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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at USAID Democracy Conference
November 30, 2000, Washington, D.C.
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Blue Line

Leading For Freedom: America and Democracy in the 21st Century

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you, Brady, for your kind words, and congratulations to Jennifer Windsor and to everyone at USAID for the splendid work you are doing.

Excellencies from the diplomatic corps, Representative Moran, and other fellow small 'd' democrats, good morning.  I deeply appreciate the chance to participate in the kickoff of this timely conference.

For the past three weeks, democracy has been much on our minds.  Since November 7th, Americans have been given the equivalent of a quadruple-shot of democratic espresso.  Rarely in recent times have our institutions been so tested, and never has the importance of voting been so clear. 

Fortunately, when I became Secretary of State, I had all my partisan instincts surgically removed.  So my interest in the election has been entirely academic.  Although the process has been excruciating, I cannot help but be proud of the durability of American democracy. 

I have been particularly impressed by the average citizens in Florida who have worked hard to count ballots fairly so that everyone's voice is heard.  I must tell you, however, that if I should ever be blessed with another grandchild, it will not be named "Chad."

But I did not come here this morning to talk about the U.S. elections, for that would be inappropriate.  Nor do I intend to lecture you about the "do's and don'ts" of promoting democracy, for there is no need.  No one knows better than you how to build and strengthen democratic institutions. 

USAID, guided by Brian Atwood and Brady Anderson, spearheaded by its Center for Democracy and Governance, and bolstered by its many partners, has become the world's heavyweight champion of democracy.

In this room are many of the globe's leading experts on the links between development and democracy, the importance of sharing best practices, and the need to make the most out of scarce resources. 

I will echo Brady and say how extremely pleased I am that State and USAID have built such a truly productive partnership these past few years.  I thank you and salute you for all you do.  But I will not elaborate this morning on WHAT you do.

Instead, I want to talk about WHY all your hard work matters so much.  This is important, because the new Administration--whoever leads it--will have many choices to make about where to invest our resources. 

The incoming President and Secretary of State will have to make judgments about what our foreign policy priorities should be.  And they will have to think hard about America's proper global role. 

These are not easy decisions, and before making them, our new leaders will have to sift through an abundance of conflicting advice.

For example, there are still some among us who believe that promoting democracy does not qualify as real foreign policy.  They see little connection between fostering democratic values and the hard-headed pursuit of American interests.  In one sense, I love to hear such talk--because it makes me feel 40 years younger.  I think I'm back in the Cold War. 

In that era, we had an excuse to view almost every challenge through the prism of our rivalry with the Soviet Union.

But our wisest leaders understood that American foreign policy must always be shaped not solely on the basis of what we are against, but also on what we are for.  And our interests dictate that we should be FOR a world in which the democratic tide continues to rise.

The past half-century provides ample proof that democracy is more than just another form of government; it is also a powerful generator of international security, prosperity and peace.

After World War II, democracy helped Germany and Japan become integrated into the world economy and evolve into key allies of the United States. 

More recently, the promise of democracy inspired Solidarity, the Velvet Revolution and other movements that lifted the Iron Curtain and ended Cold War security threats. 

Since then, we have seen the brutal injustice of apartheid ended by democracy; civil wars in Central America and Mozambique cease when the parties chose ballots over bullets; an age-old conflict in Northern Ireland quieted through an agreement voted upon by both sides; and the Asian financial crisis eased when democratic leaders implemented reforms.

In Central and Eastern Europe, democratic gains have enabled historic rivals to address and resolve past grievances, permitted the enlargement of NATO, and opened the door to EU expansion.  Democracy has also spread to every part of the Balkans, and put Yugoslavia--along with Bosnia, Croatia and their neighbors--on the road to full participation in a Europe whole and free.

Closer to home, democratic progress in our own hemisphere has allowed us to work with our neighbors more closely than ever to broaden prosperity, address social ills, and expand the rule of law.  As one reflection of that, tomorrow I will attend the inauguration of Mexico's new President, following the freest elections in that country's history.

Looking ahead, we know that our security needs will be influenced greatly by whether freedom finds a foothold in key nations where democratic forces are currently repressed, and by whether democracy succeeds in Russia--where forces of openness and reaction presently clash.

We have learned that democracy provides no guarantee against aggression; but it's the best political insurance available.  Governments that are publicly accountable rarely start wars; while regimes that run roughshod over their own citizens are often indifferent to the rights of others.

Moreover, in recent years, destabilizing conflicts have erupted more frequently within societies than between them.  Here again, democracies have a clear advantage, because they embrace pluralism, encourage tolerance, and enable citizens to pursue change in a peaceful and lawful way.

Democracy also has the best record of fostering the stability, openness and dynamism required for development. 

Here, USAID is performing a mighty service by persuading global, regional and bilateral donors that democracy and development reinforce each other.  And by helping us all to understand that societies will grow quicker and stronger if their people are free to express their ideas, market their labor and pursue a better life.

This is in sharp contrast to the old argument, still made by some, that development must come first, after which democracy may be added, like frosting on a cake.  As UN Secretary General Annan said in a report last month, "Democratization gives people a stake in society...[and without that] lasting peace will not be possible and sustainable development will not be achieved."

