Great Seal logo Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary of State
For Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Remarks, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Washington, DC, January 12, 2001
Blue Bar rule

It's a pleasure to be here with so many of my predecessors and so many of my likely successors. As you know, the Carnegie Endowment is kind of a halfway house for former government officials and academics, so as I contemplate my return to the private sector, it's great to be at a place where the chairs are more comfortable, the sandwiches are bigger, and the cookies are homemade. It's really making me look forward to Yale.

The topic that I'm supposed to address is the Clinton administration's legacy on democracy promotion. Tom (Carothers of Carnegie) said the end is at hand and that reminds me of Kissinger's statement: Peace is at hand. Not to invoke the otherwise forgettable Harrison Ford movie "Six Days and Seven Nights," but we do have some time left in the administration. There are some things in the pipeline. People in this room are working like crazy and we'll wait until next week before we write the final scorecard.

I think some administrations are measured by their first 100 days. In our case, I think we hope the legacy will be measured in part by the last 100 days.

Whenever I hear a government official talk about their own legacy at the end of their term -- and we're getting a lot of that in Washington these days -- I'm reminded of the quote attributed to Oscar Wilde after he attended a colleague's retirement dinner. And when asked by a friend to summarize the colleague's incredibly self-congratulatory retirement speech, Oscar Wilde reportedly said, "By his own lights, he did his best, but his lights were few and dim. And his best was none too good."

I think the message is clear. Professors should not write their own report cards and neither should assistant secretaries. Legacy evaluations should be left for others, who have a little bit more opportunity and distance.

But that having been said, Tom, I'm grateful to you for giving me this chance to reflect on what we've accomplished during the Clinton administration and particularly my own experiences during my 26 months as Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. During this time I've traveled to more than 50 countries; I've made more than 150 foreign trips, all the while commuting from that hub of American transportation, New Haven, Connecticut.

It's been an incredible emotional journey for me as well because, as some of you recall, when this administration began, I was suing it for human rights violations as counsel of record in the Haitian refugee case. The Justice Department had filed a motion against me for Rule 11 sanctions or filing a frivolous lawsuit, although they ended that policy and reimbursed us for most of our costs and fees.

So, in the spring of 1998, when Madeleine Albright asked me to take this job, as the lead human rights official and defender of U.S. human rights practices, it was about the furthest thing from my mind and, to be honest, my first thought was whether I had a lot more to lose than to gain by coming into the government. But what made me decide to come was I was reminded of my former professor, the late Abraham Chayes, a former legal adviser at the State Department who later sued the U.S. at the World Court in the Nicaragua case.

He said, "Whether inside or outside the government, I've always thought there's nothing wrong with an American lawyer holding the United States to its own best standards" and that's what I've tried to do: to hold our policies to our own best standards, as well as those of other countries.

Now, I think the most critical thing to say is, obviously, I've only been part of a very large and dedicated team. You see the list of people who are here who started as colleagues and became, really, friends and family to me. There are too many to mention. But I do want to just say to all of you how much I'm grateful for everything you've done for me and for this cause.

Now, I think that in appraising how well we've succeeded -- I read Tom's paper, a thoughtful working paper. It's called "The Clinton Record on Democracy Promotion," which really ought to be subtitled "Two Cheers for the Clinton Administration's Democracy Policy." For those of you who haven't read the paper, it's terrific, as all of Tom's work is. But what it says is, in a nutshell: First cheer. The Clinton administration has wisely made promotion of democracy and human rights an organizing principle of its foreign policy. I agree and I accept the congratulations on behalf of my president.

Second cheer: those efforts, appropriately accelerated since Madeleine Albright became Secretary of State with two principal developments -- the main focus on certain democracy priority countries, in particular Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Ukraine; and second, what Tom called the institutionalization of democracy promotion, making it a mindset within the policy bureaucracy, not just at the State Department, but at USAID, USIA, and what he points out is an exponential growth in democracy assistance from about $100 million only 10 years ago to more than $700 million today.

And again, we accept the point. We think it's right. It was deliberate, and we think it ought to continue.

Third, and here's where Tom doesn't cheer so loudly, he points to a number of countries -- and we can talk about them in the Q and A -- where he says that the administration fell short of our rhetorical commitment to democracy. In his words, "We therefore did not revise fundamentally the semi-nihilist framework of U.S. policy."

And so for the three cheers of the three possible cheers, Tom concludes: our democracy policy concept was right, our trajectory was right, but our execution was incomplete. In other words, we ran out of time. In eight years, he said, we took democracy policy from what he calls realism to semi-realism, but we didn't make it all the way to Wilsonian idealism, and that makes it possible for the ball to roll down the hill and, like Sisyphus, for democracy promoters to have to start all over again.

