Democracy Promotion in the Age of Trump
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This event took place on Thursday, May 10, 2018
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and to an inaugural program for the U.S. Global Engagement Program for 2018. I'm Nick Gvosdev. In this regard, my hat is to be the senior fellow here at the Carnegie Council with regard to the U.S. Global Engagement Program.
Joining me this evening are Ambassador Adrian Basora and Ms. Maia Otarashvili. You have their full biographies there so you can get a sense of their backgrounds.
Let me introduce our theme for tonight and the genesis of this project and why we're meeting, and then I'll turn the floor over to Adrian to start our program off. I had the opportunity a number of years ago when Adrian and Maia were setting up and running the program on democratic transitions—they wanted to take stock of what has happened with U.S. efforts since the end of the Cold War to promote democratic governance in countries around the world. This was, of course, in the latter half of the Obama administration, when it was already clear that we were seeing two trends emerge:
One was a democratic recession that despite all the predictions that came about in the 1989-1991 era that democracy was on the march, that there were no ideological challenges to democracy, that the entire world was moving toward adopting a liberal democracy as their form of governance, it was clear that by the early 2010s there was a challenge, that there was a revived authoritarian consensus, that you did not necessarily have to be a democratic country in order to have a modicum of economic prosperity, to have social stability, and to create more lasting forms of governance.
The second trend that we were observing was that there was a degree of fatigue, certainly in the United States but also in the European Union, with continuing with these types of programs. Certainly in the heady days of the early 1990s when it seemed that the world could change in an instant moment; that it wasn't going to really require a lot of resources, energy, or commitment; that everyone was moving in this direction; and that it could be done without asking the peoples of the United States and of the European Union to have to commit a great deal to the democracy enterprise.
Then in the 2000s, whether it was things like the Iraq War or simply the reality that some of the low-hanging fruit of the 1990s had been harvested and now the challenges for spreading democracy were becoming more pronounced, they were becoming costlier, we saw a corresponding drop in interest and in support for the work of democracy promotion.
This was the ground by which the project was being assembled. Its meetings, its conferences produced this volume: Does Democracy Matter? The United States and Global Democracy Support, which was issued right as the 2016 election campaign was beginning to heat up.
Since then, of course, we had the election, and the election produced an administration that initially sounded very different themes to what they thought should be American interest in the world and how America should conduct its foreign policy. Donald Trump, as candidate Trump and then in his early days as President Trump, sounded very transactional themes, that the United States would run its policies and engage in the world based upon: "What could the United States get in the short term?" A theme, of course, that the president ran on was this idea that the United States was on the losing end of trade deals and that international liberal institutions that create and sustain the liberal international order were simply an excuse for other countries to free-ride off the United States.
The first secretary of state in the Trump administration, Rex Tillerson, came out several months into the administration and said we would not be promoting democracy anymore, we were no longer interested in telling other countries how to run their affairs, we were not going to encourage or support democratic movements. But this was counterbalanced by trends within the administration that sounded contradictory messages. Certainly UN Ambassador Nickki Haley and now people like National Security Advisor John Bolton have talked about values, have talked about the importance of defending American values in the world, perhaps not necessarily in the way that previous administrations had done.
The National Security Strategy that was issued under General McMaster with a good deal of input from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis talks about great-power competition as being the norm but puts an ideological cast to that great-power competition, that the powers that the United States is competing against tend to be authoritarian whereas the allies that the United States is working with tend to be democratic. So there has been some return in some parts of the administration to sounding the need to support democracy.
The goal of our session tonight is to try to take a pulse of where we are with the question of democracy promotion: Where does democracy promotion fit in? Is it simply about promoting American values? Does it also serve American interests? Where have we come over the past 20 years? Where are we likely to go both with this administration but also with subsequent administrations? Will democracy promotion remain a part of the U.S. foreign policy agenda in the years to come?
Adrian, of course, is uniquely positioned to help start us in this conversation because he was present at the creation really of the post-Cold War consensus, serving on the National Security Council staff from 1989 as the Wall was coming down and as the United States was grappling with what to do with the post-Soviet world, and then of course as our ambassador to the Czech Republic, one of those countries which was very much seen as the harbinger of the U.S. ability to spread democracy, but also to make it sustainable.
From Adrian, I'll take the conversation and move it a bit to where we are today.
Maia is one of this country's rising younger scholars on Eurasian affairs and has the vantage point of seeing what's happening today in Central and Eastern Europe and across the Eurasian space, and of course we had planned this discussion before the events in Armenia happened, but now we have a case in real time of once again people frustrated by the lack of accountability, by the lack of representation, taking to the streets and bringing down what appeared to all intents and purposes several weeks ago to be a very strong and entrenched regime in Armenia that was following along the trajectory of what we had seen in places like Russia and instead replacing that with an opposition figure now being the new prime minister. So we have a sense of where we might go with this toward the future.
I hope this gives you a good overview of these issues, and then at the end we'll invite everyone to be able to take part in this conversation. So Adrian, I'll turn the floor over to you.
ADRIAN BASORA: Thanks very much, Nick, and I very much hope it will be a conversation.
Thank you all for coming out this evening. It's a real pleasure to be here and to talk about the whole process, the whole bundle of issues that Nick has so clearly laid out, and specifically the conclusions of this book called Does Democracy Matter?, which is based on a project that Nick, Maia, and I worked on, but also with a number of other scholars and practitioners, the most notable of whom are Carl Gershman of the National Endowment for Democracy and Larry Diamond of Stanford University, one of the eminent scholars worldwide on democracy. He is also editor of the Journal of Democracy.
Given that this is the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, I want to try to place my comments about our policy conclusions in the book in terms of values, at least partly. Obviously, there are many different approaches to values, and I won't try to cover them all. Some of our scholars came to the project at least partially interested in the values dimension, myself included, but others came primarily from a realpolitik perspective.
What we all agreed on, even though we came from different experiential perspectives and different—whether realpolitik or more of a values perspective—we ultimately in the end, after considerable debate, after a conference and then writing chapters and sending them back and forth for comment and having study groups, came to the conclusion that American interests are indeed best served, at least in the long run, if there are more democracies in the world. So the spread and consolidation of democracy is a good thing for us abroad.
