DEMOCRACY AND FOREIGN POLICY (1990)
The breakup of the Soviet Union, the demolition of the Berlin Wall, and the disintegration of what many had seen as an "evil empire" -- the communist bloc of eastern Europe -- left many Americans confused as to what U.S. future policies should be. For more than forty years, ever since the end of World War II, American policy overseas had been fixed on containing communist expansion. The American worldview was quite simple: there were two forces at work, one good and the other evil, and the United States had the responsibility to use its influence and its power to combat the communist evil.
Containment had, in fact, worked, and it had also supplied a focus to American policy that made for bipartisan support within the government and for popular understanding as well. By the mid-1980s, most Americans believed that the best they could hope for would be a detente, an understanding between the Soviet Union and the United States over what would be the acceptable limits of power so that a nuclear war could be avoided. With that scenario now outdated, what should be the basis for American foreign policy?
Secretary of State James Baker addressed that issue in a speech to the World Affairs Council in March 1990, and the answer he proposed was simple and direct -- the United States would make democracy the central value of its foreign policy. It would attempt, in various ways, to foster democratic values abroad and to support the economic conditions that would allow democracy to thrive. Any other policy, he implied, would be untrue to all that the United States had valued since its founding.
For further reading: Walter LaFeber, America, Russia and the Cold War (1993 ed.); Michael R. Beschloss and Strobe Talbott, At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War (1993); Geir Lundestad and Odd Arne Westad, eds., Beyond the Cold War: New Dimensions in International Relations (1993).
DEMOCRACY AND FOREIGN POLICY
It is a privilege and an honor to address the World Affairs Council in Dallas. This group is part of many such councils established throughout the United States with a great purpose: to inform and to debate. In our rapidly changing world, that can be a tall order. Yet democracy here and elsewhere ultimately depends upon an informed citizenry, citizens able to ponder and then help set the course of international affairs.
Today, I would like to talk about our world, how we understand it, and what we are doing to promote our ideals and our interests.
When President Bush took office a little over a year ago, he talked about a new breeze blowing for freedom. That breeze has become a gale-force wind. Around the world, the old dictatorships of left and right have been swept away, and the people have been heard. Their wants are basic: freedom to think, freedom to speak, freedom to worship, freedom to work. And all of their freedoms are bound up in the call for democracy -- the freedom to choose one's own government.
We all have been surprised at how quickly the long-cherished democratic ideal has been translated into the reality of free and fair elections. Ever since World War II, democratic values have been shadowed by the threat of totalitarian aggression. Now, as the threat is reduced and the shadow recedes, those values are bright and shining and out in the open.
Already a great, new debate -- actually a great, old debate -- has broken out, an argument as old as our republic. Now that the adversaries of democracy are weaker, some say we should retire, mission accomplished, to tend our problems at home. I am not among them. In the new world struggling to be born, like the old world now rapidly passing away, there is no substitute for American leadership.
Let me put it this way: Beyond containment lies democracy. The time of sweeping away the old dictators is passing fast; the time of building up the new democracies has arrived. That is why President Bush has defined our new mission to be the promotion and consolidation of democracy. It is a task that fulfills both American ideals and American interests.
I would like now to make five observations about both democracy and a democratic foreign policy.
The first is that democracy means individual rights and individual responsibilities. With all the talk about changing systems, architectures, processes, and structures, it would be easy to overlook the individual. But the essence of democracy is to treat the individual's rights and responsibilities as two sides of the same coin of freedom. Just as the individual human being has ideal aspirations, he or she also has limits and imperfections. So the process of democracy, as President Havel of Czechoslovakia recently pointed out, is an endless journey in pursuit of our ideals -- a journey spurred on by the reality that life is not always as just as we might want it to be.
In ancient times, searching for a perfect order, the philosopher Plato wanted rule by the elite he called Guardians, a group specially trained in wisdom who could decide public issues and guard public morality according to strict ideals. Democracy has a place for wisdom and a place for ideals, but that place is in the hearts and minds and moral character of the ordinary people. We -- all of us -- are the "Guardians" of democracy. "Trust the people" is the motto of democracy, and "we the people" live by that motto. Democracy is the aristocracy of individual excellence, and individual rights remain the basis of our approach to would-be democracies.
My second observation about democracy is that it offers a unique political legitimacy. Democracy's reliance upon the individual is reciprocated by the individual's consent to the rule of democratic government. That government is, therefore, considered legitimate in the most basic political sense -- both lawful and proper.