Now, like all of Tom's work, particularly and here I hold it up for the camera -- his book "Making Democracy Abroad," -- is a genuinely important book, full of sharp insights with which I agree. And again, I won't surprise you and say that I accept the cheers for the concept. I accept the cheers for the trajectory, and I urge him just to cheer a little bit louder for the execution. Because I think that our democracy glass is not only not just half empty, but way more than half full. And secondly, more important, I think we have designed the glass right and in a way that other administrations -- whether they're Democratic or Republican -- will continue to build on.

But let me explain what I mean -- in the Q and A we can go country by country. In Tom's paper, he points to the fact that a number of countries, or a smaller number of countries, came into the democratic column in the late years of the administration. Now, that's obviously the wrong question. The question is where would those countries have been but for our efforts?

It reminds me of that same story that Jim Bouton tells about Mickey Mantle -- that he might not play a certain day, goes out and gets incredibly drunk, and then the next day, hung over, comes to the baseball park and is called upon and expected to be a different kid. And he hits a fantastic home run. Perhaps in running around the bases, he says to his team mates, looking up at the crowd, "Those people don't know how hard that really was."

As Elliott (Abrams) knows, it looked a lot harder over at Foggy Bottom than it did for me when I was at Yale, and I think, as we all know from watching the Olympics, that when you score a point, you score not just for execution but for degree of difficulty. And I would argue that the countries that Tom faults us for not doing more on or getting more results - countries like China, Iraq -- the degree of difficulty is extremely high. I think we did the right things. We have to keep doing them. But the fact that they did not convert overnight is not a statement that we were doing the wrong things.

Moreover -- and I think this is very important -- I think we started to identify where, if you have limited resources, which you do in democracy-promotion efforts through the government, you would get the most bang for the buck. And the reason is that, at the beginning of the administration, if you looked at the way that the money was being spent -- at that point only $100 million, but now $700 million in democracy assistance -- you would see that most of it was being spent for countries that were established democracies or those which Congress mandated be given money because they were so far from democracy -- China, Iran, Iraq and Libya, et cetera, the Cuban Democracy Act. All of these democracy acts are for countries where, in fact, you need a lot more than an appropriation by Congress in any given year.

What we have tried to do is to push the democracy policy into the middle - to those countries that are just entering the democracy column, like Indonesia, like Nigeria, and those that are just slipping back, like Pakistan, Cote d'Ivoire, Fiji, and to try and develop a consistent policy, so that we get the most bang for the buck. And we've taken that money up further. What we are leaving for the next administration, and a number of the people who have worked on this project, is an effort to identify factors that make particular countries more receptive and more likely to respond favorably to democracy-promotion efforts, and thereby, try to channel our government resources more effectively toward those countries.

The next one -- and I think this is the really fundamental one that I'd like for you to take away -- is that, even as Tom praises us for the concept, I don't think he fully describes the forest that we were trying to deal with. And my point really is, although we may be running out of time, we did not run out of ideas.

So let me clarify what was the concept, what were we trying to say. Second, what was the strategy, what have we been trying to do.

And then, in the question and answer, we can talk about the execution - how much did we actually accomplish country by country after eight years of putting our noses to the grindstone and where are we at, what are the successes? And I'm sure people we have their own examples of that.

First, what was the concept?

I think what Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger and others said -- Tony Lake -- was that we need a 21st century human rights and democracy policy, one that is sustainable across administrations, one that is neither realist or idealist to use an old dichotomy, but practically idealist, namely, integrating democracy and human rights as a core value to be promoted as part of our foreign policy. And the critical notion was that values are a part of our interests and that the globalization of human freedom, which is the most important social revolution of my time, is both an end and a means. We want more people around the world to be free because it is a good of itself and because it is means. It's a means to solving other global problems. Global democracy solves global problems. It solves problems of political insecurity. It solves problems of economic security. It addresses the issues of environmental degradation, health and human rights, and therefore, our democracy-promotion efforts will promote our human rights efforts, and our human rights promotion efforts will support our democracy efforts.

Now, the best way to illustrate that is to point to the now-famous map or two maps of the world as it existed in 1975, in which 30 countries had adopted a democratic form, and as it stands now -- 120 countries which have adopted the democratic form, although we could argue about how many of those countries have genuine commitments to democracy in the way that they do business.

And I think the first and most obvious point is, then and now, the non-democratic countries are the ones that pose the most problems for our foreign policy, and the democratic countries are the ones who are the best allies in terms of bringing about improvements or solutions. And the globalization of human freedom has had the result that there are many, many more opportunities for collaborative efforts among democratic institutions.