However, very importantly, there were important areas of disagreement as to why, where, and how we should promote democracy or even whether democratization should be given much priority in our bilateral relations. Nick may comment a little bit more on that because he wrote one of the outstanding chapters in the book from the realpolitik point of view.
My own personal view—and I'll speak tonight from my personal view rather than try to digest everything or synthesize all the views in the book—is that the strengthening of democracy around the world should remain a major goal of U.S. foreign policy, and I am convinced that this is a goal that can be justified by our ethical values as a nation. But I also believe strongly that to be fully effective, if we advocate for the support of democracy abroad, we have to take into account very powerfully the realist objections and the hard-eyed realist argumentation that will ultimately be persuasive.
In my view, the health of democracy in the world is indeed deeply intertwined with our core national interests, such as countering terrorism, defending ourselves militarily, our economic prosperity. These are deeply enhanced—and I'll get into the reasons why in a moment—if there are more democracies in the world, if the liberal world order, which we have tried to create over the last 70 years, is preserved and continues to be enhanced.
However, the reason I've generally shied away from using the moral or values arguments to justify democracy support as part of U.S. foreign policy is that I have seen how glibly the opponents and the skeptics dismiss so easily these moral arguments. In effect, moral rationales are called "naïve." Some also attack democracy as unsustainable simply on practical grounds of budget limits: "We have so many needs at home. Therefore we can't afford to do much on this any longer abroad."
Of course, very importantly, it is democracy in the age of Trump. Obviously, the election 18 months ago of an administration with an "America First" rationale as spelled out by our current president and some of his spokespersons, has sharply increased the need—if we are to make the case for supporting democracy abroad, we have to deal head-on with what I say are purportedly realist objections. I'll spend part of my time saying why I think that many of the objections that are put under the cover of a "realist" label are in fact misleading.
But let's look back for a moment. For over 70 years after World War II the United States had a very clear and very consistent foreign policy with bipartisan political backing, and the goals were these:
- First, encourage the spread and consolidation of democracy abroad wherever feasible.
- Second—and deeply related with it; I could have put it first—to counter Soviet, Chinese, and now Russian and other attempts by authoritarians to intimidate or to subvert democracy, either in their own countries or by intimidating neighbors.
However, as Nick has already said, even before the November 2016 election, many of these longstanding bipartisan policy tenets were being increasingly called into question, and many of us felt that people were just talking past each other. This book resulted from a conference where we tried to get people to talk to each other from different perspectives, ideological and experiential.
Here are the three essentials of what I consider very misleading arguments that have been used to attack the idea that the United States should continue to support democracy abroad as we have for 70 years:
- First, it doesn't matter if other countries are democratic as long as the bilateral relationship is net-positive for the United States. Of course, in measuring these bilateral relationships, all that counts is the advancement of our hard-headed national interests, such as economic, military, and counterterrorism. Therefore, democracy-support advocates are dismissed, as I said, as naïve moralists who lose sight of our "real" interests as a nation.
- The second argument is that the United States has for too long carried an unfair military and economic burden as we have assisted democratic allies around the world, tried to protect them, and tried to maintain the military alliances that have been part of the equation, and, of course, supposedly massive foreign aid programs have resulted, putting great pressure on our national budget.
- The third misconception is that the multilateral institutions that the United States created after World War II—in our own likeness and image, by the way—in fact undermine American interests and that our adversaries take advantage of them to exploit America economically and to undercut us politically.
Those are the three arguments. It should already be clear to you that I think that all of them are deeply flawed, and I'll tell you briefly why. In fact, as Nick and I both alluded to, it was the increasing frequency with which we heard arguments of this sort that led us to the conference and to this book project.
The fact is that democracy does matter. It matters deeply to our national well-being, not only to our values but to our core interests. Democracy has spread around the world far more rapidly. This first slide gives you a sense of how far democracy has progressed as a result of that 70-year policy that I just outlined to you.
As of the 1950s there were very few democracies. Autocracies predominated when I was in college and went into the Foreign Service. Democracy has spread more rapidly and more widely than most experts and pundits expected, not only in the 1950s but even in the late Cold War years.
Just to give you more specific numbers. On the previous map, you can see that the green is free states, fully democratic; the yellow are partially free, partially democratic; and of course, the purple are autocratic. Just geographically you can see the spread of democracy.
Here are the numbers: 45 percent of the world's countries are considered free, fully democratic; 30 percent are partially free; and only 25 percent are authoritarian regimes.
Let me give you a couple more slides very quickly. This is the number of the small number of autocracies and partly free countries compared to the large number of democracies.
This is just a teaser, but if you just look very quickly at the waves of democratization, the second wave—1943-1962, in other words, the immediate results of World War II—and then the third wave of democratization in the latter part of the Cold War but then also very importantly the fall of the Iron Curtain, there were tremendous leaps forward. We will come back to that if you're interested in a discussion as to the dynamics that caused these waves forward of democratization and waves backward.
We are now as you see in the last section of that slide in a reverse wave, quite serious and quite worrisome. Nevertheless if you look at the historical perspective it should be manageable if the United States wishes to resume its role as an advocate of democracy and a supporter.
Democracy has spread wide, and the vast majority of the world's democracies, again as Nick already suggested, share our values and have many common interests, and they are more likely to be reliable allies. In fact, many of them are deeply committed allies, although it is also true that not all democracies always align with us and that some autocracies have also been long-term reliable allies. I don't want to make it seem simplistic.
The fall of the Berlin Wall as you all remember—I guess you are all old enough to remember that—in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union two years later were absolutely decisive triumphs for the United States and its democratic allies and the democratic values that we're talking about tonight as against the communist dictatorships that were once not only ideological adversaries but seriously threatening military adversaries—again, our core national interests.
So we triumphed. Why throw out that 70-year policy? We have more allies in the world now by far than we had before, and they are now more prosperous and more secure. We are more secure; they are more secure.
I have already told you this is a teaser. The first misconception is that democracy wasn't in our interest or that it was not realistic to have it spread.
The second misconception that I referred to at the beginning is the military and the burden-sharing question. It's true that the United States has spent very heavily on its military and has expended great resources on building our alliances. But these alliances are very important to our common defense and not only to the defense of others, and they provide substantial manpower and forward-basing rights that greatly leverage our own military power. To imply that we're doing it all and that it doesn't help us is tremendously misleading. These allies and the bases, etc., are very substantial force multipliers, and therefore to diminish or quit these alliances would be obviously undercutting our own security.
