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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott
Remarks to the Denver Summit of the Eight Initiative on Democracy and Human Rights
Washington, DC, October 1, 1997

Blue Bar

Democracy and the International Interest

As Delivered

Thank you, John [Shattuck]. I'd like to welcome all of you to the Benjamin Franklin Room. Old Ben, who is an observer of these proceedings from the end of the room there, is honored on these premises because, as Messieurs Causeret and LeFort surely know, he was the first American Minister to France -- in fact, the first American Minister to serve overseas in any country. On a personal note, I identify with him because he was a balding journalist who, in mid-career, successfully impersonated a diplomat for several years.
Secretary Albright sends her greetings to all of you. She's in New York at the United Nations, so she could not be here herself; but she has asked me to convey to you her personal commitment to the enterprise in which you've been involved for the past two days.
When our leaders launched the Denver Initiative on Democracy and Human Rights, they were adding a missing -- and I would add, sorely missed -- piece to the mission that they had originally assigned themselves twenty-seven years ago, when six of their predecessors met in Rambouillet for the first of what became annual summits of the world's major industrialized democracies -- and I emphasize the word democracies. Before the Denver Summit, the eight countries represented here did not have a mechanism for dialogue and cooperation on the cluster of issues that you have been discussing. Over these twenty-seven years, our colleagues from the finance ministries have been in the habit of meeting with some regularity to discuss trade and currency. Our political directors have years of experience planning the diplomatic work of Summits.
More generally, the advocacy and promotion of human rights and democracy have too often been the orphans, or at least the poor cousins, of our common agenda. I suspect that many of you have encountered -- perhaps even within your own ministries -- the perception that those issues are, at best, second-order objectives -- luxuries in which practitioners of realpolitik can ill afford to indulge; a distraction of attention and a diversion of resources from the serious work of foreign policy; or, worse, that they represent a misguided, naïve attempt to impose "our" peculiar standards and models of governance on other political cultures, sometimes with disruptive or even disastrous results.
John Shattuck and others of us who work in this building have from time to time heard variations on these themes. Our answer to the skeptics, the critics, and the self-styled realists is straight-forward: look at history, and look at the world around us. Democracy contributes to safety and prosperity, both in national life and in international life -- it's that simple. The ability of a people to hold their leaders accountable at the ballot box is good not just for a citizenry so enfranchised -- it is also good for that country's neighbors, and therefore for the community of states.
The world has now had enough experience with democracy -- and with the absence of it -- to have established a track record, a body of evidence That record shows that democracies are less likely than non-democracies to go to war with each other, to persecute their citizens, to unleash tidal waves of refugees, to create environmental catastrophes, or to engage in terrorism. And democracies are more likely to be reliable partners in trade and diplomacy.
That proposition holds with particular force in the increasingly interdependent world in which we now live. With trade, travel, and telecommunications linking our countries more closely together than ever, each of us has a growing stake in how other nations govern, or misgovern, themselves.
All of which means that there is a hard-headed, national-interest-based rationale for weaving the promotion of human rights and democracy into the fabric of our diplomacy as a whole. It is, precisely, an imperative of realpolitik, not just of idealpolitik.
It is also an imperative of sound economics. That indispensable companion of democracy -- rule of law -- helps enable a country to attract foreign investment and develop a market economy. Secretary Albright's commitment to this principle is personified by the appointment of John's and my friend Paul Gewirtz as her special counsel for rule of law.
Overall, the past two decades have seen extraordinary progress. For the first time in history, the global community of democracies now encompasses over half of the world's population. The wave that swept away dictatorships in Portugal, Spain, and Greece in the mid-1970s spread during the '80s to countries that many of us never imagined we would live to see hold real elections. The end of the Cold War and the democratic revolution in what used to be the Soviet world have removed the last half century's one anti-democratic ideology with global pretensions.
