Supporting democracy: engaging and developing policies with transition countries – the role of rising global actors?
Conference report, Monday 23 April – Wednesday 25 April 2012 WP1177
Rising democratic powers such as Brazil, Indonesia, India, South Africa, and Turkey serve as powerful examples of the universal appeal of democracy and possess unique experiences with democratization. They have a valuable role to play in international efforts to advance political reform and democracy, but are often hesitant to cooperate on these issues with established democratic powers in the United States and Europe. Policy-makers, analysts, and civil society representatives from these rising democracies and their counterparts in established democratic powers met in Istanbul with the following aims: to explore and improve understanding of differing conceptions of how best to support democracy internationally; to identify how to build cooperation in concrete situations; and to shape realistic expectations about potential collaboration between rising global actors and established democratic powers.
Key issues arising from the discussion include:
Both established and rising democratic powers are interested in supporting democracy and human rights abroad and have taken various actions to do so. They often differ, however, in the proper methods for such support, with rising global actors generally preferring engagement and being less comfortable than traditional powers with coercive actions such as sanctions or, exceptionally, military action. This heterogeneity of approaches sometimes causes diplomatic tensions, but can also be valuable in situations where pressure or dialogue alone is unlikely to be effective. The differences in approach between traditional and rising democratic powers can also be overstated, however, with rising global actors sometimes assuming that Western powers rely more heavily on coercive means of democracy support than is the case in practice.
Distrust over foreign policy intentions continues to be a major obstacle to greater cooperation on democracy support. Countries in the developing world often believe that the democracy promotion rhetoric of established powers hides more self-interested objectives, though the level of scepticism varies considerably both within and among countries. Rising global actors can also be subject to such suspicions when they engage on democracy issues.
There is often a trade-off between neutrality and influence in democracy support. Supporting democracy in neighbouring countries is complicated as there are likely to be countervailing interests at stake, yet rising global actors are most likely to have both influence and an interest in engaging within their own regions. Established democratic powers are sometimes regarded with more suspicion than rising democracies in transition countries, but they continue to offer the vast majority of democracy support resources and may have significantly more diplomatic leverage
Rising democracies sometimes see democracy somewhat differently from established democratic powers, putting more emphasis on the importance of socio-economic rights and social justice. This can be a source of tension if it becomes a debate about whether socio-economic or civil and political rights are more important, but it could also open up new opportunities for cooperation around development issues.
Most democracy assistance does not involve the contentious geopolitical issues of sanctions or intervention and there are already important examples of internationalcooperation on democracy support. These include often low-profile triangular or minilateral cooperation between traditional donors, rising democracies, and recipient countries; an increased role for regional bodies in democratic norm-setting and enforcement; and international institutions devoted to democracy or related issues such as transparency and participation.
While greater collaboration among democracy supporters is valuable, it is important to remember that recipient country needs and priorities must drive the agenda. Democratization is a domestically-driven process and external actors are only supporting actors. Domestic pro-democracy actors often have a complicated relationship with external democracy support, expressing both frustration at the lack of consistent international support for their cause and wariness about aggressive foreign interference, especially from Northern powers.