On the non-military side, our foreign assistance programs are in fact, as I am sure you all know, a minuscule portion of our federal budget, and many of our allies provide much more democracy assistance and/or general foreign aid that is in fact supportive of democracy and transitions toward democracy around the world.
The third misconception regards multilateral organizations. As you know, out of the rubble of World War II we built a set of international laws, norms, and institutions that mirrored our own foundational values as a nation and that have successfully maintained the peace for 73 years, in terms of world wars, at least, and we created a new liberal international order that made America the world's leading economic and political power, and I would add, in my view, that on balance—admittedly there were mistakes as well—a force for good.
The multilateral organizations specifically as part of that order such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and so many others, are in fact still tilted largely in favor of U.S. interests. That's the whole reason that the Chinese and the Russians either want to try to undercut our role in them, and they were clever to at times succeed in using them against us, but mostly not, or they try to replace them with organizations that they dominate. If we let them succeed by abandoning the field of the international multilateral organizations, then we are clearly sabotaging our own interests.
Now I'd like to turn specifically to the book. I'm going to talk for a couple of minutes about the main findings of the book. I'll talk for a moment about the collective authors. Even though we came it from different perspectives and certainly didn't agree on everything, we agreed on the essentials.
The first and most central recommendation of the book is that U.S. foreign policy should assign a clear and high priority to supporting the spread of democracy abroad, but recognizing, of course, that this must remain only one among several key goals in our overall national strategy.
Second, times have changed. It is time to review, and we recommend very specific ways in which a review of how we deliver our democracy support should be addressed, because the challenges facing democracy today are far more complex and far more difficult than they were in the 1990s when Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history: we're all going to be liberal democracies.
Very importantly, in addition to a general revamping—everybody says, "Oh, let's study it and revamp and modernize our programs"—we've tried to be very specific in very important ways. We advocate very precise targeting of democracy support using a carefully calibrated system of "triage"—a term that Nick has already mentioned, and I believe he was the primary intellect that led us to use that specific word to describe our instincts as to how we need to do things differently.
This is for a number of reasons. There are some countries in which democracy-promotion programs are simply not feasible: Russia and China are very clear examples. In other countries our programs can be counterproductive, for example, through manipulation by the local regime to create a false veneer of respectability. Chapter 6 in our book talks about the case of Azerbaijan as an example of that. We can get into that in detail and other examples later.
There are also some countries that are so critically important to other very urgently pressing national security concerns that we cannot afford to alienate the regime by pushing democracy very urgently while we're pushing other priorities.
Nevertheless, there are many countries around the world where we can and should have very active approaches on the democracy front. This is not just programmatic assistance and technical assistance; this is also leverage, persuasion, and a variety of other things.
Here we come to both the policy of triage among countries but also careful differentiation as to the policy tools that we use in Countries X, Y, Z, or A, B, C, or D. For purposes of our discussion tonight and in the book's conclusions we talk about three different types of countries where there is realistic opportunity to promote democracy in one way or another.
The first group that we try to identify is investing in the most promising new cases. I believe that the most fertile ground for encouraging democracy is often to be found in countries where autocratic regimes have recently fallen through revolution or have agreed to a pacted transition. Examples of this are Ukraine; we can talk about the Velvet Revolution period and then again now more recently, Tunisia; and Indonesia.
Others are where autocratic governments are visibly weak and look likely to be replaced by a broad-based reform movement. An early example of that was Poland, which saw the Solidarity movement in 1989, and Armenia today looks like it could well be another example of that. This presents tremendously fertile ground if we act quickly and effectively—not we only but our Western European and other allies—to help nurture and help the new reformers establish an effective democracy and a system that satisfies the citizenry of the country. This is terribly important.
The second group that we roughly distinguish is protecting earlier gains, and I distinguish even most of it after the book was written. This is because of the intensity of the autocratic resurgence problem that we've seen over the past decade. Given the aggressive nature of the current authoritarian offensive, we need to safeguard existing democracies, either in cases like Poland and Hungary where an internal autocratic is trying to subvert democracy, or from foreign attempts to weaken, subvert, or otherwise eliminate them. In recent times, Bulgaria and Bosnia have come to mind as examples of in this case Russian attempts to undercut democracy from the outside.
The third group—and a very important one and one that doesn't get anywhere near in my view the attention that it deserves in the general press or even in certain parts of the academic world or policy world—is the need to deal opportunistically with hybrid regimes or what Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way call "competitive authoritarian regimes." Their book, which has that title, is extraordinary, and to me one of the canons of democratic transition theory and practical policy.
These are the countries that fall somewhere between democracy and dictatorship, and they are run by autocratic elites who feel it necessary in order to maintain their legitimacy to maintain significant trappings of democracy such as elections that have some semblance of competition, permitting international travel and educational exchange, and they leave space for some degree of private economic initiative or media or other forms of openness of some civil society.
Some of these regimes are viewed generally as rock-solid authoritarian. In fact, many of them are much less durable than they appear—Armenia is a perfect recent example—either because their elites can easily split, there are splits within the elite, or one form of another of blatant manipulation. In the case of Armenia, electoral manipulation, prime minister to president and back and forth, the old Putin trick, can produce very strong pushback, in this case a revolution that produced a prime minister of the opposition.
So there can be unanticipated opportunities for democratization. In this case, we and our allies need to be very quick, very nimble and agile in stepping in and helping the reformers create democracy in that country. But even in these hybrid regimes where there isn't a split and there isn't an opportunity for major democracy-support programs, there is still room for educational exchanges, business exchanges, scientific exchanges, and other things that help lay the seeds for democracy, and we should not neglect doing that.
Beyond the bilateral approaches that these three groupings imply is the multilateral front, and there we need to make far greater use of the international organizations that we ourselves created. Their charters and the thousands of resolutions over these 70 years that support human rights, support rule of law, support the values and the institutions that undergird democracy, we should use them more, not demean them, not denigrate them, but use them more effectively.
Let me close with a couple of final points. I will try to put it back more into the ethical context that I promised to try to pay attention to in this presentation.
