Foreign Policy on Democracy

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Boston College
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Promotion of democracy has been a building block of United States foreign policy for a long time, with presidents since Woodrow Wilson contributing in one way or another in the establishment and strengthening of democratic governance around the world. The importance of strengthening self-rule in form of democracy globally is crucial to the US peace and economic efforts, and should thus be carefully attended to. Recently, the United States foreign policy on democracy has seemed to fall into disarray, with heavy criticism on the way in which efforts are conducted, and the cost to the taxpayer, against the gains made from the activities.

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One of the greatest sources of misunderstanding includes the very definition of democracy. Clearly stating the meaning of the word is critical, not only to the formulation of policies, but also in the coordination and assessment of government activities and funding in support of democratic governments worldwide, (Epstein, Serafino & Miko, 2007). The prevailing definition currently enshrines the diffusion of powers, checks and balances in government institutions and with the society, as well as participation of the masses in processes of government, as stated by the Council on Foreign Relations. Working with this definition, the government promotes freedom of the media, multiple political parties, freedom of speech and religion among others. The US is particularly invested in ensuring smooth transition of power due to the recorded events of political instability, insecurity and wars during the process, (Epstein, Serafino & Miko, 2007).

Another issue that crops up is the existence of systems of governance that label themselves as being democratic without meeting the threshold for rights and privileges given to subjects by the government. Others meet the letter of the system, such as electoral processes, yet fail to meet the spirit of democracy, that of free and fair elections. In this category we have forms of government such as electoral, liberal, pseudo and semi-authoritarian democracies, (Epstein, Serafino & Miko, 2007). While most of the ideals pursued by these may not be in line with US foreign policies, they mostly include certain parts of democracy in order to be protected from sanctions, further complicating the interventional process.

For the government to effectively support democratic ideals globally, several considerations need to be made. The most important one is in prioritizing on countries that receive support from the government through bilateral and multilateral programs. The potential in non-democratic governments to turn to it and retain the ideals set in place varies widely. The Department of Foreign Policy ought to conduct sufficient feasibility studies to establish that enough promise of programs enacted bringing about permanent governance change in target states exists. Only then should the resources allocated to them be dedicated to efforts to promote democracy, (Epstein, Serafino & Miko, 2007).

The role played by the United States as the champion of democracy should never be underestimated. As a global superpower, events in America affect the world in a huge way, both economically, politically, and policy-wise. With that being said, the health of democracy has been found to depend in a big way on the public participation in the democratic process, (Foa & Mounk, 2016). As the leading torch of democracy worldwide, it is therefore deeply disconcerting that commitment to democracy among the younger generation has been on steady decline recently, as observed by Epstein, Serafino & Miko, (2007).

Another point to note is the backlash that has been met by some of the programs pushed by the government in foreign countries, (Bridoux, 2013). Coming from debilitating conservatism, traditionalism and often segregation from the rest of the world, some of the more liberal policies that have been evolving in the US for some time before becoming widely accepted have been met with resistance. LGBT rights are some of these policies that have received resistance in several countries, creating diplomatic tension that could easily be avoided. Adopting a more diverse model of political freedoms promoted could help to alleviate some of the unwanted tensions, as well as make relations better between the US and host countries.

In conclusion, foreign policy-makers should recognize that most of the freedoms enjoyed locally have been made so after years of action by the oppressed. Supporting efforts that make freedoms rather than sanctioning and cold-shouldering could be a more effective policy to reduce resistance. The standards of democracy in the country should also be maintained at a high level to retain the mentor status with which the US government is viewed by other less developed democracies.

Works Cited

Epstein S. B ., Serafino N. M. & Miko F. T. (2007) Democracy Promotion: Cornerstone of U.S. Foreign Policy? Congressional Research Service, available online at

Foa R. S. & Mounk Y. (2016) The Danger of Deconsolidation: The Democratic Disconnect, Journal of Democracy, Volume 27, Issue 3

Bridoux J. (2013) US foreign policy and democracy promotion: in search of purpose, International Relations, Vol. 27, Issue 2, Pp 235 240 DOI: 10.1177/0047117813489655b

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