Aid and Democracy Promotion in American Foreign Policy

Remarks by the Honorable Lee H. Hamilton, USAID Democracy and Governance Conference

Dec 10, 2003

Let me begin by congratulating you and expressing my appreciation for your efforts – particularly those who have worked in the field to administer and implement American aid. Your contribution to American foreign policy is vital and seldom recognized. Your efforts – often out of the spotlight – protect America’s interests and spread hope throughout the world.

We gather at an opportune time. Much of the talk in this town has turned to building democracy abroad. What do we mean when we say that? How do we turn words of support for democracy into action?

To succeed, American foreign policy must be clearly articulated – people must know where we stand on the issues. Beyond that, there must be a clear process for implementation – something that many of you do day-in and day-out.

I would like to speak to you today about foreign aid and democracy promotion in American foreign policy. I will make a few comments about, 1) my view of the U.S. role in the world; 2) the role of aid in American foreign policy; and 3) the specific challenge of building democracy abroad.

U.S. Role in the World

Let me begin by letting you know where I come from on American foreign policy.

American preeminence in international relations is pronounced in nearly every facet of power – military, economic, technological, cultural and moral. But we face immense challenges. At home, September 11 shattered our sense of personal security; abroad, we face huge tests in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

This is the paradox of American power: the U.S. towers above the world as never before, but Americans have never been more vulnerable. On many transnational issues – such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, poverty, the migration of people, disease, drugs, and the environment – the world is only a step or two short of chaos.

How do we address threats to our security and international stability? How do we pursue a world free from violence and chaos, where American interests and values can thrive?

The short answer is that we must be, and must be seen as, a benign power. That means forging a consensus approach towards a world of peace, growth and freedom. To achieve this:

1) The U.S. should use military force judiciously.

A benign American foreign policy does not mean America eschews the use of force. Force is sometimes a better option than diplomacy when dealing with tyrants, terrorists, or sponsors of terrorism.

But the use of military power should give us pause. We must be extremely careful in applying a doctrine of preemptive war against threats that are not clearly imminent. It is, as Woodrow Wilson said, a fearful thing to lead this country to war. And wars evoke suffering and passions and unintended consequences that can add to terrorist grievances.

2) The U.S. should pursue non-military steps against terrorism and dangerous threats with the same vigor that we wage war.

I do not believe that that the security of the United States rests solely on military might. You cannot defeat terrorists by occupying an enemy’s capital. Terrorists are widely disbursed and rely on networks that are far more informal than traditional armies.

Non-military measures are the most important elements of our war on terror. Diplomacy, intelligence, law enforcement and financial actions must balance our military and covert action. Our efforts must be coordinated, and they must be sustained.

3) The U.S. should seek out international cooperation.

We are stronger, and our problems smaller, when we act with others. Terrorism, proliferation, poverty, and disease are global problems – they demand a global response. The question is how to achieve that cooperation.

Our past has much to teach us. Our overwhelming success – whether in World War II, the Cold War, or the initial stage of the war on terror – has been in forging institutions, coalitions and alliances in support of clear and common goals in accord with our values.

Deficiencies in these arrangements do not necessitate their abandonment. On the contrary, we should strengthen NATO; the UN; the WTO; the IMF and World Bank; and non-proliferation regimes. When these institutions falter, the challenge is more severe. When we act alone, the burdens and risks are far greater.

4) The U.S. should lead energetic efforts to resolve the world’s most troubling and intractable conflicts.

We should be at the forefront of the pursuit of peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. We should articulate clear and comprehensive approaches to resolving tensions with North Korea and Iran.

Engagement in these situations works better than isolation. This does not mean appeasement – it means working to resolve problems, promote our interests, and change a country’s behavior through the power of persuasion, coercion and incentive.

5) The U.S. should lead for an open and integrated global economy.

Economic integration provides new opportunities for American investment, trade and growth; opens vast markets for developing countries and their people; tightens the bonds between nations; introduces freedom of opportunity to closed, controlled and repressed economies; and unleashes the potential of whole populations.

The U.S. – and other developed countries – must not over-subsidize our farmers, workers and plants. We should open our markets, push for broad new trade agreements, invest abroad, and make American capitalism a model that the world can trust.

6) And the U.S. must project an optimistic message to the American people and the world.

We should appeal to peoples’ hopes and not just their fears. We should define solutions as well as problems. And we should present a comprehensive vision.