When I began my professional career in the 1960s after 16 years of a liberal education that included considerable attention to ethical issues—eight of those years were Jesuit education; these were liberal Jesuits. Based on that education, at the time I entered the American Foreign Service it was with the intention of pursuing what I understood to be bipartisan goals in foreign policy, the policy that I've already outlined, that I also saw as deeply compatible with my own personal ethical principles.
Once in government I also learned that the actual implementation of these policies is sometimes imperfect, and at other times the government actually strays for longer periods. However, I always found it possible to advocate for change from within, and I was always satisfied to see, not just as a result of internal advocacy, that we eventually got back on track during these 70 years. There were ups and downs, but the general trend was fairly consistent and did the right thing.
Now our own democracy and democracies around the world are under systematic attack from outside and from some internal voices. So is the liberal international order that I've described, that has brought in my view so much good to the world. Therefore, a failure to counter this current authoritarian offensive would in my view clearly be a failure to defend our own democracy, all of its values, all of its security, and it would mean an abandonment of the international institutions that we rely on for so much of our military and economic security as well as our leadership of the world.
So, American democracy in support of democracy in the world is a clear-eyed decision to protect our own core national interests but is also justified by profoundly ethical considerations in our foreign policy. Democracy for all its faults is ultimately a better system of government for a majority of individuals, and the inherent worth of the individual and his or her rights are the core of the ethical system to which I adhere and to which I believe most Americans adhere.
The opposite side of the coin, authoritarianism, downgrades individual rights. We have seen with fascism the brutality that can occur in the fascist examples of the 1930s, the Stalinist and the Maoist regimes, and the brutality of a Putin or a Mugabe more recently.
In my view, as long as the United States does not abandon the field for too long, I still believe that the democracies of the world can manage to overcome this antidemocratic trend of the past decade and the authoritarian offensive that we're now facing and that there is not only hope but a probability that we can succeed, and if so, our support of democracy in the world is not only in our national self-interest and in the interests of others in the world, it is clearly the right thing to do.
Thank you very much.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I'll pick up the conversation here and talk a little bit more about the triage concept and then turn it over to Maia.
The idea of democratic triage which came out of this project is rooted in the American realist tradition—Hans Morgenthau and others—about prudence, about not just simply pursuing policies because they make you feel good or because your intentions are good, but because you have a reasonable assumption that they may succeed and that they may produce something better than what was there before.
I think what happened while we were writing and working on this project and since then is really to illustrate the importance of prudence as part of this approach, that we may feel that the world should be democratized now. We have to balance it against resources and capabilities, and as we've seen there are some real issues in the U.S. national security system that we have to address. One of them is, of course, the question of persistence, of being able to do things over a much longer timeframe.
One of the things that has changed since, Adrian, you started in the Foreign Service is the idea of a bipartisan consensus that outlasts individual presidential administrations. We just have had the example this week of a president reversing course on a major policy initiative of his predecessor, which sends the signal that essentially everything is up for grabs: One president comes in, another one comes in, policies change.
There was a time when presidents started policies that they knew they would not see the benefits from. Harry Truman started policies that he would not benefit from personally in the elections of 1948 or 1950, and of course he chose not to run again, even though he was eligible to, in 1952. Dwight Eisenhower started policies that he could not run on in 1956 or claim credit for in 1958.
Today we have a political culture that if you don't see results within 18 months, you don't pursue them. You want to be able to say, "What have I done as a president?" or "What has my party done in the Congress?" and the idea that someone may get the credit 20 years down the road is increasingly anathema in our political system.
But it makes this process of democratization, which is by definition a long-term investment of time, of resources, of energy, more difficult to sustain if people's time frame in Washington is: "What are the metrics for three months, six months, nine months, 12 months? Anything beyond that I'm less interested in."
Triage forces you also to have to tell people "no." One of the things I've seen over the last number of years has been an unfortunate validation of the triage concept, which is what has happened in Tunisia.
Tunisia was a very promising case for democratization. We have all of the ingredients for breakthrough. Then what happened is people said: "Well, Tunisia is important, but Egypt is important. Sudan is important. Poland is important. Armenia is important. Azerbaijan is important." All of these different demands, and where concentrated resources could have made that breakthrough in Tunisia last and endure, we didn't put enough resources into it because there were too many programs, too many claims.
Triage forces you to sometimes tell people: "You have a claim. You are struggling for your rights. You are struggling for freedom. We can't help you at this point in the process. We need to put resources where they can do the most good."
Instead, we—and this is the chapter on Azerbaijan—spent a lot of money in Azerbaijan helping the existing government burnish its democratizing credentials without getting much of a return on that. In Tunisia, we fell short. We didn't have the resources to spend there that we could have.
Triage also is to encourage people not to, and again, telling people "no" is important because—and this is something that Alan Cooperman had already recognized more than two decades ago—when you convey the impression that the United States is going to support everyone at all times, what it means is the United States supports no one with any degree of results, but it may lead people to think that the cavalry is going to be coming to their aid when there is no cavalry coming across the hills.
This is less a democracy-promotion question, but unfortunately we've seen the results of this in Syria, where a Syrian opposition that for years believed that if they only held out long enough, the intervention was coming. Six years later, millions of Syrians displaced from their homes, hundreds of thousands of people killed, even with the latest individual pinprick strikes that the United States has launched, it hasn't been a result that encourages—by struggling and holding out for that, the end result has been a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, and of course in the region as a whole.
So triage forces you to actually have to be honest not only with your own people but with others about what the United States is prepared to do, the limits of our support, what we can achieve, and then if we can encourage—as Adrian pointed out—in some cases longer-term evolutionary change. It might not be immediate, it might not satisfy that "I want change now," but if we can do what we did in East Asia where the reason why, as the map showed for the world, why we have more free and partially free countries in East Asia is that there was an evolutionary approach.
It wasn't an all-or-nothing, "Everything has to happen-this month." We built institutions, we trained people, we gave incentives for existing elites to be prepared to surrender power or to be prepared for the risk of losing power without facing retribution, whether it was in South Korea, where ultimately former political prisoners became elected presidents of their country, or what we saw in Taiwan, or what we saw in Malaysia or Indonesia. These are important evolutionary steps. They took time, but they occurred, and they have been more or less—they haven't always advanced as quickly as we would like. At least, there hasn't been that degree of democratic recession.