In addition, democratic nations are the most likely to support timely international action to fight the global plagues of terror and proliferation, crime and disease.  Democracies foster civil society, while dictators fear it.  And civil society is often the key to action on challenges such as the environment, which have both local and worldwide impacts.

So the health of democracy is vital to America's interests.  And my central message this morning is that promoting democracy is not just right; it is also necessary and smart.

The question is how to go about doing it.  Under the Clinton Administration, we have developed a four-part approach.

The first is to join our strength to the strength of other nations that have clearly chosen the democratic path. 

We do this through joint initiatives with key allies and partners and through regional and global institutions.  For example, in Europe, the OSCE has become an increasingly vigorous advocate for democracy and human rights.  In the Americas, the OAS has lent timely support when democratic processes were threatened in Guatemala, Paraguay and most recently Peru.  And in Africa, the OAU has taken a firm stand in support of democratic principles.

Last summer, I joined the foreign ministers of Poland and five other countries in convening the first-ever Community of Democracies Conference.  Representatives from more than 100 nations, reflecting every region, culture and level of development, were present. 

While there, we approved the Warsaw Declaration, which spells out what democracy is and what it requires.  Those striving to institutionalize freedom can use the Declaration as a yardstick, measuring both what has been achieved in their countries, and what remains to be done.

We are engaged now in efforts to follow-up by encouraging governments to meet their commitments; better coordinating our pro-democracy assistance; and working more closely within international organizations--including a new and informal democracy caucus at the UN.

The second element in our strategy is to help nations in transition or where the democratic process is under stress. 

The roots of democracy extend back as far as Pericles, but freedom as a form of government did not blossom until our own era.  A century ago, there was not a national government on earth elected by universal suffrage.  Today, there are about 120.  The majority of people who have ever lived in a democracy are alive today.

With so many democracies so young, it is no wonder many are vulnerable.  In country after country, it is too early to say whether democracy has succeeded or failed.  Often, it has not met expectations, but expectations are not always realistic.  As USAID well knows, democratic institutions and values require time to evolve, especially in countries that lack a democratic tradition and are plagued by economic and social problems.

Over the past 18 months, the United States has made a concerted effort to assist four priority countries: Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Ukraine. 

These nations have different cultures, histories and challenges.  But each plays a pivotal regional role.  Each is struggling to improve the lives of its people through democratic means.  In each, the State Department and USAID have coordinated closely to assist civil society and promote sound governance.  And I hope very much that each will benefit from further pro-democracy initiatives during the next administration and beyond.

The same goes for our democracy and development efforts more generally.  By their nature, these require long-term commitments.  Unfortunately, attention spans today are often very short.  Much that matters never lands on the front page or hits the screen as "breaking news." 

But institutions are like tapestries; if you want them to last, you must weave them thread-by-thread, day-by-day.  And so we believe that every election that is free and fair, every economy that is nourished at the grass roots, every judicial system that is strengthened by reform, and every advance for human rights will make the democratic community stronger, and its growth more sure.

A third part of our strategy is to find appropriate ways to help democratic forces in countries that are not yet free.  For example, in Serbia, we joined our European partners in providing assistance to the democratic opposition.  We did this not to impose our values--quite the contrary. 

Our goal was to help the Serb people, and all of Yugoslavia, shape their own destinies and choose their own leaders. 

That's why USAID supported the training of thousands of domestic election observers, whose unbiased reports made the opposition's historic victory clear both within Yugoslavia and around the world.  But our assistance would have meant little if the Serb majority had not come together, stood up to Milosevic, and insisted that the victory they earned at the ballot box not be taken away. 

The role for outsiders in Yugoslavia remains strictly a supporting one.  We should do all we can as quickly as we can to assist the new leaders in Belgrade as they conduct new parliamentary elections, strive to meet urgent energy and other budgetary needs, and work to undo the harm caused by decades of Communist misrule.

Under Milosevic, there was nowhere Yugoslavia could go.  Now, there is no limit to what Yugoslavia may accomplish in partnership with Europe and in cooperation with its neighbors.

We must also support efforts by the democratic opposition in Burma to initiate a meaningful dialogue with the authorities there, and to improve respect for basic civil and political rights. 

The world knows that Burma held elections in 1990 and that the National League for Democracy--led by Aung San Suu Kyi--won an overwhelming victory.  We know, as well, that the military responded by arresting the winners and crushing dissent. 

As a result, Burma today is an economic basketcase.  It has become notorious as a source of opium; it is being overrun by HIV/AIDS; and its government has been sanctioned by the ILO for encouraging forced labor and slavery.  As the rest of Asia strides boldly into the 21st Century, the people of Burma may be sent to jail for owning a computer modem or sending an e-mail.

Our friends in Burma may be impeded from communicating directly with us, but the message sent by their ballots a decade ago will never be deleted from our minds.  Every nation that loves liberty should press the leaders in Rangoon, peacefully and relentlessly, to open their country and free their people.

The fourth element in our strategy is more general, and that is to promote respect for human rights, including the universal right to democratic governance.

