollack is among the signers.
With federal budget challenges looming, the group argues that the relatively modest investment the U.S. makes in supporting democracy—only about 1 percent of the federal budget is allotted for foreign aid—is an integral part of its national security strategy, and should be maintained.
“Today’s ‘Three Ds’ of U.S. international engagement should acknowledge this critical role and become ‘Four Ds’: defense, diplomacy, development, and democracy,” the statement said. Supporting the desire of people around the world to live in open and free societies is in America’s national interest and will result in a more stable international community as well as improved economic development.
“The recent democratic opening in Burma, the presence of both democratic progress and conflict in Africa, ongoing popular unrest in Iran, and the volatile and complex changes in the Middle East present the United States with challenges and opportunities to help shape a freer world —and a freer world directly benefits our own security, prosperity, and international standing,” the statement said.
The group also noted that the growth of technology makes democracy support all the more critical. While technology has opened new ways for communicating with citizens, and initiatives like the Open Government Partnership make governments more transparent, technology can also be used by authoritarian regimes for censorship and suppression.
U.S. investment in democracy is critical to bringing about democratic change, the group said, citing a study by the U.S. Agency for International Development that found that U.S. democracy programs led to significant improvements in democracy abroad. The group stressed the importance of free elections, international norms for protecting human rights and making governments more responsive to citizens, among other issues.
“Democracy is a process, not an event,” the group said. “The long-term challenge is to help fledgling democracies deliver better lives for their citizens, thereby building support for democratic governance that prevents alternatives from gaining ground.”
The statement included eight recommendations:
- The United States should view democracy and governance as a central pillar of national security.
- The United States should sustain our official investments in democracy and governance funding even as we deal with very real budget challenges.
- In contributing to democracy and governance, the United States should increase its focus on opportunities for synergistic partnerships with nongovernmental organizations.
- The United States should continue to work closely with our friends and allies, many of which have become democracies in living memory, and leverage their unique assets and experiences.
- The United States’ investments in democracy and governance should reflect a strong understanding of democracy as a process, not an event, and support good governance of newly democratic societies.
- The United States should seek to promote inclusive societies that protect the rights of minorities—religious, ethnic, and otherwise.
- The United States should continue to support democratic reformers in autocratic regimes in Latin America, Eastern Europe, the broader Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
- The United States should maintain an adequate level of investment to support developing countries in effectively managing the upcoming natural resource boom.
View the full list of signatories here.
Published Jan. 28, 2013