This is also a way, of course, of rebuilding that core American support because one of the things that Adrian pointed out is that whether those arguments are true or not, they are believed by people. They're believed by voters. American voters consistently believe that we spend more than 25 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid. Not true, but it's a belief, and that guides people's attitudes.
What we've seen in the way the Iraq War was sold will have long-lasting repercussions. It has made Americans much more suspicious of grand projects to remake the world, and what has been happening with Afghanistan, where 18 years later Afghanistan still doesn't look much better than it did when the intervention started. It is causing a degree of erosion of American support. Triage can help to address that by saying, "We're not going to be everywhere at all times, but we're going to try to concentrate where we can do the most good and where it's good for our values and good for our interests," so I think that this is an important approach.
Whether this administration buys into it or not, we'll see. We've already seen two shifts in the national security team so far. We don't know how it will play out over the coming months, who will still be in key positions, what happens with the midterm elections. As Adrian pointed out, we may have a period of time where we can figure these things out here without too much long-term damage to the cause of democracy, but we'll have to see what happens there.
But I want to turn the floor now to Maia because we are seeing real-time impacts. While the United States is figuring this out at home and while we are trying to figure it out, the rest of the world is not waiting, and authoritarians are not waiting to see what the United States does. So, Maia, if you can take our conversation forward with what's happening, particularly in East Europe and the Eurasian space.
MAIA OTARASHVILI: Thank you, Nick. I want to take a moment to thank you for inviting us and thank the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs for hosting us. It's an honor to be here.
One of the reasons why this subject matter is so important at the moment is because there is a sense of urgency. Where is that sense of urgency coming from? I have the pleasure of working on the Eurasia region, and what better way to justify engagement than to took at the Eurasia region?
I want you for a moment for context to consider this: For the past 18 years Vladimir Putin has been the leader of Russia in one way or another. The whole time he has been complaining about how the world is so unipolar: Democracy has been the only game in town, the Western liberal democracy is diffusing into the rest of the world, and Russia has to live with that.
But also think about what he has managed in the past 18 years. He has brought his country out of this limbo that was caused by the implosion of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). He has managed to establish a strong Russia, and in his third presidency, so the recent few years, we've seen a rise of a very aggressive, very openly anti-democratic, unapologetic Russia that has challenged that status quo. There is a new sheriff in town. Democracy is no longer the only game, particularly in the Eurasia region. He is a formidable opponent that we have to consider.
The reason we have to consider him is multifold, one of them being the fact that Russia's presence, Russia's aggression in the Eurasian region is undoing the gains that we made during the time that we were promoting democracy in Central and Eastern Europe. I will go into that a little bit, and I will tell you that in the places that Adrian and Nick talked about, particularly in Central Europe, democracy turned out to be very fragile there. Yes, we made gains, but we are losing.
More than that, now he has knocked on our own door. So we can really no longer afford to turn a blind eye when Putin invades Georgia or invades Ukraine because he is now running psychological warfare over here.
In the era of great division within the United States we have so much domestic chaos so we are looking inward. We also have this increasingly indifferent and ineffective bureaucratic European Union, so what are we left with in Eurasia? Again, I think this is a good example to understand what's at stake.
I am going to tell you a little bit about the trends that we are noticing in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia. I have three areas I want you to consider. One starts with the anxious democrats. That would be the Baltic States, for example, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. This map is from Freedom House Nations in Transit, and I want to thank them for their excellent work that we get to take advantage of all the time, including this map.
Freedom House reports that the Nations in Transit, the post-Soviet states that they have been monitoring for so many years now, are rapidly declining. This year again Freedom House has marked historic declines in democracy scores. Yet within the Baltic States we have the three consolidated democracies, and Estonia, although it was already a strong democracy, has somehow managed to improve its democracy scores even further. It is not all doom and gloom.
However, here we have the Baltic leaders coming to the White House and meeting with President Trump. One of their biggest fears is: Will NATO stand by its Article 5? Obviously, they are bordering Russia very closely, so there is a very serious national security concern there. So, as much as the Baltic States are standing by their democratic values, their national security is very much endangered by this sort of strong Russia that has risen over a few years. So we have our anxious democrats.
What's really interesting is that we also have these illiberal Europeans. We talked about places where we have succeeded with our democracy-promotion efforts and the billions of dollars that we spent over there. You can see the Polish leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, and then you can see Viktor Orbán. Poland and Hungary are regressing rapidly. The other day I overheard a colleague of mine, Dan Keleman, declare that, "Hungary is no longer a democracy." We are seeing this embrace of illiberal values in places like Poland and Hungary. The methods that they are using are very interesting because a lot of them are somewhat directly borrowed from Putin's Russia. These methods have been tried and tested.
I'll give you an example of Hungary. I think it was about four years ago my colleague and I wrote this article for the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), arguing that Europe should really do something about Orbán because he is having these authoritarian tendencies.
Here we are. He was just reelected for his, I want to say, fourth term as the leader of Hungary, and he is using these methods which are very reminiscent of Putin's Russia. He has just declared all these non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as "undesirable organizations" that are threatening Hungary's way of life, and that was something that Putin did very successfully recently. He has attacked the rule of law. The constitutional court is very much run by Orbán to his preference at this point, the assaults on the media and the education system. This is straight out of the authoritarian playbook that Putin has been using so successfully in Russia. We are seeing very similar trends in Poland as well.
I'm sure most of you who follow Eurasia are aware of these things, but what I want to point out is that in the absence of strong resolve, strong Western leadership, these leaders, these individuals can consolidate the status quo. Like I said, Orbán was just reelected. The Kaczyński government is going to be reelected very soon. Poland has elections coming up. No one questions the fact that they will be reelected.
We are witnessing this sort of easing into the status quo. We are becoming comfortable with this idea of embracing "illiberal values," to quote Orbán.
It gets worse. We are seeing comfortable oligarchs if you move a little bit farther east. We talked about the hybrid regimes, the low-hanging fruit. Yes, even if you apply the triage method, the first place you can go to to assist democratic transitions are the hybrid states. Hybrid states happen to be Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
Yesterday I attended this day-long Georgia conference in Washington where the head of the Georgian Association in America said that, "Over the past 25 years we've spent approximately $3 billion on assisting Georgia's post-Soviet transition," presumably toward democracy.
