16 November 2006 - 17 November 2006

The International Promotion of Democracy

Chair: Sir Jeremy Greenstock GCMG

(In cooperation with the US State Department, the Brookings Institution, Freedom House and the Heritage Foundation)

Ditchley gathered an impressive team at the Wye Plantation in Maryland to discuss the international promotion of democracy, with the usual Ditchley two-day format compressed into twenty four hours.  The task advocated by the State Department was to construct advice for policy-makers with the best possible balance between pragmatism and idealism.  The conference interpreted this as a requirement to resolve a strategic question about what was legitimate, feasible and affordable for the promoters of democracy to do.  Participants were encouraged not to strain to get the whole world into a state of grace:  confusing aspiration with what was sensible and productive had created a strategic confusion which we should try to clarify.

Iraq loomed large in our minds, but participants did not think that Iraq could be the prism through which the policy should be judged or that Iraq was the standard and the reason why democracy promotion had so far failed in the Middle East. The Iraq invasion had been about WMD, not democracy.  Nonetheless we were reminded that the Iraq experience had eroded the authority and legitimacy of the United States and its closest allies.  Could this be regained?  Democracy generated stronger national cohesion and a more dynamic economy:  it deserved to be promoted. But how?  A better understanding of the nature of the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy was required, because it involved a transformation in people’s lives, often at a very sensitive time.  We were unanimous in declaring that local ownership was essential  :  democracy could not be imposed from outside.

The war on terror was a constant reference point and the assumption that only freedom and democracy could defeat terrorism was put to the test.  Did democracy naturally inoculate a society against terror?  Could democracy in fragile states be consolidated and new democracies be promoted under the pressures of the fight against terror, in which major allies such as Egypt and Pakistan were hardly models of functioning democracy?  Most participants accepted that relative judgements were bound to be made.  This meant that the most vigorous efforts should be devoted to the most fertile ground. 

One clear message to emerge from the debate was that those who promoted democracy would achieve better results when supporting institutional improvements in a particular local context than when exercising transformational diplomacy to create it. Intervention for this specific purpose did not work:  it was up to a nation to decide what kind of government it wanted.  But where the rule of law and good governance were provided, democracy was more likely to take root.  Certain key elements, which needed to be balanced for the best effects, were identified:  governments that governed in the interests of all and with the consent of a majority, competition for executive office, broad participation, checks and balances, the existence of the rule of law and a state monopoly on the use of force.  Developing these conditions was a long-term proposition, with the different elements requiring delicate calibration.

 We were warned not to confuse elections with democracy.  Democracy was not just the absence of authoritianism or a commitment to a process.  It was achieved in stages, some of which might well be painful and ugly.  We should encourage the growth of civil society, from the bottom up, with fully-working democracy as the eventual aim.  Accelerating the elections stage might be not just unproductive, but actually dangerous.

We attempted to assess the expediency of the short term.  How strong was the temptation to retreat into pragmatic realism and self-interest?  We were warned that we had been there before:  the international community, in a desire not to repeat the mistakes of the past, had evolved a notion of intervention based on the responsibility to protect.  Was this premise fatally flawed?  Democracy promotion and building was intrinsically political – often a long historical process, we were reminded.  Even the United States had not set out on its constitutional path with democracy as the objective.  The aim had been ‘freedom under the rule of law’. 

The particular problems facing the United States were discussed.  Many believed that the US Government was having problems coordinating approaches.  Peace, order and good governance had to be built up in a systematic and coordinated way, with the instruments agreed both domestically and internationally.  We needed to understand the complexity of the process and the real-life difficulties in delivering.  Unfulfilled promises boosted the prospect of conflict.

The big wins of the past had been where movement towards democracy had taken place across broad fronts, catching an international tide.  This was not going to happen on every occasion.  If in future there were not going to be more big pushes, did it make sense to construct a series of small but purposeful interventions?  Linking the war on terror to democracy promotion as a strategic and tactical objective had, in the eyes of much of the world, contaminated the promotion of democracy and raised accusations of hypocrisy.  Our public diplomacy needed to be much clearer on freedom and strategic aims.