Too often, we engage the world through the single prism of terrorism. We worry about terrorism, but a hungry man worries about his next meal. Other countries and people have a vast array of questions and concerns. When those go unheeded by the world’s only superpower, American leadership and standing suffers, and American interests follow suit.

The irony is that in focusing exclusively on terror, we lose opportunities to combat its sources. We are correct in combating threats to our security. But we should also combat the roots of insecurity: regional conflicts, poverty, extremism, repression, and chaos.

The Role of Aid

This brings me to the role of aid in American foreign policy.

To achieve our goals in the world, I believe the U.S. has a national interest – and a moral interest – in aligning itself and its policies with the aspirations of the world’s downtrodden.

We are all familiar with the necessity of aid. For instance:

-- one billion people live on less than one dollar per day;

-- ¼ of the world’s people never drink a clean cup of water;

-- and one woman dies every minute in childbirth.

Global poverty sows violence, instability, disease, and environmental degradation – threats to American national and economic security. For instance,

-- Famine can plunge a state into anarchy and chaos;

-- Massive migrations can spark wars;

-- Epidemic disease ruins lives and disrupts commerce;

-- Competition for resources degrades the environment and divides people.

Perhaps most disturbingly, tens of millions of young people around the globe grow up with no hope. They see futures of unemployment and disease; lives of desperation and chaos.

Extremists, warlords or terrorists present these young people with their only option for food, clothing, employment and belief. This threatens the peace and prosperity of the world, and the security of the American people.

If administered effectively, there is much that aid can do to combat these problems.

1) Aid lifts up the world’s poor.

Aid is often the only lifeline to the diseased and destitute. As a Nation that reflects the generosity and humaneness of the American people, we should be at the forefront of feeding the hungry; treating the sick; and educating the children. Expressing this side of American leadership fulfills a moral obligation, and sends a powerful message that we are on the side of those who struggle.

2) Aid boosts the global economy.

Aid is an investment in people. By extending hope and opportunity, we can provide the stability necessary for commerce to thrive. And we can grow legions of new markets and opportunities for investment. Success stories such as South Korea and Chile instruct us that aid can be a small down-payment on future growth and development.

3) Aid makes development more sustainable.

We must acknowledge the risks of population growth and certain economic activity – the depletion of water resources, climate change, air quality, and fragile eco-systems. We must also combat transnational threats like HIV/AIDS.

If ignored, these problems have catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences. Aid should thus include initiatives like health care, family planning, research into agricultural production and efficient use of energy to fill in the gaps in international development.

4) Aid improves our relations with other countries.

Aid sends a message that the American interest is also the world’s interest. Perhaps the most successful endeavor in American foreign policy was the Marshall Plan – a massive aid program that paved the way for our closest alliances.

5) Aid can improve governance abroad.

Much of the talk these days is about conditionality – indeed, the President’s Millennium Challenge Accounts put conditionality at the center of his aid policy.

The deal is more aid in return for good governance. This is necessary because:

-- aid is futile in nations with corrupt or inept governance;

-- and, concurrently, aid can be a powerful stimulus for change.

We should insist that aid go to honest governments with effective policies. Accountability is a necessity for aid policy; economic reform is a necessity for growth.

If need be, we must strengthen free actors in countries where governments will not or cannot reform – people and organizations who can deliver aid directly to those in need, while promoting necessary reforms.

Of course, even with accountability there is much that aid cannot do – it will not turn Haiti into Sweden. Aid cannot reach everybody; is limited in countries that lack the economic and social infrastructure to absorb it; and can prompt dependency on foreign donors.

But aid sends an overarching message to scores of people around the world who lack hope: the American people hear your concerns, sympathize with your plight, and stand with you in your struggle.

Aid and Democracy Promotion

This brings me to the subject that you will look at in some detail over the next two days: aid and democracy promotion.

Supporting democracy has long been a key foreign policy objective of the United States. I am reminded of this every day as I walk into the Woodrow Wilson Center, where President Wilson’s bold statements on America’s obligation to promote democracy are literally carved into the wall.

Wilson’s words have echoed through the years, and have been often repeated or restated by American presidents. This has particularly been the case in times of crisis: after World War I, Wilson called for democracy in Europe; after World War II we called for democracy in Japan and Germany; during the Cold War we called for democracy in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe; today, we call for democracy in the Middle East.

Democracy is surely a noble goal – it brings the full flowering of individuals, and the potential for stability and cooperation between nations. Thus it is easy for us to embrace the cause of democracy. But it is harder to get there.