But here we are. Freedom House—here are the quotes that I have—is reporting that in the hybrid states and beyond in Central and Eastern Europe, "We are now seeing this trend of 'informal leadership,' individuals who happen to be running the show from behind the scenes."
If you consider Bidzina Ivanishvili who famously overthrew the increasingly authoritarian Saakashvili government in Georgia and became prime minister. He then steps down just a couple of years later. This is not my opinion; he has been running the show ever since his Georgian Dream coalition came into power in Georgia.
What does that mean? Everyone in the Party in the high-ranking positions actually work for his many companies. He is the richest man in Georgia but also arguably in most of Eastern Europe. He has been known to appoint the prime ministers and appoint the different ministers and then remove them and then replace them. Just recently he has decided to step back into the limelight, and he has now again become the chairman of the Georgian Dream Party, which again is the ruling party in Georgia.
I should also point out that he has been able to pretty much turn Georgia into his backyard. He has a big affinity for ancient trees. He digs them up, moves them to his property, and purchases botanical gardens for a nominal dollar. The list goes on and on.
Then we have our Vlad Plahotniuc, who is a very similar character but in Moldova. Again, another hybrid state. Plahotniuc is also a millionaire oligarch who lives in Moldova and is chairman of the ruling party. He too has been known to run the show above the level of his formal title.
Then we have Poroshenko, Ukraine's president. He is not alone; Ukraine is much bigger than Georgia and Moldova. There is more than one oligarch in charge there, but Poroshenko is the fourth-wealthiest man in Ukraine. He has been recently making headlines for his unwillingness to form a meaningful anticorruption body in Ukraine, and we are hearing now in the past year or two that Ukraine's reforms have seriously stalled. We don't know how much democratic hope there is for Ukraine anymore.
Again, what matters here is the idea that this has been happening for a while, but now that there is an alternative, there is no one really watching over their shoulders because America is too busy looking inward; Europe is too busy looking at itself and dealing with the effects of Brexit or even the effects of all the Russian meddling that we've seen. While that happens, these types of individuals just manage to consolidate the status quo and ease into this seemingly transitory position.
I think that is really alarming. Again, think about the years of gains and investments that we've made. I'm not saying, "Let's run all of our democracy-promotion programs at full force," but it may be worth protecting our investments in this region.
Of course, we have the winners. Here is Vladimir Putin, first and foremost. That's a picture of him at his inauguration into his fourth term as president of Russia. He will now be the second-longest ruler of Russia since Stalin. What can we expect from Putin 4.0? I would say more of the same. He will continue to challenge this idea of spreading democracy in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia.
Moreover, again the idea that you now have more players in the game means that you don't have to rely on Western assistance only that comes with this heavy burden of conditionality, austerity measures that you must implement in order to become a better democracy. That's no longer necessary. China is very happy to invest in these countries, and China has different conditions that are perhaps less painful upfront in the short to midterm.
We talked about the Armenia opening, and again this is a very good example to justify the idea that, "Okay, here's low-hanging fruit. Let's see what we can do." It's interesting that Mr. Pashinyan, who replaced the peacefully outgoing Sarkissian, one of the first people who called him to congratulate him was Vladimir Putin. I cannot quite tell you where the United States has been in this whole picture, but this is our opportunity to jump in and see if we can shift the status quo in the Caucasus that has been regressing quite rapidly and looking more and more toward in Armenia's case the Eurasian Economic Union rather than the European Union.
I abbreviated my talk. I have a lot more information, but I am mindful of the time. I would happy to answer any more questions about the countries that I glossed over really quickly.
QUESTION: My name is Larry Bridwell, and I teach international business at Pace University. I very much enjoyed that chart on democracy.
There are 500 million people if you currently include the United Kingdom in the European Union, and 330 million Americans. Isn't the future of Eurasia primarily the responsibility of the European Union, and shouldn't the United States in effect play a secondary role and let Europe deal with democracy in Eurasia?
ADRIAN BASORA: It would be ideal if Europe was strongly led and doing what you say they should do. I think the constellation of forces in Europe actually would move in that direction if they had an ally across the Atlantic which was encouraging them to do it or helping them to do it. In my view, I think you make a very good point. They should have the primary responsibility.
Should we have pulled away so quickly? Should we have called into question whether we're going to—Europe cannot stand up to Russia militarily without us. That was called into question by the current administration at its very beginning.
This is a little bit disjointed, but the point is they are not doing it yet. They won't do it without some significantly greater encouragement and assistance from the United States. It needs to be done, therefore lamentably perhaps we should do more to make sure it gets done. That should certainly include encouraging them to do the lion's share.
Having said that, the extraordinary blossoming of democracy in the former [communist] Eastern Europe and some of the former Soviet republics was tremendously enhanced by the prospect of EU membership. The European Union poured in and continues to pour in huge resources to make an economic success of those transitions. So it's not black and white that they're doing nothing, but clearly you are right; they are not doing enough, and they won't do enough until they get their act together more fully, and it will depend on whether Macron, the Berlin-Paris axis becomes more effective. There is some prospect or possibility of that, particularly when they get Brexit out of the way.
But if the United States is absent, it's going to take much longer to have an effect, and it may be too late in some cases when the consolidations that Maia has already described are even more fully entrenched in Poland and Hungary and much harder to reverse.
MAIA OTARASHVILI: I just want to add that the countries that I just talked about, at least half of them, are in Europe. They themselves are suffering, and if we think about Europe's democracy-promotion efforts, our book extensively talks about this. Poland and Hungary are part of the Visegrád Four. They have a history of promoting democracy in Eastern Europe and beyond, but the truth is that right now they themselves are in crisis.
The United States essentially created this idea of helping Europe lead by example, lead the rest of Eastern Europe or the rest of the post-Soviet space into democracy. I think that we have this history of leading Europe in its democracy-promotion efforts, and European fragility right now doesn't allow for that kind of leadership.
Again, by no means am I arguing let's pour all of our money into promoting democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, my argument is that it is starting to have national security implications for this country and that that is something we should really consider.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Let me just throw in a quick plug for the Global Engagement program's podcast with Andrew Michta from a month-and-a-half ago, which is also available on the U.S. Global Engagement portion of the Carnegie Council site. He is also addressing from his perch in Germany this question of the breakdown of the transatlantic alliance and its impact on democratic recession.
