Democracy Promotion and Nation Building in United States Foreign Policy-The U.S. Model Reconsidered
The Paris office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3 partnered and organized an international symposium on “Democracy Promotion and Nation Building in United States Foreign Policy - The U.S. Model Reconsidered, From the Post-Cold War Balkans to the Arab Revolts”, on Thursday the 18th and Friday the 19th of October 2012 at France-Amériques, Paris.
Bringing together renowned European and American experts and academics, this symposium addressed – through five panel discussions and six keynote speeches – a large range of issues regarding the ways in which the debate concerning democracy promotion and ‘nation-building abroad’ has evolved from the end of the Cold War to the Obama administration. The speakers addressed issues such as the adaptation of American strategic culture to the changing global environment, the question of whether the traditional model of U.S. democracy has been tailored to the new geopolitical context and the way it has helped shape transitions to democracy, the use of the American military to promote democracy and governance in theaters of operation, the new tools used by the U.S. administration in promoting democracy, and whether traditional tools are still adapted. The panels addressed the future of American democracy promotion efforts, in a comparative approach, by dedicating one panel to the European concepts and practice of democracy promotion and another to the emergence of alternative models of democracy in a context of an increased challenging of the U.S. model.
PART I, 18 October 2012Panel I - Democracy Promotion in Post-Cold War U.S. Foreign Policy
Prof. Jeremi Suri,University of Texas at Austin, “The American Way of Nation-Building from the Founders to Barack Obama”
In his opening address, Professor Jeremi Suri gave a very comprehensive overview of the “American way of nation-building from the Founders to Barack Obama”, using five chronological examples (the Civil War, the 1901 Philippine-American War, Post-WWII Germany, the Vietnam War and finally the War in Afghanistan) to examine the evolutions of the American approach to the question of nation-building.
Professor Suri showed that nation-states have been, from the start, an American project: the United States’ efforts to spread nation-stateness have been constant since the late 18th c., and these endeavors are rooted in the vision of the Founding Fathers (reference to G. Washington’s “Farewell address” and A. Hamilton’s “society of states”). Each historical illustration – from the Post-Civil War period as the “first example of nation-building”, to the War in Afghanistan’s “New way to do nation-building” – reveals the diverse American attempts in this domain. Basing their actions on military power, legal systems or a pragmatic approach, the United States experienced very mixed results when engaging with nation-building processes, and did not always learn from past experiences precisely because of the great diversity of situations. Yet, Professor Suri argued that history teaches us to articulate a “5 Ps policy” (Partners, Process, Problem-Solving, Purpose, and People) that could constitute the basis of future nation-building operations.
- Prof. Pierre Melandri, Sciences Po Paris, “Is the U.S. a Model of Democracy for the 21st Century?”
- Prof. David Ryan, University College Cork, “U.S. Intervention and Democracy Promotion since the Vietnam War: A Tale of Legacies and Ghosts”
- Dr. Nicolas Bouchet, University of London, “Democratic Enlargement Revisited: Lessons from US Strategy and Democracy Promotion in the Clinton Administration”
- Dr. Annick Cizel, University Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3, “Shaping Democratic Transitions: Engineering the ‘People-to-People’ Development Agenda for a New Era”
The first panel discussed the construction of the American approach towards democracy promotion during the last 20 years, highlighting the great phases of its development as well as the key aspects that have defined its implementation.
Professor Mélandri examined the difficult reconciliation of the American democracy promotion policies of the last two decades with the crisis in US democracy during the same period. Indeed, the last attempts in democracy promotion – notably in Iraq and Afghanistan– need to be understood in the larger context of the transformation of American democracy's image: since the end of the Cold War, the American democratic model has been strongly discredited and its failure can be seen as the end of the ‘American Century. Professor Mélandri pointed out the impact of the disastrous foreign policy in the Middle East, but also the complex link between globalization and the Americanization of the world. Although he also argued that this democratic crisis was not solely an American one but was shared by most of the Western world, he portrayed a generally pessimistic view of the future of the American democratic model and of its consequences on future actions of democracy promotion.
Professor David Ryan focused on the construction of a historical narrative that produced the conditions in which US democracy promotion attempts could take place as they did. He showed that every important choice in foreign policy (referring among others to the Truman Doctrine and the Reagan Doctrine) was based on a biased view of past events, whilst the Bush doctrine was no exception. Democracy promotion in itself has rarely been a real motivation, but the narrative in which US foreign policy was formed (i.e., Regan’s “American Rebirth” after the Vietnam War and the difficulties faced in the 1970s) created the mental environment in which it could be advocated or not. Thus, by highlighting the “legacies and ghosts” that shaped American interventions and democracy promotion policies, Professor David Ryan showed how American foreign policy has been historically constructed since the Vietnam War, giving food for thought about more recent interventions.
