Democracy and the Future of the Transatlantic Community
As the Postwar Consensus gives way to a more complex and splintered democratic reality, transatlantic leaders find themselves in unfamiliar waters. While they battle economic crisis and political discord at home, democratic movements and aspirations for political reform have spread to lands previously thought inhospitable to egalitarian ideals.
Mindful of this global environment, GMF Warsaw Office, together with the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies (GCMC) and the Transatlantic Academy (TA), hosted the conference: “Democracy and the Future of the Transatlantic Community” on May 21-22 in Warsaw, Poland. This event featured the TA’s report on the state of democracy in the West and a series of panel discussions that engaged eighteen senior-level thinkers with close to one hundred guests. In their opening remarks, Andrew Michta, Director of GMF Warsaw Office, Dr. Robert Brannon Dean of GCMC, and Dr. Stephen Szabo, TA Executive Director outlined a cautiously optimistic outlook for the future of democracy. Dr. Michta called this political system “the glue of transatlantic relations,” and cited the need for the transatlantic community to refocus on acting as community of democratic values. In light of claims of democratic stagnation and “backsliding,” Dr. Szabo identified strong state and international leadership as indispensable tools to overcoming obstacles impugning the establishment of democratic society. Each scholar concluded by remarking on the importance of the Polish model as a catalyst for democratic growth and promotion beyond its traditional Western bounds.
Minister Jerzy Pomianowski utilized his keynote speech to advocate for a strategy of democracy support instead of democracy promotion in the transatlantic community’s interaction with democratizing states. Democracy support allows democracy to grow organically, gain grassroots legitimacy and ultimately become a self-implemented system. Citing the failure of foreign attempts to impose democracy, the Minister argued that policy makers must address each case with fresh ‘pair of eyes’ and not simply apply old solutions. This asks policy makers to pay special attention to how different the American and Western European democratization experiences were from modern movements in Eastern Europe and the Arab Spring. Given that democracy cannot exist in isolation, recognizing these differences provides the means for intelligent support that can address each democratizing state’s specific needs, and better ensure a positive outcome.
The Transatlantic Academy’s Senior Fellow, Dr. Richard Youngs opened the first session by presenting the group’s report on the state of democracy in the West. The following discussion posited that modern challenges are stretching the abilities of institutions in older democracies to their limits. The panelists stated that the preponderance of these problems reflected the global disconnect between the atrophy of aging political institutions and contemporary trends in societal mobilization. For this reason, it would be prudent to modernize aging democratic institutions in order to allow more public engagement in open and substantive debates. This would allow governments to better serve its citizens and bolster the legitimacy of the democratic model, revitalizing the growth of popular government in democratizing states.
The second discussion panel investigated the questions accompanying democracy support in Europe’s periphery. The need to engage institutional mechanisms with societal and individual actors was addressed as participants sought solutions to the weak society/weak state nexus plaguing the expansion of democratic development into Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. In the absence of a “silver bullet,” the transatlantic community must consider each state independently if they are to correctly identify and engage the proper agents of change for democratization. Additionally, it is impossible to overstate the importance of religion in states transformed by the Arab Spring and throughout the Middle East. As important as it is to understand the contexts of democratizing states, Pavol Demes, GMF Transatlantic Fellow, argued that it is equally critical for states receiving democratic support to understand the rationale behind each provision. An open, two-way dialog would more efficiently implement democratization strategies and better manage strategic partnerships between distinctly different cultures.
The final discussion weighed the role of the United States in the future of democratic support, specifically during Obama’s second term. David Kramer, President of the Freedom House Foundation, asserted that American leadership was essential to the transatlantic community’s collective security, human rights, and democratization efforts. Not intending to overstate the importance of American engagement, he agreed that the transatlantic partnership desperately needed a renaissance in order to jointly address the multitude of problems in the modern global order. The panel pointed to American and European “democratization fatigue” as a culprit behind the partners’ clumsy or nonexistent reactions to the Arab Spring and Iran’s Green Movement. Differing interests and priorities have also allowed the relationship to stagnate, prompting participants to discuss the need to relink the American and European foreign policy agendas. The hope would be to lessen the relationship’s dependence on military interests, especially during a time when both sides of the Atlantic seem less interested in military deployment.
At the conclusion of the conference, it was remarked by Krzysztof Stanowski, President of the Solidarity Fund, that democracy cannot be painted as an exercise for the few or as an exclusively Western experience. Instead, transatlantic leaders should see from the Mongolian example that the presence of democrats, mobilization for political reform, and contextually appropriate institutional structures can create a lasting democratic structure. This example is encouraging. As participants discussed regularly throughout the conference, democracy cannot exist in a vacuum. Democracies, like all governments, invariably interact with other global actors, creating spillovers. While Mongolia could bolster the appeal of democracy as its success becomes more pronounced, the threat of negative spillovers from failed democratization efforts should remind transatlantic leaders of the importance of actively supporting states attempting to transition to democratic rule.