In our determination to promote democracy we have had notable successes and failures. We must heed several lessons from our own experience:

1) It takes time for democracy to take root.

Often we hear of the success of Japan or Germany – or South Korea and Latin American countries – in building democracies. But it took many years for these democracies to reach maturation and stability. Some are still getting there.

There is no such thing as “instant democracy” or democratic governance delivered at the barrel of a gun. It takes years – if not decades – of sustained commitment at the highest levels of the U.S. government to support democratic change.

2) Democratic reform is messy and complex.

Democracy is not just about holding elections. A mature democracy includes strong political institutions; a strengthened judiciary; some form of market economy; a free press; the participation of women and minorities; and the development of civil society. Only these institutions can provide safeguards against human rights abuses, corruption, and political repression, while giving people a means to address differences peacefully

Think about our own democracy’s vitality. It is far more than simply presidential elections. It is activity at the local and state level; diversity; tolerance; civic engagement; open discourse; commerce; institutions of all kind and descriptions, from political parties to campaign finance watchdogs; and, of course, independent media.

3) It takes diverse tools – and sustained aid – to support democracy.

Americans often think of democracy delivered by American force – our troops “making the world safe for democracy” in World War I; liberating Europe in World War II; or, more recently, opening schools in Afghanistan and toppling statues in Iraq.

But democratization takes a much wider-range of sustained American policies, as the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate.

Among those policies, aid is essential. Post-war democracy in Germany and Italy rested on the foundation of the Marshall Plan. Post-war democracy in Japan followed an American commitment to bear the costs and burden of establishing democratic governance.

We will not succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq without sustained and effectively implemented aid. Ruined states need food, energy, infrastructure, education, and rudimentary health care before they can achieve democracy. Battlefield success seizes headlines; persistent aid seizes a toehold for moderates in the reconstruction of nations.

The same is true, to a lesser degree, in other Middle Eastern nations. In the Cold War we didn’t just deploy armaments – we built cultural centers, sponsored exchanges, broadcast radio programs, and advanced technological support and cooperation. It will take that kind of sustained aid to defeat fundamentalists in our battle for hearts and minds.

And it will also take collaboration with non-governmental sectors – businesses, academia and NGOs. Together, we can work for an era of globalization that is marked by the proliferation of ideas and opportunity, not terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

4) It takes consistency of message and implementation.

Rousing rhetoric is a good start to spreading democracy. But by itself, it will not achieve the goal. And it will not succeed if American policies conflict with the message.

When the U.S. ignores repression and rigged elections to obtain help on foreign policy and security matters, it undermines our attempts to spread democracy everywhere.

When the U.S. does not make aid conditional on governance to certain geopolitical allies, it weakens our efforts to make aid conditional on governance elsewhere.

When stern rhetoric is followed by gentle nudges, we do not get to the finish line.

This is complicated. In Pakistan, for instance, we have a myriad of interests. No doubt we need help from them on terror. But we also know that President Musharraf has rolled back democracy. How do we balance our interests in this kind of situation?

The answer is we must protect our interests, but also act on behalf of our values. Too often in the Islamic world, America has supported troubling rulers who keep the lid on the cauldron without addressing systemic problems that cause the cauldron to boil over. Right or wrong, this prompts Muslims to associate American policies with their own lack of freedom, rather than the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

We should support our strategic allies in the region. But we should also prod them in the right direction. Aid should be conditional, not a blank check, and we should support the development of civil society in these countries.

Our message should be clear: America stands for democracy and human rights, and with those who struggle for it. Ultimately, we want allies who share our values – not just our interests.

Conclusion

Woodrow Wilson once said: “A steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by a partnership of democratic nations.”

Not much in the last 85 years has proven him wrong. We believed then and now in the values of freedom, democracy, free-enterprise, human rights, and the rule of law.

The U.S. has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the world. We should put forth an optimistic vision of peace, security, and prosperity that speaks to our own interests and the global interest. And we should be as resolute in support of our values as our security.

In this effort, aid has a fundamental role to play. Aid is the spearhead of American generosity – it offers the hand of opportunity to those who know suffering, and provides incentive for change to those who have known only stasis.

Wilson continued: “The engagements of justice do not stand of themselves.” They do not. They stand on the hard work and good will of men and women like you: Americans who struggle out of sight to transfer a message of hope into a roadmap for action.