Yet despite all these auspicious developments, there's a great deal of pessimism and cynicism in the conventional wisdom these days. The notion persists that some peoples are unsuited to democracy: that Asians are predisposed to live under Confucian authoritarians, Latin Americans under caudillos or comandantes, Africans under tribal chiefs, Arabs and Persians under repressive theocrats, Russians under czars or commissars or General Secretaries. Such stereotypes of national character are not just simple-minded and demeaning -- they are downright damaging in their effect on the countries in question and dangerous to the international common good. Especially in an interdependent world, our attitude toward other peoples has a considerable effect on their attitudes toward themselves -- on their aspirations and their apprehensions. Ethnocentric prejudices, like prophecies of doom, can be self-fulfilling. Too much talk about -- and too much belief in -- a clash of cultures can bring about just such a clash. Again, for the most hard-headed of reasons, we should grant to other countries both the entitlement to, and the capacity for, political freedom if they are to have any chance of attaining it.
By the same token, it would be perverse in the extreme if we were to consign whole nations to despotism on the theory that it is the fate they deserve, or that it is somehow encoded in their genes.
Another theme of pessimism holds that it is the morning after for democracy; that a hangover has set in; that the wave of good news from the '80s is giving way to a counter-wave of bad news in the '90s.
Certainly there have been plenty of reminders in the last few years that the transition is long and hard, especially for countries where political progress is hostage to economic disadvantage. Poverty, underdevelopment, and stagnation are by no means alibis for tyranny, but they are, without doubt, obstacles to freedom and openness. In many countries, the gap between the poor and the wealthy is widening as the state undergoes a double transition -- from authoritarian to democratic politics and from centralized to market economies. Some regions have the added burden of unsustainable population growth. Even with freely elected and well-intentioned leaders, a country where a rising birthrate outpaces economic growth and exhausts natural resources is unlikely to sustain democratic rule.
In the post-Communist world especially, a sense of relief and good-riddance over the dismantlement of the old, inefficient top-heavy command system has, to one degree or another, given way to widespread resentment at what often seems to be the cruelty and inequity of the market, insecurity over the absence of a safety net and disillusionment, not to mention dread, in the face of burgeoning criminality.
Another problem is that newly enfranchised citizens tend to have unrealistically high expectations of what their elected leaders can accomplish, how long it will take, and with what degree of attendant hardship and pain. When those expectations are unmet, voters become vulnerable to demagogues, to purveyors of foolish, even sinister nostrums based on the deadly combination of nostalgia for the past and fear of the future.
To believe in democracy and the rightness of what our leaders have asked us to do is not to deny any of these difficulties. Nor is it to assert that there is anything foreordained about the triumph of democracy on a global scale. In fact, it is precisely because the future of democracy is not assured in much of the world that the countries represented here must work hard to help nascent democracies through their phase of greatest fragility. In many instances, our support is absolutely indispensable.
And that support must be, to the greatest extent possible, collective and coordinated. If we work together in the promotion of human rights and democracy, there is reason to hope that the principle of synergy will kick in -- that the whole will be more than the sum of its parts. The influence of each of our countries -- and of the EU and the EC -- will be greatly magnified.
That is partly because, when we speak and act in concert, we are not merely individual nations pursuing individual and therefore presumably selfish goals; rather we are a chorus of voices that can claim, with credibility and efficacy, to speak for an important part of the international community as a whole.
Another point: when we work together, we reflect not only values and objectives we have in common -- we also take into account the differences among us. Let me elaborate. We have a lot in common. We are united in our belief that people everywhere deserve the right to choose their leaders. In your proceedings here at this meeting, you have been hammering out a common approach to some of the key elements of democratization: from promoting good governance and the rule of law, to reinforcing civil society, to increasing the participation of women in political life -- something of which my boss, Secretary Albright, certainly approves -- and strengthening support for democracy-building in the business and labor sectors.
At the same time, each of our states practices democracy in different ways, in ways that are appropriate to its own national experiences. There are differences in the forms, the institutions and the practices by which we govern ourselves. We accommodate those differences in the way we interact with each other. That is an important part of the message we should convey to other states: just as we respect our own diversity, we respect theirs well.
Let me here raise a related issue that I realize is beyond the scope of this conference or this initiative, but it's an issue that could benefit greatly from the kind of honest and open discussion you've been conducting here. I'll pose it as a question: can we develop a common approach toward the breakdown of democracy -- and toward states that systematically defy the democratic values that we believe must undergird the international order?
