“Only a decade ago, the Clinton administration …..spoke as if the final triumph of liberal, rights-observing democracy was just a matter of time,” The Economist recently observed. But Western democracies have grown “shy” about insisting on universal human rights and – as others have noted – similarly timid about promoting democracy. Some observers even suggest that the democratic idea itself has lost its lustre.
“The shift stems partly from the Western powers’ loss of global heft,” it suggests. “Some powers now emerging—India, Brazil and South Africa—are robust democracies, but they still resist the idea of teaming up with the old West to back liberal values, notably in votes at the UN.”
Constrained by a blend of ideological and economic interest, some newly emerging democracies are prioritizing sovereignty over liberty and refusing to lend their weight to the democracy promotion agenda.
“Western officials had expected that stable developing-world democracies like India, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil, and Turkey would emerge as powerful advocates for democracy and human rights abroad,” said analyst Joshua Kurlantzick. “But as they’ve gained power, these emerging democratic giants have acted more like cold-blooded realists.”
The Community “has been transformed from a forum for democracies to get together into a platform for democracies to get things done,” said Wendy Sherman, US Under Secretary for Political Affairs. The timing could not be better, she told the inaugural meeting of the group’s Governing Council, as “we stand at the confluence of a stream of history that is bringing liberty to millions, and a stream of action that has renewed this Community.”
Against the backdrop of “the most significant wave of democratization since the founding of this organization in 2000,” she called on member democracies to address several key questions:
How do we harness the potential of a newly empowered Community of Democracies to advance democracy at this moment of historic change? How do we define the Community’s place and comparative advantage in a global ecosystem of many international organizations? And how do we ensure that the Community continues generating concrete results rather than simply meetings and declarations?
Today, on behalf of the United States, I would like to suggest three principles that can help guide our answers.
First, in this season of democratic change, the Community’s success will be measured in large part by its ability to support the transitions underway in the world’s emerging democracies. Every nation at this meeting – including the United States – has had help in its transition. …..The Democracy Partnership Challenge launched at the Vilnius Ministerial is an example of how we can use the CD to channel concrete support to countries in the midst of promising transitions.
Second, with actors outside of government driving much of the democratic change we are witnessing in the world, civil society should remain an integral part of the . One of this organization’s greatest strengths is its ability to provide a platform for working with – and strengthening – civil society. The Community’s working group on defending civil society offers a case study in how partnerships between governments and civil society can yield outstanding results. …..
Third, we must ensure that members of the Governing Council share a commitment to the principles on which the CD is founded – and a willingness to back up that commitment with concrete support. Our effectiveness depends on it. Members of the Governing Council are supposed to make financial contributions to the work of the CD, second diplomats to the Secretariat, and/or take an active role the CD’s working groups. The United States has taken all of these steps. We hope other nations will do so as well.