By the time we divided into working groups, two strands had emerged in the conversation: one about the promotion of values, rights and freedom; and the other about the promotion of national interests.  Participants were asked to look for bridges to link the two.

The working group looking at the reasons for promoting democracy was wary of the direct, forceful approach.  It was better to concentrate on the norms, tools and institutions critical to sustain accountable, competitive and participatory political systems.  A balance of political, economic, governance and security interests had to be found in the local context.  Time and patience were needed;  and consistency helped.  If the aspirational defined both the strategic and the tactical the result would be unrealistic policies that failed.

The group that looked at the challenges and obstacles to promoting democracy identified the Middle East as the area where the obstacles were most acute.  This was not because there was anything inherently anti-democratic in Islam.  Rather this was the region where the conflicts that arose between democracy promotion and short-term security or other vested interests were most visible.  There was no clear consensus as to whether democracy promotion could be constructively linked to the war on terror.  A big challenge was the lack of international and local legitimacy and the unclear motivation of those promoting democracy.  It was suggested that we should concentrate on creating the appetite for democracy in societies that did not enjoy them, but we were also cautioned against creating appetites that we could not feed.

In the third working group on the global context there were two views about the role of the international community: some saw it as a constructive, legitimising force, whilst others considered it a hindrance, limiting the instruments.  National sovereignty had in certain instances been trumped by human rights in relation to intervention and the responsibility to protect; but we saw big problems in moving towards an international system where sovereignty was trumped by the need to promote democracy.  It was noted that, especially in the inter-governmental processes of the United Nations, national interest pulled political will in different directions, notably in regard to the hard cases.  A greater consistency in approach was necessary, especially in emphasising the long-term nature of the commitment to promote democracy.  Authoritarian regimes paid particular attention to what the great powers said and did in practice.  If there was a gap between the rhetoric of principle and the reality of expedient self-interest, that gap would be exploited and the benefits diminished. 

Other international fora were mentioned.  In addition to the UN, the OSCE and the Commonwealth, in particular, were seen as organisations which could expert a combination of peer pressure and gentle coercion towards the setting of norms and democratic standards.  They had been particularly good at setting the standard for electoral monitoring.  The UN democracy fund was cited as an example of progress:  despite initial reluctance to contribute, it now stood at $50 million, contributed by 17 member states.

In the concluding stages, there were strong arguments for avoiding a defensive tone about the merits of promoting democracy as a foreign policy objective.  But there was also an overall consensus that it was not right to intervene with force to promote democracy.  The aim should instead become proactive work  to create the conditions for democracy to take root.  Democracy, like happiness was a product of having got other things right.  If democracy was pursued as an essential end in itself, it was less likely to be achieved. 

In summary, the most significant points which conference participants wanted brought to the attention of policy-makers were the following:

i)    it is wise to separate out (a) efforts to spread universal values of human rights, good governance and tolerance and (b) action taken to deal with regimes which contravene international law or threaten international peace and security;

ii)    forceful action to promote democracy from outside is less likely to succeed than efforts to create conditions, including the rule of law, within which a specific population can choose their preferred system for improved government;

iii)     well-intentioned and sensibly directed work to create better conditions for democracy to flourish should not be deterred by the difficulties in Iraq;

iv)     the spread of democracy, while welcome in general terms, is bound to bring about painful developments in certain areas.  Strategic patience, sensitive leadership and convincing presentation of the  long-term benefits are required.

These points looked like a hard requirement for a nation as vigorous in its own defence and as hungry for progress as the United States.  Yet no-one wanted to see a loss of confidence in the American political system about the benefits of engagement in the outside world.  An America that was disinclined to look beyond its shores would not help the cause of promoting universal values in the world.

Perhaps what was  needed now was to broaden our approach to include the democratic experience of non-Western countries such as India.  If the emphasis was going to be on multilateral, flexible and functional tools for encouraging democracy to emerge and consolidate, the hardest policy decisions concerned how to address the threats from autocracy and failed states in ways which were consistent with the values we were seeking to promote.  The moral compass, legitimacy, allies and patience could be found in the United Nations, if only governments used it in the right way.  At present they were not.