QUESTION: My name is Sam Rosen.
Following up on that question, didn't we go a long way toward shattering catastrophically the relationship between the United States and the democratic countries of Europe by pulling out of the Iran deal and basically telling Europe, "You're on your own," not listening to May or Merkel or Macron? Basically we said, "We don't care about what you have to say, and we're just going to do what we're going to do."
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: It's a point to be considered because the trans-Atlantic relationship is under strain. Certainly one of the initial reactions to the United States pulling out of the Iran deal will be it's a lot harder now to tell Germany why it should continue with any sanctions on Russia, particularly on energy programs.
Emmanuel Macron came here with his pitch to the president, saying: "We want some more time. We can try to fix the deal." He got the word that we would be pulling out, and that weekend he announced, "It's time for France to have its historic new dialogue with Russia." You're on to something here that there is a split potentially occurring in the trans-Atlantic relationship whereas a lot of these gains in the 1990s and 2000s were made because the United States and Europe were united and on the same page, and we are no longer on the same page.
ADRIAN BASORA: I fully agree with Nick. It makes things much worse. We're talking about what we should do as a nation longer term. I don't think it's impossible.
There was a tremendous split between the United States and many of the Western European countries when we did the Iraq intervention in 2003. There was a very similar split to what you're seeing now, and it was repaired afterward, and we can repair this damage, but you're absolutely right; it does significant damage.
This is in response to the earlier question as well. The fact that damage has been done, the fact that there is a breach in the dyke or that somebody is not doing his or her part, doesn't mean that it doesn't affect our interests and that we shouldn't try to do something about it. Those of us who believe in the vision for our foreign policy that all three of us have spoken about should try in their own ways and in their own spheres to help move us back toward a bipartisan understanding of what our long-term national interest is, and only then will there be consistency in our foreign policy.
It's a monumental task. I don't believe in giving up easily.
QUESTIONER [Mr. Rosen]: You assume that the president's interest now is America's interest, and he doesn't owe something to Mr. Putin at this point.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I didn't understand your point. Your microphone isn't picking up.
QUESTIONER [Mr. Rosen]: The fact that Trump is paying off Putin for helping get him elected. It's certainly a possibility.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Philip Ellison, and I'm a communications specialist.
Ambassador Basora, I wanted to ask you maybe to speculate a little bit. At the time of the first Bush administration, we had the "new world international order" and everyone was very positive about what was going on. The Wall had come down, the Soviet Union was dissolving. Then we had Desert Storm. We left Saddam Hussein in power.
I think that the 1990s was a period—of course, Bush then lost his reelection campaign. We haven't really examined the 1990s thoroughly enough to understand the roots of what is going on today. I think it is a crucial time where we somehow lost our mojo at a very crucial time in world history, and I'm not sure that the Hussein situation and the Iraq situation was specifically the most egregious example or the best emblematic case, but certainly leaving a strongman in power who was really not democratic and who had no real democratic support and then what followed—the creation of al-Qaeda, etc., in that period of the 1990s.
Could you talk about what might have happened had Bush won reelection? We were on kind of an upward tick, and then things seemed to fall apart.
ADRIAN BASORA: As vain as it may sound, I think you asked the right person because I served in the Bush 41 White House at the National Security Council. Then I went out to Prague and was ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the Velvet Divorce and then stayed as ambassador in Prague.
Yes, there is no question, to me he is—I should preface this by saying that I am an Independent; I'm not a Democrat or a Republican. I took a nonpartisanship career of government service very seriously, and I take it today for other reasons.
What I'm about to say is not a partisan comment: In my view, Bush 41 was one of the great foreign policy presidents of all time in the United States; not perfect, but he got most things right. He and Brent Scowcroft—who was the best national security advisor we've ever had in my view—got together. They saw the troops. I was there. I was seeing it, too, and hearing indirectly the conversations between Scowcroft and Bush.
They saw these troops, Desert Storm, they saw the Iraqi army in full retreat. They saw that we were already beginning to destroy them and that it was mass slaughter. They saw that occurring on television, and they said: "We as a nation cannot engage in this degree of mass slaughter. It is against our values."
We had formed a coalition. Remember, the Gulf War coalition was an extraordinary success story in terms of multilateralism. We got UN sanction for it; we got lots of Arab countries—the Egyptians and many others—to participate in it. President Bush's idea was to maintain support for that, and he thought that he would lose that global support and that the U.S. leadership role in the world required that we be restrained and not simply remove Saddam Hussein.
We went in for a reason. We had a UN resolution that said, "We've got to reverse the invasion." It didn't say, "You have a mandate to unseat Saddam Hussein." Compare that to the Libya situation. That is an imperfect comparison.
But fast-forward, what happens next? You get President Clinton coming in.
The reason that in my view Bush 41 lost the election was, as Clinton put it: "It's the economy, stupid." We had been so successful internationally, but we were in a recession, we were just coming out of recession, higher unemployment, and Clinton was a very smart, highly charismatic politician who played that just like our current president has played up to fears and concerns of many Americans, understandable fears and concerns.
The problem is that it took Clinton two years to learn foreign policy. I saw him in action. He came. When I was ambassador in Prague, he had a summit with the four Visegrád countries, with Havel, Wałęsa, and leaders of the four, Poland, Hungary, Czech and Slovak Republics. I saw him in action. This was January of 1994. He had already learned a lot about foreign policy, and he became in many ways a good foreign policy president, but we had lost a lot of momentum.
Then we get Bush 43, who knows nothing about foreign policy and was avenging his father because remember there had been an assassination attempt against his father. In his mind, he had to finish the job. Unfortunately, the evidence wasn't there of the nuclear arms being developed, weapons of mass destruction, including chemical.
What would have happened had Bush 41 stayed in office? I think he would have been far more effective in pursuing the logic: "Yes, we intervened, but we used the mandate that we had from the United Nations." We also are loyal to our allies and do not alienate them in the way that you just pointed out with the Iran agreement.