Unlike many other forms of government, democracy does not rely on a onetime grant of consent. Consent is reaffirmed through regular, fair, and free elections -- the "ticket" for the democratic journey. A democratic society also is characterized by the rule of law and by tolerance of diversity, a tolerance that protects individual rights from abuse, whether from an arbitrary minority or a tyrannical majority. Majority rule must uphold minority rights.
There is another aspect to democracy of which we should be aware: its capacity for self-correction.
We know that all too often the ideal of democracy is not found in daily reality. Often in our own country's history, the practice of public life has been at sharp variance with our standards. Yet the reality is that in a democracy, the road to progress is never permanently closed. There is a self-renewal, a self-corrective element in the democratic process which allows us to overcome blunders and correct the course.
Because democracy enjoys such renewable legitimacy, it can operate not only to ensure domestic progress but also to encourage international harmony. Free peoples cherishing democratic values are unlikely to go to war with one another.
My third observation is that democracy does not stand alone. Geometry teaches us that the triangle is the most solid configuration. The political geometry of successful democracy should teach us that a free society must be upheld by economic progress and basic security. War and poverty are the great opponents of democratic rules, democratic tolerance, and individual rights.
Many of the recent democratic revolutions in Europe began when people understood at last that economic progress depended on freedom in the workplace and freedom to own property -- and that such freedoms in turn depended upon a government responsive to the people. Dogmas, attempting to eliminate the entrepreneurial spirit while commanding the production of wealth, produced neither bread nor freedom.
We must, therefore, build up the economic and security aspects of the new democracies even as the political base is put into place. A people with hope for a better life, at peace with themselves and their neighbors, is a people for whom democracy will be not just a temporary experiment but a permanent course. A strategy of simply applauding elections and then hoping for the best ignores the painful lessons of the past. Only a strategy that buttresses democracy with economic reforms and greater international security can give us the strength for the tough transitions that will transform the revolutions of 1989 into the democracies of the 1990s.
My fourth observation is that American foreign policy abroad must reflect democratic values. This may seem all too obvious. Yet, there are those who would have America, in the name of its ideals, isolate itself from a world too often hostile to democracy. And there are others who argue for a realpolitik that has a place only for economic or military or political interests and leaves our values at home.
We can recognize in this dualism a little bit of ourselves. How often do we strive for the ideal only to fall short? How frequently do we conclude after some self-serving action that maybe it was not entirely the right thing to do?
As individuals, we succeed when we use each side of our nature to help the other, when we do things in this world not for selfish reasons or because we are satisfied with the status quo but in order to change it, guided by our ideals.
In my view, we must adopt the same approach to our foreign policy. America's ideals are the conscience of our actions. Our power is the instrument to turn those ideals into reality. Our foreign policy, our understanding of other nations, is the blueprint for the job.
As we enter a new era of democracy, the old arguments of idealism vs. realism must be replaced by idealism plus realism. If we do not understand this, then we shall risk the loss of enduring public support for our policies. I think history illustrates amply that the American people will not support for long a policy that violates their sense of humane values, no matter how it is justified as being in the national interest. I am equally convinced that Americans will reject a policy based primarily on moral exhortation which ignores our power to act. As we applaud the new trends toward democracy, we feel good. But those trends are opportunities and challenges, not permanent facts. We have to do more than feel good; we must do good.
My fifth observation is that a policy of democracy is a "force multiplier": a potent instrument for rallying international action. A policy that draws upon our domestic values and enjoys the support of the American people automatically makes our influence more effective. But a policy centered on democracy is also a "force multiplier" in that we can use it to engage our friends and allies behind a mutual purpose. It can give hope to those peoples still suffering under dictatorships.
It would seem to be common sense for the United States to lead alliances of free market democracies in Asia, Europe and the Americas in support of democracy and economic liberty. We can use our common values to pool our strength, advancing everyone's interests in a free and peaceful world. That is what we have tried to do in organizing assistance to the countries of central and Eastern Europe. There and also in Central America, we have urged our friends and allies to calibrate their actions along a democratic standard, not just their immediate geopolitical interests narrowly understood. We have done so because we believe that democracy and the national interests of the democracies reinforce each other.
Still, the fact is that some people don't see it that way. Some people prefer a time when the United States had to do it all alone. Others seem to believe that if we are not the biggest contributors, if we do not micromanage every aid program, then somehow America is no longer a leader.
Obviously, that is not our view. Let me tell you why.
The 1940s were a great time for American leadership. We had unsurpassed resources and a world in ruin, and we rose to the challenge. We helped to put our allies on their feet and to turn our former adversaries into friends. Now, thanks to these successful policies, carried out by administrations of both parties, we have lots of help in dealing with the world's problems. To work with our allies is not a sign of American weakness; it is proof of our strength. And the strength should be guided by a wisdom attuned to our times, just as the Americans of 45 years ago used both brain and brawn to deal with very different circumstances. We can lead today even more effectively than we did then because democracy is on the march.
