The Myth of "Exporting" Democracy: Lessons from Eastern Europe after 1989
As the Obama administration defines its foreign policy agenda, voices around the world caution that the West cannot "export" democracy and should adapt more "modest" foreign policies. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, providing an opportune moment to review lessons learned in the postcommunist world that suggest that the United States and Europe should not retreat from their support for democratic reform abroad, but rather redefine the place of democracy promotion in a revitalized transatlantic agenda.
Foreign policy debates suggest that the lessons learned from the postcommunist world since 1989 must be reinforced and learned anew. Backsliding and rising authoritarianism has led experts to warn against "democratic pessimism" that could lead policymakers to pull back their support for democracy abroad. The Western Balkans and former Soviet Union highlight the limits of democracy promotion, the protracted difficulties of post-conflict states, and the potential for backlash by powerful states, challenges which will continue to confront policymakers in the coming years. Yet, the reinforcing role of international efforts also show that democracy promotion can provide resources and expertise to new democracies as they build and sustain reforms.