He was on the phone all the time. I was writing his talking points for many of his conversations with François Mitterrand, who had been highly anti-American, but when he saw what was happening and what Saddam Hussein was doing, on the verge of invading Saudi Arabia and having taken over Kuwait, he said: "No, no." He was one of the strongest members of that Gulf coalition, the exact opposite of what's happening now.
Acting together, you saw the tremendous force of what we were able to achieve. The United States has tremendous leadership potential. We've wasted it, we've misused it at times. We can regain it, but only if we have a vision that it is consistent over different administrations, and that is a hard slog, a tall order. And second, if we have alliances, if we are with Europe, their 500 million people as you pointed out, our 330 million, our gross domestic products (GDPs) together, and our military potential, including all their contributions militarily that I alluded to, totally outweigh Russia, Russia has nothing if we're united. But we're not.
Then there is the other menace to democracy and our values, and that's China, which is so successful economically. Given that we're giving such a poor example of democratic leadership in the world ourselves running our own democracy and then being leader of the democratic countries of the world and the democratically created institutions of the world, the Chinese are walking all over us and will do so more unless we get our act together in terms of American leadership, standing for what we did for 70 years and recementing our alliances.
But we were able to do that very quickly despite the deep hurts that we created or the deep damage that we created when Donald Rumsfeld talked about the "Old Europe" and the "New Europe," etc. The next administration restored those relationships very quickly and used them in some ways for good.
I think we could have done more. In Libya, for example, we should have had a policy that followed through, not just did step one but did step two. If we had created a model of intervention that really established a democracy or a decent government and no chaos in Libya, the prospects of Tunisia would be a lot better. Maybe things could have even gone differently in Egypt.
I'm oversimplifying, but since you asked about H. W. Bush I felt that I would want to share you with my personal observations. But thank you for asking the question.
QUESTION: My name is Yuri Yarim-Agaev. I will mention one of my former titles, which is most relevant to today's panel. I was a founder and president of the Center for Democracy in the USSR, which I founded in 1984 and which very successfully carried out its programs. It was a major recipient of Achievement Network (ANet) grants, which you mentioned today. Carl Gershman, we planned this together.
That is very relevant to what I will ask and say now and to the word "realistic" and "realist," which all three of you have used so often. Because at that moment most people believed that it was completely unrealistic to go for this project for democracy, democratization of the Soviet Union.
They proved to be totally wrong; we proved to be right because the project's programs worked well, and we went into a period of glasnost/perestroika supporting many people before and during then and before communism collapsed in the Soviet Union.
Here is why it is important in the context of what I heard. Here is your sentence, which I have some problems with: "Authoritarian regimes are at the other end of the spectrum." I believe that "on the other end of the spectrum" are and always have been totalitarian regimes. I make very important distinction between those two. It is particularly important when we want to make the case that promoting democracy and democratization is an issue of national security because our major enemies always were and still are totalitarian states.
If we want to make issue of democratization and promoting democracy as a national security issue, we first of all need to address states which are our major enemies. All our wars, all terrorism, all other problems which we have had for the last hundred years, come from totalitarian states, whether it be Nazism, which is totalitarian—and I say the word "Nazism," not "fascism" intentionally—would be communism, would be radical Islamism now. All those problems came from there.
In your case, you kind of put them aside. I understand that it is an extremely difficult task to promote democracy in those countries. But we still have our major enemies in Beijing and in Tehran, which are both totalitarian states. China still remains a communist totalitarian state, and Iran is a totalitarian state.
To me, because I did the same thing with the Soviet Union, I think that there are very realistic opportunities and important opportunities to have very strong programs promoting democratic ideas and supporting people such as dissidents in all those countries, and this is an issue of national security. We will have problems with those countries as long as those totalitarian regimes exist there, because they will carry on ideological war against us; they cannot do otherwise; it is a requirement of their ideology. We cannot negotiate it; we can only help to topple down those regimes.
But we shouldn't do it with any military force. It should be done with a peaceful offensive as Ronald Reagan did in the case of the Soviet Union, and promoting democracy is a major tool of such a peaceful offensive, because we need to counter the ideologies which are there with ideas of democracy.
That is why I think that our priority in promoting democracy should be first and foremost with totalitarian states. Poland and Hungary, with all the problems they may have, are not our strong enemies, and it is very difficult to make a case for national security if we would be concerned only about Poland and Hungry and kind of drop Iran, Cuba, and China from these considerations.
As difficult as it may look and it may be, I believe they should be the priority in our promotion-of-democracy programs.
ADRIAN BASORA: It is an important distinction. Totalitarian—I spoke about a spectrum. Totalitarian regimes are at the far end of the authoritarian spectrum, and certainly Poland and Hungary aren't anywhere near there.
Yes, I agree. Our main adversaries in this struggle, it's an ideological struggle, are the totalitarians. But we can't do anything directly to build democracy in those countries.
My concern is that many of the other authoritarian countries in the middle—like the competitive authoritarian regimes that I spoke about or some that are no longer very competitive—we should be working with them, but they can slide toward totalitarianism. It seems to me that Mr. Putin has some pretty strong totalitarian instincts. He has moved in that direction and could move further. When you kill people on the bridge next to the Kremlin—Nemtsov—he has used some pretty totalitarian methods in my view.
I strongly agree that there is an ideological struggle going on and that the far end of the spectrum, which is totalitarian, is by far the most serious enemy and that there are many opportunities, and we should engage wherever we can and have some degree of what I suggested.
QUESTIONER [Mr. Yarim-Agaev]: We can do a lot with those totalitarian—
ADRIAN BASORA: We can do a lot, but Mr. Putin has made it impossible to do most of the things we had been doing with groups like yours in Russia because now they have to be declared as foreign agents, and their offices are looted or searched and ransacked by the FSB, the new KGB equivalent, so it is very hard. So the system of triage means that realistically there are limits on what we can do in Russia.
I think had Yeltsin not been as chaotic and as addicted to alcohol as he was there might have been some real opportunity for gradual movement toward the center, not toward extreme democracy but toward a much more liberal open system in Russia. Individuals can make a huge difference.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: We're at our time. We're at 7:30, so we do need to call an end to the formal program. We can continue our discussion over some wine.
ADRIAN BASORA: Happy to talk privately, and we have books for sale there. If anybody wants a signature, we'd be happy to sign.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thank you all for coming out this evening.