These observations about democracy and our foreign policy are not speculative. They are rather guideposts for practice, and they have played a major part both in our thinking and in some of our recent foreign policy achievements.
I would cite as the first example recent events in Central America. When the President took office, U.S. policy toward that important region -- our own neighborhood -- was in trouble. It was the most divisive issue we faced. Congress and the executive branch had failed to reach any lasting agreement on how to approach the problem, or for that matter, even how to define it. The American people were divided, too -- an almost certain recipe for failure.
The only way out of this tangle was to return to American principles. Early last year, the President decided to define democracy as the regional objective and elections as the means to achieve that result. In each case, this turned the focus where it belonged. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas' conduct of their society -- an outpost of oppression in a region of democracies -- became the central issue, not the Nicaraguan Resistance. In Panama, Gen. Noriega's brutal rejection of a free election verdict stripped him of his claim to legitimate rule and began the difficult trek toward Panamanian democracy. Another free election in El Salvador, conducted despite violence, gave President Cristiani the popular mandate to pursue a negotiated settlement to the war and a chance to demonstrate a serious approach to human rights.
An emphasis on democracy enabled us to cut the Gordian knot that prevented bipartisanship. On March 24, 1989, a bipartisan accord was signed at the White House, enabling Republicans and Democrats to join around a common purpose. Outside of Washington, the American people could be rallied in support. The United States was heard at last to be speaking with one voice. Directly as a result, the Congress voted humanitarian aid for the Resistance though February 28, 1990.
We then took the bipartisan emphasis on democracy and approached the Central American countries. The Esquipulas agreement expressed their wish for peace, democracy, and the end of support for bloody revolutions in other countries. What was lacking was an effective mechanism to turn the wish into reality. Then, at Tesoro Beach, the Central American presidents agreed on a joint plan to be developed within 90 days to demobilize the Resistance, and it was widely interpreted as a defeat for the United States at the time. But the other side of the joint plan was a requirement that the Sandinista government hold internationally supervised elections a year earlier than scheduled -- February 25, 1990.
This provision helped us to convince our European allies that they should condition their economic aid to Nicaragua on the holding of free and fair elections. They did. In April 1989, a donors' conference for Nicaragua was sponsored by Sweden. President Ortega later admitted that he received only a small fraction of what he had hoped to get before elections.
Finally, we were able to use all of these developments together to take a more effective approach to the Soviet Union. We had the "force multiplier" of democracy to present the Soviets with a growing international consensus on elections. We could and did argue that if Moscow's aid were seen to be sabotaging legitimate governments -- whether a freely elected democracy in El Salvador or the elections process in Nicaragua -- there would be strong repercussions on overall U.S.-Soviet relations. And we were able to contrast the Soviet feeding of conflict with their evident desire for a more cooperative relationship dealing with regional problems. As a result, even before the elections, Moscow publicly agreed to respect both the electoral process and its outcome.
We were prepared to make sure that the elections were as clean -- as free and fair -- as possible. Congress supported the President's request for money to support election activities, which enabled us to flood Nicaragua with international observers. The National Endowment for Democracy also contributed funds shared by the Nicaraguan parties. We considered that essential because it enabled the democratic opposition, UNO, to compete on at least the minimal level against a Sandinista party utilizing the resources of the entire state. Finally, we protested vigorously and pointed out clearly every instance of unfair and arbitrary procedure. Democracy, we felt, was a fast-growing plant if only the sunshine of publicity could expose those who would kill it at the root. The pressure was on the Sandinistas to play it straight.
I recite all of these facts because I believe they set a context, a climate that was most conducive to democracy in Nicaragua through the voting itself. The individual Nicaraguan -- the individual upon whom democratic hopes depended -- knew that he or she was not alone. Voting in a free and fair election was not a desperate, lonely act but a step toward a better future.
Now that a democratic government has been elected in Nicaragua, we know that Nicaragua's recovery from years of civil war and the blight of Marxist economics will be costly and painful. There and in Panama, we must help to turn the new hopes into the reality of progress. That is why the President has proposed a new $800 million fund for democracy -- our part of a multilateral effort to put our neighbors back on their feet. This is not charity. It is an investment in the democratic values we share with our neighbors. For we have a broad vista -- stretching from Guatemala to Panama -- of new possibilities for democratization, demilitarization, and development which offers a bright future for all the peoples of the region. With our help and the help of other democracies, it can and will be done.