Focusing on the foreign policy of the Clinton administration, Dr. Nicolas Bouchet, showed that the concept of democracy promotion was not controversial during the 1990s, and although it received mixed results/outcomes (often linked to the strategic gains that were related to it: success in Eastern Europe and failure in Latin America), the Clinton’s approach to democracy promotion has had an important impact on the administrations of Bush and Obama. More particularly, the institutionalization of democracy promotion was a significant feature of the Clinton strategy. But it also revealed the limits of American power in such endeavors, and their disappointed impact on democratic enlargement already questioned the whole process.
Drawing on a comparison between the Obama administration and the Eisenhower administration, Dr. Annick Cizel focused on the key aspects of Obama’s “‘People-to-People’ Development Agenda for a New Era”. She showed that the Obama administration has stood in a post-partisan posture on democracy promotion, with a strong emphasis on communities and leader-to-leader dialogue. These new diplomatic grounds have been revealed notably in Hillary Clinton’s ‘three Ds’ (for Defence, Diplomacy, and Development), but also in the attempt of de-militarizing the American involvement in nation-building processes (embodied by the notion of “Leading from Behind”). She also pointed out the increasing double regionalization of US foreign policy, with an evolution of center of interest (from Europe to Asia) but also with the delegation of the federal government to US states to engineer special bonds with foreign countries.
Panel II- The Contradictions of Post-9/11 Militarized Nation-Building
- Colonel Gian P. Gentile, United States Military Academy, West Point, “Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace with Counterinsurgency”.
- General Vincent Desportes, Conseil supérieur de la Formation et de la Recherche stratégique, HEC and Sciences Po Paris, “American Strategic Culture: Impossible Victories in Tomorrow’s Wars”
In their opening talk, Colonel Gian P. Gentile and General Vincent Desportesdiscussed several caveats for the future of US military strategy.
General Desportes presented an articulated analysis of American strategic culture and the trap it has become for the United States in the contemporary world. Indeed, he argues that Americans have not yet engaged strategically with “tomorrow’s wars”, as American strategic culture still defines a true war as a Clausewitzian one. This type of conflict does not exist today, and the United States faces the difficult task to efficiently use only part of its immense power. That has led to an obsession for technical issues, which has been detrimental for strategic issues. Thus, General Desportes addressed the fundamental question of the use of conventional forces in today’s non-Clausewitzian conflicts.
Colonel Gentile developed a constructive argument on the danger of the dominant position counterinsurgency holds in American strategy today. According to him, “the idea of counterinsurgency as an operational method – as employed by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan is now a dead idea”. The belief that the US Army could implement counterinsurgency policies is rooted in the narrative that the US did not fail strategically during the Vietnam War, but rather that its higher military echelons did not know how to correctly implement it at the time. Col. Gentile argued that the failure does not lie in the men in command, but in a strategy that demands for the US military to do – in a very short time – foreign nation-building. In conclusion, the key strategic problem lies today in the complete discrepancy between the nature of the military tools and the objectives that are politically designed.
- Prof. Thomas Lindemann, University Artois-Lille 2, “The Limits of the U.S. Military as Tool for Democracy Promotion”
- Dr. Astri Suhrke, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway, “The Dangers of a Tight Embrace: Externally Assisted State Building in Afghanistan”
- Prof. David Cameron, University of Toronto,“Distinctive Challenges Facing the United States in Democracy Promotion and Nation-Building: the Case of Iraq”
- Dr. Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, German Marshall Fund of the United States, Sciences Po Paris, “After Iraq: Demilitarizing Regime Change, Mission Impossible?”
The second panel more precisely dealt with different case-studies to highlight the main contradictions of the use of military power in nation-building processes.
Prof. Thomas Lindemann analyzed the differences that could explain the failure and success of nation-building in Germany, respectively in the Post-WWI period and in the Post-WWII period. Interestingly, from a political and economic point of view, Germany was less likely to respond well to nation-building after WW2 than after WW1, but the main difference lies in the international recognition of Germany as a “human partner”. After the First World War, Germany was still perceived as an enemy, whereas the vanquished Nazi Germany was quickly treated as a potential member of an international partnership. Using this example, Prof. Lindemann underlined the importance of a consistent international engagement with a country underdoing a process of nation-building: by integrating Post-WW2 Germany very quickly, the international community avoided certain difficulties they faced after the First World War.
