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Democracy Promotion as Foreign Policy: Some Cautionary Reflections

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Activities by one state to promote democracy in another are now more visible and systematic than they have ever been. Numerous governments, international organizations and private associations spend billions of dollars to build, deepen and defend democracy around the world. Promoting democracy elsewhere forms the centre piece of the foreign policies of the United States and the European Union, and is used to justify a wide range of actions, from election observation to education of public officials, but also includes the controversial 2003 US invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. To judge from the rhetoric, promoting democracy elsewhere has become a guiding theme both of the foreign policies of liberal democracies and of international relations more generally.

This article draws chiefly on the experiences of the United States and the European Union — the two most important democracy promoters. It suggests that the prominence given to promoting democracy elsewhere as part of the foreign policies of liberal democracies tends to diminish the challenges of democratization and has the potential to exacerbate international tensions, bring democracy itself into disrepute, and diminish the role of traditional diplomacy in managing differences between states.

Affiliations: 1: School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, Canberra, Australia


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