This policy encompasses activities across the globe in support of religious freedom, independent media, worker rights, and the rule of law.  These efforts are designed to help democracies flower where they have taken root; take root where seeds have been sown; and help seeds find nourishment in even the rockiest soil.

We understand well that democracy is not a product or a service.  It cannot be exported or imported.  It must grow from within. 

But we disagree with the argument that democracy is not suited to certain regions, for democratic elements are present in every major culture. 

We reject the view that any nation is not ready for democracy, because we refuse to concede that any country is ready for dictatorship. 

And we have real doubts about leaders who mimic St. Augustine's famous prayer that he become abstinent and celibate--but not yet. 

You may have come across such leaders in your work.  They call themselves democrats.  They claim to want democracy for their people.  They say they intend to build democratic institutions.  But if you ask them when, the answer is always--"not yet."  That's hypocrisy, not democracy, and we should not be shy about pointing it out.

Democracy is, of course, far from perfect.  As we have learned so recently, it can be noisy and confusing, frustrating and hard.

But democracy at its best reflects faith in the individual, and the community.  It respects the will of the majority, and the rights of the minority.  It creates a level playing field for rich and poor, men and women, and people of different colors and faiths.

In a democracy, we value the give-and-take of debate because we claim for ourselves no unique insight into the truth.  Unlike Communists and Fascists, we adhere not to a single revealed doctrine, but rather to a process through which vision and experience are combined to form policy, and policies are tested over and over again.

No system is immune from abuses caused by corruption or incompetence.  But democracy contains within itself the means of correction through balloting, free expression and law. 

That is why, in a democracy that works, the role of the opposition is as crucial as the role of the party in power.  The two may disagree on policy, but at the end of the day, they must join ranks on the fundamental process.

It is probably not appropriate for me to offer advice publicly to the new Administration.  But the identity of the new Administration is still not settled.  So I will say this.

American freedom, prosperity and peace depend, in large measure, on the continued deepening of democratic institutions and values around the world.  That depends, in turn, on America's willingness to continue working with our partners to promote democracy.  And that depends on whether the next Administration and Congress provide the resources required for the most effective democracy-builders on Earth--that's you--to do your jobs.

In his remarks earlier, Administrator Anderson emphasized the connections between development and democracy, and he was right to do so.  Any pro-democracy strategy must include well-crafted investments in economic reform, fighting poverty, expanding opportunities for women, and training in 21st Century skills.

I am pleased that with bipartisan help from Congress, we have enacted legislation to open new trade opportunities for Africa and the Caribbean; approved debt relief for the poorest reforming countries; and restored some cuts in overseas aid.

But still, on a per-capita basis, Americans contribute only about $29 per year through official channels to development and humanitarian assistance.  This compares to a median of $70 in other industrialized countries. 

These depressing figures reflect neither the generous spirit of the American people, nor the responsibilities and interests of our nation.  We are leaders, not laggards; we can and must do more. 

It is also, quite frankly, a disgrace that America is both the richest country in the world and the leading debtor to the UN and other international organizations.  We should continue to press for reform.  But these organizations support development and help build democracy.  I hope you agree, we should pay our bills to them in full and on time.  Every country, everywhere, should know that America keeps its word.

In exactly fifty days, I will leave this wonderful job.  And one of the things I will miss most when my tenure ends is the view. 

From the windows of the Secretary of State's office, I can look out over the Mall, and see the Washington Monument and the memorials to Jefferson and Lincoln.  Each day, I witness a steady tide of visitors to these shrines of freedom from all corners of our country, and all parts of the world.

When I do, I cannot help but think back to the day more than half a century ago when I first sailed with my family into New York harbor seeking--and finding--refuge on these shores.

I remember also, as a young woman, standing near the reflecting pool and hearing Martin Luther King proclaim every American's birthright to a fair share in the democratic dream.

I look across the Potomac to Arlington Cemetery and the statue of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima; and then back to the haunting figures commemorating our involvement in Korea, and the silent etched eloquent black of the Vietnam Wall.

I doubt that any of us will ever winter at Valley Forge, author a declaration of independence, free millions from unjust bondage, or arouse the conscience of a nation with our words.

We are none of us heroes, but make no mistake; building democracy is the continuation of heroic work.  Without this commitment, American foreign policy would lose its moral compass, its most compelling claim to global respect, and ultimately, the support and understanding of the American people.

Freedom is perhaps the clearest expression of national purpose ever adopted, and it is America's purpose.  Like other profound human aspirations, it can never fully be achieved.  It is not a possession; it is a pursuit.  And it is the star by which American foreign policy must continue to navigate during the remaining days of this Administration and throughout the century to come.

I want once again to thank each of you for the efforts you make every day on behalf of our nation and the principles which we have cherished for more than two centuries, and for which so many Americans and friends overseas have given their last full measure of devotion.

I have enjoyed greatly the chance to work with you these past few years.

I appreciate deeply the opportunity to speak with you this morning.

And I pledge to remain a volunteer in the cause of democracy and development not only as long as I am in office, but as long as I am alive.

Thank you very much.

[End of Document]
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