20 April 2010

Article: The Backlash Against Democracy Promotion

Thomas Carothers, "The Backlash Against Democracy Promotion" ("Foreign Policy", 85 [2], March/April 2006: pp. 55-68):


Excerpts: "After two decades of the steady expansion of democracy-building programs around the world, a growing number of governments are starting to crack down on such activities within their borders. [...] They have started expelling or harassing Western NGOs and prohibiting local groups from taking foreign funds – or have started punishing them for doing so. This growing backlash has yet to coalesce into a formal or organized movement. But its proponents are clearly learning from and feeding off of one another. [...] Politicians from China to Zimbabwe have publicly [...] condemned the United States' 'democratic offensive' in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere as self-serving, coercive, and immoral.

"The [...] Chinese Communist Party reportedly mapped out a strategy for resisting U.S. and European efforts to promote color revolutions in China and its neighborhood. [...] Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has driven out Western NGOs and forced the closure of many local groups that get external support, claiming that they are fronts through which Western 'colonial masters' subvert the government. [...] Further North, [...] Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stated on Ethiopian television that 'there is not going to be a [...] color revolution in Ethiopia after the election.' And in Eritrea, the government enacted a new law [...] forbidding local NGOs from engaging in any work other than relief activities and blocking them from receiving external support. [...] In South America, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez regularly blasts U.S. democracy promotion as being part of a [...] campaign to oust him. [...]

"Would Washington countenance the presence, during elections, of foreign organizations – especially ones funded by a powerful, possibly hostile government – that underwrite and help carry out voter-education campaigns, the training of and provision of material aid to political parties, parallel vote counts, and citizen-mobilization efforts? [...] No matter how well democracy promoters make their case, [...] many people in countries on the receiving end of such efforts will not be persuaded of the legitimacy of their efforts. Democracy promoters may believe that poor democratic performance reduces a country's right to invoke its sovereignty to block external intervention. That idea may be gaining currency in established democracies. Yet it is unlikely to command wide support in the developing and post-communist worlds, where sovereignty is jealously guarded by governments of all political stripes."

Thomas Carothers is now Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.

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