I think another part of the idea here -- and this was one, again, on which Democrats and Republicans agree -- is that we don't just promote elections, but we help democratic institutions and, more fundamentally, democratic culture because if culture and institutions are strong, we can survive a bad election. I mean in our own country, one might say because we have such a strong democratic culture and institutions, it doesn't really matter the way any particular election goes because the democracy is secure.

So my message is we are all small-d democrats now. The 21st century approach is how to best use and expand the democracy areas of this map, and that therefore, our approach to human rights is fundamentally prevention, not pathology, because by promoting a world in which government structures are largely ones in which people have control over their own lives, there's a greater chance that there will be fewer human rights violations. That is the unifying field theory, the integrated theory, which began to be developed in the Reagan administration, the Bush administration, the Carter administration, but was, I think, brought to fruition and made rhetorically a centerpiece of our foreign policy in the Clinton administration, particularly under Madeleine Albright.

And my point about this concept is-- if you get the structure of the glass right, other people can fill it. But I think it is only now that we got that piece of it done.

Okay, second -- what was the strategy?

There are five dimensions on which we tried to develop this policy. First, the normative dimension. We got beyond simply talking about the right to be free of various kinds of governmental violations, and moved more to the notion that people have a right in the 21st century not just to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, the right to associate, economic, social and cultural rights, but to forms of government that guarantee those rights -- in other words, that they have a right to democracy itself.

And we promoted that standard-setting exercise through two successive resolutions at the UN Human Rights Commission, at the UN General Assembly, and most recently and prominently in the Warsaw Declaration in the first Community of Democracies meeting in June that was attended by some 106 countries.

The second dimension, which I've already discussed, the horizontal dimension, is making sure that we're properly evaluating where democracy deficits exist, horizontally, and then devoting our resources where they pay off the most -- if not in this country, then in the neighboring country, where you get the most bang for the buck.

Third, the vertical dimension -- what has been known by Tom as high policy versus low policy -- how to make sure that programs and policy and public diplomacy are integrated so that our money and our talk follow policy directives that are made by our central policy makers. And that was certainly facilitated by coordination and institutional integration between AID, USIA and the State Department.

Fourth, the multilateral dimension, the idea that democratic governments should engage with each other in intergovernmental forums as democracies, fund common interests and promote common values. After all, the landlocked states of the world, the island nations, deal as caucuses or as joint consciences in various international forums. Why not democracies? And this was the genius, I think, of the approach that made democracies an issue for which my colleague and friend, Mort Halperin, and Ken Kimball, who are here, deserve the greatest credit.

And fifth and finally, the private and public dimension of democracy promotion, the notion that transnational actors like the Carnegie Endowment, NED, NDI, IRI, various think tanks, NGOs, are all working on the same kinds of issues. I see John Fox, so I mention OSI as well, particularly the development of the civil society, the development of democratic institutions, rule-of-law structures, et cetera.

So that's the structure of the glass. We have the integrated approach and we were pushing on all five dimensions. So, then, the question is how do you execute this strategy.

Well, I think Tom correctly identifies two things we tried to do -- localizing democracy; namely, thinking that it's possible to achieve these global democratic developments in every country in the world, and to bring about democratization even in countries that don't have a democratic form -- for example, greater capacity of people to control their own lives in countries in North Africa, such as Morocco or Tunisia or Jordan or Syria when a new government comes in or a new king comes in.

Second, I think Tom has correctly identified institutionalizing democracy promotion as a core feature or a core task. And finally, I think Tom has identified networking between private and public entities as another task that's a key part of the execution.

But there are two other tasks that I think are critically important and on which I think the next administration will build, whichever way the chads have fallen, and that is first prioritizing, matching resources to policy, and choosing countries with which we get the most bang for the buck; and second, what I'd call bipartisanizing this agenda. Like the corruption agenda, the good-governments agenda, the rule-of-law agenda, the religious-freedom agenda, these are not agendas that should be turned on and off every four years depending on who gets elected. The United States government as a whole has an interest in the globalization of freedom as a means and an end, and, whoever is the president, whoever is the secretary of state, and whoever is in my role, that ought to be pursued.

In short, the U.S. government's role in fostering the globalization of human freedom should be nurtured at the conceptual level, at a strategic level, at the level of implementation. And in that struggle, which I think a many, many-year struggle, we don't shed our commitments when we change jobs. We simply change hats. And for me, as someone whose parents came to this country as immigrants because they sought democracy and human rights, my commitment to these will continue for as long as I live and wherever I am.

Thank you.

[end of document]

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