Warm thanks are due to the State Department for encouraging this fascinating and vital debate, and to the Brookings Institution, Freedom House and the Heritage Foundation for their material and intellectual support.  Ditchley will be pursuing other aspects of this wide subject-matter in the months to come, not least in its conference on ‘Can terrorism be comprehensively eradicated?’ in December 2006.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


Chairman:  Sir Jeremy Greenstock GCMG

Director, The Ditchley Foundation (2004-);  Special Adviser, BP plc (2004-).  Formerly:  HM Diplomatic Service (1969-2004).  UK Special Representative for Iraq (2003-04);  Ambassador and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New York (1998-2003);   Political Director (1996-98);  Deputy Under Secretary Middle East/Eastern Europe (1995);  Minister, Washington (1994-95).

Mr John W Graham

Chair, Canadian Foundation for the Americas.  Formerly:  Ambassador of Canada to the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Mr Peter Harder
Canadian Foreign Service (1977-);  Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (2003-);  Formerly:  Personal representative of the Prime Minister to the G8, December 2003.
Mr Jason Kenney MP
Member of Canadian Parliament, Calgary South East (1977-);  Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.  Formerly:  Opposition Deputy House Leader;  President and Chief Executive Office, Canadian Taxpayers Federation;  Founding Executive Director, Alberta Taxpayer’s Association.
Mr Berel Rodal
President, Berel Rodal Associates;  Vice Chairman, International Center on Non-Violent Conflict, Washington DC;  Founding Member, North American Forum.
Mr Joseph Rotman OC
Chairman, Ontario Genomics Institute;  Member, Governing Council and Executive Committee, Canadian Institutes of Health.
Mr Michael Small
Canadian Foreign Service (1981-);  Assistant Deputy Minister for Global Issues, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (2006-).  Formerly:  Director General for Human Security and Human Rights (2005-06);  Fellow, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University (2003-04);  Canada’s Ambassador to Cuba (2000-03).

Mr Martin Rose

Director, the British Council, Canada (2006-).  Formerly:  British Council:  Director, Counterpoint (2002-06), Brussels (1999-2002), Rome (1991-96), Baghdad (1989-90).

Dr Pascal Boniface

Director, Institute for International and Strategic Relations, Paris.   Author.

Ambassador Andrés Rozental

Eminent Ambassador of Mexico;  Founder and President, Rozental and Associados (1997-);  President, Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (2002-).  Formerly:  Ambassador-at-Large and Special Envoy for President Vicente Fox (2000-2001);  Ambassador to the United Kingdom (1995-97).  Author. 

The Rt Hon Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG KBE PC

Life Peer, Liberal (2001-);  High Representative of the International Community and EU Special representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2002-).  Formerly:  Member of Parliament, Liberal Party, Yeovil (1983-88), Liberal Democrats (1988-2001);  Leader, Liberal Democrats (1988-99).
Mr Ashish Bhatt 
Deputy Director, The Ditchley Foundation (2001-);  A Director, The United Nations Association of the UK.  Formerly Special Assistant to The Rt Hon Paul Boateng MP (1996-2001).
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
Life Peer, Labour (2005-);  Member, Board of Governors, Westminster Foundation for Democracy.  Formerly:  Member of Parliament, Labour, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (1983-2005), South Ayrshire (1979-83);  Minister of State, Scotland Office (2001-02);  Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development (1997-2001).
The Rt Hon Lord Hurd of Westwell CH CBE PC
Life Peer, Conservative (1997-);  Senior Adviser, Hawkpoint Partners Ltd (2001);  Chairman, German-British Forum;  Chairman, The Centre for Dispute Resolution (2000-);  Deputy Chairman, Coutts & Co (1998-).  Formerly:  Member of Parliament, Conservative, Witney (1983-97);  Mid-Oxon (1974-83);  Foreign Secretary (1989-95);  Home Secretary (1985-89);  Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1984-85).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.  Author.
Mr Philip Stephens
Associate Editor and Chief Political Commentator, Financial Times.  Formerly:  Economics Editor, Political Editor and Editor, UK Edition, Financial Times;  Correspondent, Reuters, London and Brussels.  Author.  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
Dr Catherine Wills
Art Historian.  A Governor and Member, Council of Management, The Ditchley Foundation.