My own sense is that eventually the answer can and should be yes. In this respect, too, global interdependence is a key factor. It gives us powerful leverage against those forces that are resisting democracy or seeking to rip it up by the roots. Just as interdependence increases the incentives for states to participate fully in the international community and the global economy, so it also raises the costs to be borne by any state excluded to one degree or another from the benefits of belonging to that community. The fact or even the threat of such exclusion translates into potentially decisive pressure against would-be dictators or putschists. When the family of democratic nations responds in concert to the overthrow of democracy, the chances of democracy surviving or being restored are much higher.
Let me cite an example from this hemisphere. Last week, less than half a mile from here, at the headquarters of the Organization of American States, the foreign minister of Venezuela deposited his country's instrument of ratification, thereby bringing into force an amendment to the OAS's charter called the Protocol of Washington. That agreement gives the OAS the authority to suspend the membership of any country in which a freely elected government is in jeopardy. It is nothing less than a collective defense of democracy -- and a collective deterrent against the enemies of democracy.
Even before the formal addition of this amendment to its charter, the OAS successfully defended democracy against actual or threatened coups in Peru, Guatemala, and Paraguay. And in Haiti, the OAS and the United Nations together reinstated a democratically elected president. UNSC Resolution 940 was a landmark: for the first time the UN galvanized international action to restore democracy and authorized the use of "all necessary means" in pursuit of that goal.
Another example of multinational cooperation in support of democracy is more recent. About three weeks ago in Bosnia, the international community supervised surprisingly successful municipal elections that are a critical element of our collaborative strategy to help the people of that shattered land continue the slow, troubled, uneven but crucial task of constructing a stable, unified state.
Just the mention of Bosnia provides a potent reminder of how difficult this whole subject is. I gather from John that in your own discussions yesterday and today, you have spoken more about democratization than about democracy. That is, I think, the right terminology. "Democracy" sounds like an absolute, a state of grace, a destination at which one has arrived. "Democratization," by contrast, sounds more like a process -- a long and painful journey that requires patience and persistence, fortitude and resilience, first from the democratizers themselves, but also from those of us who support them. No society can transform the way it governs itself overnight or in a year or even in a decade. Democratization is the work of a generation or more. That is in part because establishing a real democracy means more than simply drafting a constitution and having a single election.
In this regard, and in conclusion, I would like to strike a note of self-reflection on behalf of your American hosts. I know that we Yanks sometimes talk and act as though we invented democracy -- that the concept of a ballot box has a made-in-the-USA label on it, like a pair of Levis or a can of Coke. That's not the way we really think about it -- or at least it's not the way we should. Rather than seeing democracy as an American idea that we Americans have vigorously exported to the rest of the world, we should properly think of it as a universal ideal -- an inalienable right and aspiration of men and women everywhere -- that was largely in abeyance for more than two millennia since the Age of Pericles, that then found a home on these shores, and that has gone on to make much of the rest of the world its home as well.
Certainly that is the way Ben Franklin saw it -- along with his colleagues Jefferson and Madison, who were also alumni of this Department. And certainly our national experience here in the United States bolsters the case for taking the long view even as we face the difficulties of the moment. When we look at the many new democracies in the world today, our determination to help is rooted in admiration, not condescension. We look at how far they have come in a few short years, and we think about how long it has taken us to get it even approximately right here in the United States. We became a "new independent state" 221 years ago, in 1776. It took another 11 years after independence to draft a constitution, 89 years to abolish slavery, 144 to give women the vote, and 188 to extend full constitutional protections to all citizens. Even today we Americans are still engaged in debates -- often quite rancorous -- about the writ of the state, about the rights of the individual, and about the role of community in a mass culture.
In short, democracy -- sorry: democratization -- is a work in progress, for old independent states as well as new ones. And it's work that we Americans are proud to be doing with all of you.
Thank you very much.

[End of Document]

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