Considering the more recent War in Afghanistan, Dr. Astri Suhrke pointed out three major contradictions in the way the international coalition is attempting to do nation-building. The first contradiction is the link between waging war in Afghanistan and trying to build peace there. The second one deals with the differentiation between the foreign control of the Afghan territory and the local ownership of this territory, and the third one lies in the tension between dependence and sustainability (making Afghanistan a rentier state). Dr. Astri Suhrke underlined the importance of nationalism as a vector of success in nation-building (referring for example to the Kemalist Turkey) and the lack of national legitimacy resulting from foreign intervention.
Professor David Cameron and Dr. Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer examined, through different perspectives, the case of the American intervention in Iraq and its implication for future US attempts at nation-building. Professor Cameron showed that although certain positive evolutions have occurred at the micro-level, the regional consequences of the Iraq War are generally seen as tragic. A regime of “illiberal democracy” seems to have emerged, with fairly good elections but leaders who show little interest in the future of their country. Similarly, if Iraq has today a constitution, there is no constitutionalism in its political system. One decade later, the war's lessons learned show the importance of a better planning of the post-conflict situation and the readiness to stay for a longer time than anticipated. Dr. Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer focused on the legacy of the Iraq experience in the US foreign policy. Indeed, the Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War has shaped his response to the Arab revolts, by avoiding political interference and by choosing to “lead from behind” the scenes in Libya and excluding boots on the ground. Dr. de Hoop Scheffer also pointed out that the regional consequences have been largely negative, as Iran is today one of the main actors of Iraq political life, and as the Arab Revolts (contrary to what certain narratives may argue about a potential domino effect) were modeled in opposition to the Iraqi model of regime change brought from the outside. Finally, the Iraq War showed that the G.W. Bush administration’s ‘new kind of war’, i.e. waging war against a regime and not a nation, has failed as one cannot defeat a regime without affecting the society. Regime change inevitably entails a long and often painful process of social reconstruction.
Ivan Vejvoda, German Marshall Fund of the United States, “Democracy and Solidarity: A View from the Field”
In his keynote speech, Ivan Vejvoda shared his own personal experience as a subject and an object of nation-building and democracy promotion, through the specific case of Yugoslavia. He stressed the importance of taking into account history and national specificities in every step of the policy, but he also mentioned that certain elements – fundamental ones to succeed in building democracy – cannot be created and just appear on the way. Indeed, great figures and leaders emerge at a particular moment of history, and foreign intervention will never be able to yield these ‘miracles’. Finally, he declared that the key question that has to be asked after democracy promotion and nation-building operations is: for how long does the old regime survive within the new regime?
PART II, 19th October 2012
Sir Michael Leigh, German Marshall Fund of the United States, former director general for Enlargement at the European Commission.
In his opening speech, Sir Michael Leigh presented the European Union’s successes and limits in promoting democracy. The EU was awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Price for its long work on nation-building and democracy promotion and, according to Leigh, more specifically for the positive results of the 2004 enlargement. Thanks to particularly favorable circumstances (the new members’ societies were willing to “return to Europe”) the eastern half of the continent was integrated and their democratic institutions enhanced. But Sir Leigh also underlined the ability of the ‘EU umbrella’ to promote democracy beyond the enlargement process as the EU also tries to export its model to a ring of neighbours without integrating them (a soft form of enlargement based on a “more for more” policy). However, this method is less likely to apply to countries with very different historical developments (which explains the difficulties faced in the context of the Arab uprising). Thus the limits of the European democracy promotion lies in the difficult distinction between “Europeanizing” a nation and helping it to express its own potential.
Panel III - Lessons Learned from Democracy Promotion in Central-Eastern Europe and Latin America
- Dr. Christopher Bickerton, Sciences Po Paris, “From Brezhnev to Brussels: A Critique of EU ‘Member State-Building’ in Eastern Europe”
- Prof. Stephen G. Rabe, University of Texas, Dallas, “Nation-Building and Transitional Justice in Latin America”
- Prof. James Cohen, University Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3, “Reverse Democracy Promotion in the Americas: Interpreting the Honduran Coup and the Obama Administration’s Response (2009- )”
Dr. Christopher Bickerton, in his presentation untitled “From Brezhnev to Brussels: A Critique of EU ‘Member State-Building’ in Eastern Europe”, addressed Brussels’ inability to bring movements rejecting the European Union onto the democratic stage, especially in the Eastern European context. According to Dr. Bickerton, the general feeling is that people can change the government but not the policy. The political life is dominated by mainstream parties (usually pro-EU) and the possibility to democratically question European decisions barely exist. Dr. Bickerton thus uses the provocative comparison with Moscow’s domination upon Eastern European satelites to highlight the limits of democracy promotion inside the European Union. Much like in the time of Brezhnev, Eastern Europeans countries find their sovereignty limited by a foreign power and their ability to control their policies narrowed.
