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U.S. Support for Democracies Abroad Slipping Under Bush
Published on Friday, November 1,2002 by
U.S. Support for Democracies Abroad Slipping Under Bush
by Jim Lobe

The United States commitment to supporting democratic development abroad is slipping under the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, according to a new survey of 40 member nations of the two-year-old Community of Democracies.

The survey, released in Washington Thursday -- 10 days before the opening of the next ministerial meeting of the Community, November 10-12 in Seoul, South Korea -- found that, of the 40 states reviewed, only three -- Canada, Netherlands, and Sweden -- deserved a "very good" in defending democracies overseas.

And while Washington earned a "good" rating in assessing its record over the past 10 years, recent trends in U.S. policy were "moving in the wrong direction," according to Morton Halperin, Washington director of the Open Society Institute, which sponsored the study.

The U.S. "has lost some of its moral leadership by expressing support for preferred candidates in close elections and by pursuing anti-terrorism strategies at home and abroad that have emboldened authoritarian leaders intent on suppressing internal dissent, thereby undermining fragile democratic processes," according to the 243-page report, 'Defending Democracy.'

The report found that while recent trends were also negative in Thailand and Venezuela, they have been moving in a more positive direction in many more countries, notably, Ghana, India, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Peru, Senegal, and Spain.

The Community of Democracies, a multilateral group founded in 2000 as a major political initiative of the administration of President Bill Clinton, held its first ministerial meeting in Warsaw in June of that year. More than 100 countries committed themselves at that meeting to supporting democracy and democratic movements in other nations, as well as their own.

At the upcoming Seoul meeting, 117 countries have been invited as full participants and another 20 as observers. Included in the latter category are a number of countries that were full participants in Warsaw but whose democratic practices were considered by a 10-nation convener group to be insufficient to warrant full membership.

The convener group comprises Chile, the Czech Republic, India, Mali, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, and the U.S. The 11 countries that were downgraded to observer status were Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Haiti, Kenya, Kuwait, Qatar, Ukraine, and Yemen.

The new survey, which was carried out by the independent Democracy Coalition Project, assessed the last decade's performance of 40 representative member-countries according to four criteria: their response to the overthrow of foreign democratically-elected governments; their response to manipulations of foreign electoral processes; the degree to which they supported democracy and human rights in their foreign policy or aid programs; and their policy toward entrenched foreign dictatorships. Each surveyed state was given a "defending democracy" rating ranging from very good to poor.

The survey found that, while the gap between rhetoric and reality is closing, promoting democracy abroad is not yet a central element of the foreign policy of the world's democracies. Moreover, it found that when the defense of democratic norms clashed with economic, military or other national interests, the vast majority of surveyed states placed their interests over democratic values.

The study, which was compiled from the work of dozens of civil society leaders and experts around the world, also found a positive correlation between a country's internal democratic development and its support for democracy abroad. Thus, more established democracies, such as those in North America or Western Europe, generally scored higher than newer democracies in the developing world.

Still, there were important exceptions. Argentina, Brazil, and Chile--which all suffered military dictatorships in the 1970s and into the 1980s--were given a "good" alongside Australia, Britain, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and the U.S. Several ex-Soviet bloc countries--the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland--also fell into that category, beside three African countries - Botswana, Ghana, and Senegal. South Korea was the sole Asian entry in the "good" category.

Other leading industrialized democracies, Japan and France, received only "fair" ratings for their record in defending or supporting democracies abroad. In that category they were joined by Benin, India, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela.

Georgia, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Morocco, and Russia were all given "poor" grades.

Despite their relative poverty, some developing countries found in the "good" and "fair" categories--notably Poland, Chile, the Czech Republic, South Korea, Mexico, and Benin--have begun to promote democracy programs in foreign countries.

An important mechanism in bolstering democracies, according to the report, are regional organizations, such as the Inter-American Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States, which explicitly commits its members to defending democracy.

In its recommendations, the study called for increasing development aid to countries engaged in democratization; creating a permanent Community secretariat to better coordinate democracy-promoting positions and activities; and organizing Community member-states into caucuses at various multilateral and regional organizations.

Copyright 2002


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