Promoting democracy, not regime change

Promoting democracy, not regime change

Elections do little to enhance democratic development if state institutions are ineffective or unresponsive, argues Rep. David Price (D-NC) in a forthcoming issue of The Washington Quarterly. The new administration should sustain the U.S. commitment to democracy promotion, despite recent setbacks and mistakes. Price draws several lessons for promoting democracy, drawing on the House Democracy Assistance Commission’s work in strengthening partner legislatures in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Ukraine, and elsewhere, in collaboration with established democracy assistance foundations like the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute.

Resources should be deployed strategically, with a greater emphasis on sub-Saharan Africa’s fragile democracies. Constructing effective institutions matters more than personal relationships with individual leaders. To reconcile its realism with democratic commitment, the U.S. need not openly condemn authoritarian allies, but should not take sides against democratic forces.

Price attempts to answer the “crucial question” of where U.S. democracy assistance is most likely to have the greatest beneficial impact:

The priority should be to support nations that are undertaking or continuing a transition to democracy, rather than cases which may have more immediate strategic significance but for which a transition to democracy is still wishful thinking. In fact, a clear distinction between cooperation or working to support the existing democratic aspirations of governments, officials, and reformers /and subversion or working to undermine undemocratic but sovereign governments must be made for democracy promotion to be more effective………………

Even though democracy promotion will not be greeted with equal enthusiasm among all contending factions in countries where the United States is involved, it should still be conceived as a strategy of cooperation and partnership in situations where democratic institutions and practices have gained a foothold. To conflate it with whatever efforts we undertake to bolster opponents of adversarial regimes in places like Cuba and Iran is to invite confusion and suspicion of our motives.

Democracy promotion is not ‘‘regime change.

…. a conclusion that reflects the broad practitioner consensus that regime change and democracy assistance are not synonymous.