After presenting a long list of atrocities that occurred during the Cold War in Latin America,Professor Stephen G. Rabe showed how, for a generation now, these countries have transitionned to democratic structures. As the current leaders of the continent are the victims of yesterday’s military regimes, these new democracies are built on a very specific legacy and a need for justice. Professor Rabe stressed the symbolic power of certain justice decisions (such as the incarceration of Pinochet in London) to enhance the development of a democratic dynamic in Latin America. Similarly, the United States, by taking responsibility for its involvement in this history, can help heal the wounds left by the dictatorships and foster the stability of the new regimes.
Professor James Cohen, also dealing with democracy promotion in Latin America, pointed out the divergences between the United States’ strategic aims in the region and its agenda in terms of democracy promotion. The Obama administration did not fundamentally change this fact: the American engagement with Latin America has remained inconsistent and subjected to lobbies and domestic pressures. Professor Cohen notably illustrated his argument by using the examples of Colombia (where the United States are opening seven new military bases while promoting the autonomy of the continent) and Honduras (where a military coup was portrayed as democratic by Washington as it overthrew a rather leftist leader and had positive implications in terms of antidrug policies).
Panel IV - Soft Tools of Democracy Promotion: Philanthropy, NGOs and Social Networks
- Prof. Inderjeet Parmar, City University London, “American Philanthropy, Democracy Promotion and U.S. Foreign Policy”
- Dr. David Cadier, London School of Economics, “The European Endowment for Democracy: a Central European Replication, into EU Structures, of a US Instrument?”
- Dr. Pavol Demes, German Marshall Fund of the United States, “NGOs and Democracy Promotion: Sharing the Eastern-Central European Experience to Post-‘Arab Spring’ Northern Africa?”
Prof. Inderjeet Parmar presented his future article untitled “American Philanthropy, Democracy Promotion and U.S. Foreign Policy” linking Peace Theory, Democracy Promotion, and the American foreign policy of the last decade. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has mostly rejected the idea of balance of power and embraced a more aggressive policy of promotion of democratic peace. Democracy promotion has been used to promote the American power itself, and the neoconservative foreign policies of the 2000s are only the results of a longer theorization of interventionism based on the link between democracy and peace.
Dr. David Cadier focused on the construction of the European Endowment for Democracy (EDD) and its instrumental power for European democracy promotion. As the EED has only emerged for a few months, it is still a ‘context’, and despite having a status and a structure, this new structure raises more questions than it provides answers. This initiative seems to open new horizons for European democracy promotion – maybe more influenced by the American model – and the debate lies between “development approach” and “political approach”. According to Dr. Cadier, the EDD, along with the important questions that it will have to deal with (such as: can we target groups to promote democracy? Which tool can help finding the right civil society? Will the “more for more” condition last?) has the potential for new European actions in the field of democracy promotion.
Finally, Dr. Pavol Demes used his personal experience as an actor of democracy promotion to highlight the importance of human interactions in the process. His work has led him to think the potential similarities between democracy promotion in Eastern Europe after the Cold War and current democracy promotion policies in the Arab World. He stressed the need to explain much better what Western countries aim to do and why they do it: the very idea of promoting democracy remains a questionable issue. He also argued that the term of “democracy” should be avoided, but rather insist on decentralization of power that would give more control to local actors.
Thomas Carothers, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Can U.S. Democracy Policy Adapt to a Changing World?”
In his keynote speech, Thomas Carothers pointed out the necessity for American democracy promotion to adapt to a new context, as the optimism of the late 1980s and 1990s have been replaced by a more complex and unpredictable world. For the United States, it is particularly difficult to accept the relative loss of power after the great victory of the Cold War. On the contrary, Washington must now acknowledge rivals and project a different message about democracy promotion (symbolized for example by President Obama’s promise to work on democracy in the United States), which is often seen as a sign of weakening of the American power. The solutions lie in a more multilateral and humble approach: the outsider actor of democracy promotion is not the agent for change (and should not aim at implementing a model) but a facilitator.