This policy depends less on American cultural power than on American money.
After the failure of US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, promoting democracy has a bad reputation. And when it comes to spreading democracy with a weapon, that call is justified. The best evidence suggests that instruments of coercion such as military intervention and sanctions usually fail. Just before the invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan four of 15 American nation-building Interventions in the previous century had led to lasting progress towards democracy. Foreign regime changes usually do not result economically Benefits, building a lasting democracy or promoting a more stable one Relationships advance US interests. And sanctions against authoritarian regimes, such as those imposed on Iraq in the 1990s, often only serve that purpose strengthen autocratic institutions while causing considerable suffering.
Although compulsory methods of promoting democracy rarely succeed, a wide range of research shows that unenforced tools like election surveillance and foreign aid can effectively promote democracy – and they don’t depend on high approval ratings for America overseas. For example studies conducted in Afghanistan, Armenia, Indonesia, and Tunisiasuggest, among other things, that election surveillance can reduce election fraud and increase the perceived credibility of elections. And there are significant ones proofs in favor of foreign aid, which depends on countries taking concrete steps to support democracy. Like the political scientists Tobias Heinrich and Matt W. Loftis written“Over a decade of empirical research shows that foreign aid specifically aimed at promoting democracy is remarkably effective in improving the survival and institutional strength of fragile democracies.”
To put this policy into practice, the von Biden administration and Congress should increase support for the US Agency for International Development, the National Foundation for Democracy, and the US Peace Institute. These agencies work to bolster democratic institutions overseas, and all three saw their support cut under the Trump administration.
While the Biden team has rightly insisted on advocating democracy, this is currently being proposed solutions are insufficient. Biden’s main proposal for promoting democracy abroad, for example, is a “Summit for Democracy” that he plans to hold in his first year in office – a largely symbolic project that is likely to get bogged down in debates about which countries are eligible for invitation. Bigger ideas are needed to ease autocratic pressures at home and abroad.
After all, according to Freedom House, 2019 was the 14th consecutive year of retreat for global freedom Annual report. In Central Europe and Central Asia there are are “There are fewer democracies in the region today than there have been since the 1995 annual report.” Hungary, a member of the European Union, is no longer democratic; Poland, another EU member, is tending in the same direction. In Hong Kong, on the same day as the storming of the Capitol, the Chinese government arrested 53 politicians, activists, lawyers and academics, a continuation of Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy groups in the city.
Some may say that the withdrawal of democratic governance around the world does not necessarily matter to US interests. You would be wrong. Democratic governments don’t just treat their own citizens better;; They also tend to be more benevolent actors on the world stage. Democratic countries are less likely fight rather each other trade with each other and rather cooperate. American interests – not to mention American values - suffer in a more autocratic world.
None of this can be denied that American democracy itself is in dire need of repair. However, reforming domestic democracy and advocating for democracy abroad are not mutually exclusive. They are two sides of the same coin.
Bryan Schonfeld and Sam Winter-Levy are PhD students in Politics at Princeton University.