My second example of how a democratic foreign policy works concerns central and Eastern Europe. Freed of fear and fiercely determined to recover their dignity and their hopes, the long-suffering peoples of those lands behind the Iron Curtain finally pulled it down.
Last December, not long after the Berlin Wall was breached, I visited that divided city. I took a good look through a newly chiseled hole in that ugly wall, and what I saw was a great city striving to be reborn. And beyond it, old nations were alive with new hope. All of that was captured by the simple word "democracy."
While in Prague a month ago, I talked about the consolidation of democracy throughout the region. It was important for the peoples of central and Eastern Europe to know that the challenges they faced were not theirs alone. We, too, have a challenge. We are admired for our democratic values and for the success of our economic system. People look to us for help -- not charity -- but the help that allows self-help. Training, advice, and sharing our experience counts for more than money. We must be prepared to give it.
Our program of cooperation and assistance concentrates on three areas, not all of them economic.
First, we will press the concept of free and regular elections. The President has proposed that this be adopted as a program by the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). We have also offered and are sending election observers as each central and Eastern European country takes its first democratic steps. The objective here is to make democracy the legitimizing principle for all of Europe.
Second, we are working with our allies and the Soviet Union to reduce the arms and the armies facing each other in Europe.
Third, we are extending economic support for the painful transition to free market systems. This will be a very difficult task in societies just now beginning to dismantle Marxist-Leninist economic systems and often lacking the basics of a free market. We believe, however, that the United States, our allies in Europe and Japan, and international economic institutions can work together successfully to help these countries achieve the progress so long denied them. The purpose of all these efforts should be to provide a healthy environment for the real motivator of long-lasting growth -- vigorous private sector investment and development.
We are tying our assistance to our values and showing how our values can be of assistance. Our support is to be measured by a single test: whether it advances democracy and economic liberty.
I would add here a word about our policy of democracy and its impact on the Soviet Union. We have an interest in perestroika which goes beyond geopolitics. If perestroika results in a more democratic and open Soviet society, with individual rights and economic progress, the impact on Soviet foreign policy for the long run will be highly beneficial. Democracy in the Soviet Union is, in my view, the best guarantee of a constructive Soviet approach to international problems.
The third and final case I would cite of democracy in action I call "breaking new ground." It has been my argument throughout this speech that democracy serves both American ideals and American interests. Furthermore, democracy is a practical tool of diplomacy, not the only tool, but a particularly valuable one with which to rally support both here and abroad for our foreign policy.
Democracy speaks to universal aspirations -- to use those famous old American words, "regardless of race, creed, or color." I reject and I hope America always rejects the view that democracy is for certain societies but has no place in Africa or Asia or South America, or even in the Middle East. I say instead, remember the motto, "trust the people."
Because we trust the people, not only here or in Europe or in Central America but everywhere, we are using democracy and elections as valuable tools in helping to end regional conflicts and to bring about national reconciliations. Let me cite briefly a few examples.
-- In Namibia, whose independence celebrations I just attended, free and fair elections were a key element in the settlement that freed Africa's last colony, ended a civil war, and launched a new government with a democratic constitution. We believe that free and fair elections can play a similar role in promoting national reconciliation in Angola and South Africa.
-- In the Arab-Israeli conflict, we see elections in the occupied territories as a catalyst to bring about a constructive Israeli-Palestinian dialogue that could lead to the peace both peoples so badly need.
-- And in Cambodia, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council see a free and fair election as the best way to resolve at last the disputed government of that tortured land, giving the Cambodian people their long overdue chance to choose their own leaders.
Let me conclude with this thought. When I studied classics in college, I found to my surprise that most of the ancient philosophers feared democracy. Those who study the 18th century arguments over our Constitution also will encounter this fear. It was a lingering suspicion that the individual would be corrupted, that the ordinary man or woman was simply not up to the task of self-government.
Our Founding Fathers overcame that fear and left to us a legacy of confidence in the citizen that constitutes our greatest political and moral strength. Our foreign policy has been at its best when it drew from that strength and made of our country a great force for good in the world. Now, after hard years of defending democratic values, our original confidence has been renewed.
Ordinary people are truly the heroes of our time. Ordinary people broke through the Berlin Wall. Ordinary people turned out the dictators. Ordinary people voted for democracy in Central America.
As once our Founding Fathers drew upon confidence in the citizens to build a new democratic society, so now our foreign policy must build upon that same confidence to build a newly democratic international society. That is our opportunity and our challenge. With the help of every American, I am sure we will meet it.
Source: American Foreign Policy Current Documents 1990 (1991), 12-17.
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