Professor Philip Bobbitt

A W Walker Centennial Chair in Law, University of Texas at Austin;  Fellow, American Academy of Arts & Sciences.  Formerly:  National Security Council:  Director for Intelligence, Senior Director for Critical Infrastructure, Senior Director for Strategic Planning.
Mr Robert Earle
Counselor to the Director of National Intelligence (2005-).  Formerly:  Senior Advisor, US Ambassador to Iraq (2004-05);  Senior Advisor, US Ambassador to the United Nations (2001-04).
Major General Vern M Findley II
Director, Strategy, Plans and Policy, Headquarters US Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base (2006-).  Formerly:  Deputy Chief of Staff, Strategy, Plans and Assessment, Multi-National Force-Iraq, Baghdad (2005 06).
Mr Elliot Gerson
Executive Vice President of Seminars and Public Programs, The Aspen Institute (2004-);  Chief Administrator, American Rhodes Scholarships, The Rhodes Trust (1997-);  Member, Council on Foreign Relations.
The Hon Colleen Graffy
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, US Department of State (2005-).
Professor Engseng Ho
Danzinger Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University.
Mr Jim Hoagland
Associate Editor and Foreign Correspondent, the Washington Post.
Dr Kim Holmes
Vice President, Defense and Foreign Policy Studies;  Director, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, the Heritage Foundation (2005-).  Formerly:  Assistant Secretary of State for International Organisation Affairs, State Department (2002-05);  Vice President, Heritage Foundation (1992-2002).
Ambassador Robert E Hunter
Senior Advisor, RAND (1998-);  President, Atlantic Treaty Association;  Chairman, Council for a Community of Democracies.  Formerly:  US Ambassador to NATO;  US Representative to Western European Union (1993-98).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Robert G Kaiser
Associate Editor and Senior Correspondent, The Washington Post (1998-).  Formerly:  Managing Editor (1991 98);  Deputy Managing Editor (1990-91).  A Member of the Board of Director, The American Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Steve Kaplan
Assistant Deputy to the Director of National Intelligence, US Department of State.
Mr Robert Kelley
Chief Counsel, Subcommittee on ‘National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations’, Government Reform Committee, US State Department (2006-).  Formerly:  Advisor, Legislative Affairs, US Embassy, Baghdad (2003-06);  Counsel to the Intelligence Committee, US Senate.
Mr Parag Khanna
Fellow, New America Foundation.  Formerly:  Global Governance Fellow, Brookings Institution;  Researcher, World Economic Forum, Geneva, Researcher on terrorism and conflict resolution, Council on Foreign Relations.
Dr Stephen Krasner
Director for Policy Planning, US Department of State (2005-).  Formerly:  Director, Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law;  Deputy director, Stanford Institute for International Studies;  Graham H Stuart Professor of International Relations, Stanford University;  Director Governance and Development, National Security Council (2002).
Mr Marc Leland
President, Marc E Leland & Associates, Arlington, VA.
Mr Barry Lynn
Senior Fellow, New American Foundation (2001-).  Formerly:  Executive Editor, Global Business;  Correspondent, S America and the Caribbean, Associated Press & Agence France Presse.  Author, titles include ‘End of the Line:  The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation’.
Mr Carlos Pascual
Vice President and Director, Foreign Policy Studies, The Brookings Institute (2006-).  Formerly:  Director, Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization, US Department of State (2004-06);  US Ambassador, Ukraine (2000 03).
Ambassador Thomas R Pickering
Senior Vice-President International Relations, The Boeing Company.  Formerly:  Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, US State Department (1997-);  President, Eurasia Foundation (1996-97);  US Ambassador, Russian Federation (1993-96), India (1992-93);  Permanent Representative to United Nations (1989-92);  US Ambassador to Israel (1985-88), El Salvador (1983-85), Nigeria (1981-83), Jordan (1974-78).  A Director, The American Ditchley Foundation.
Ms Tamara Wittes
Director, Arab Democracy and Development Project and Research Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution (2003-);  Middle East Specialist, US Institute of Peace and Director of Programs, Middle East Institute.
Mr Glenn Youngkin
Head, Global Industrial Team and Managing Director, The Carlyle Group, Washington DC (2005-).  Formerly:  Head, Carlyle Group, London (2000-05).