Why Is the US So Eager to Export Democracy?

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2013-05-28 18:15
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Spreading democracy is an important aspect of the United States of America’s foreign policy and national strategy, so much so that it is regarded as the footstone of US foreign policy and the top priority of American diplomacy. The US government has devoted large amounts of resources, including money, to the promotion of democracy overseas. Why is the US so eager to export democracy? Is this really about promoting democracy in other countries?

“Double standards”

The US has come under particular criticism for employing “double standards” in its attempts to export democracy abroad. 

From the not so distant “color revolutions” to the more recent “Arab Spring,” the US government has fanned the flames of conflict in foreign countries under the banner of supporting democracy, in some cases offering vocal support, in others secretly providing assistance, and sometimes even using force to aid the overthrowing of governments by the opposition. However, when similar protests have occurred in countries who are allies of the US or who are pro-American, the US government has chosen to remain silent, in certain instances even consenting tacitly to the suppression of protestors by authorities. This is the clearest evidence of the double standards employed by the US.  

Libyan protesters tear up election documents in anger. The offices of Libya’s High National Election Commission in Benghazi were attacked on July 1, 2012. On October 23, 2011, the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) declared the liberation of Libya as the Libyan people prepared to embrace the democracy that they had long thirsted for. However, the situation in Libya has been anything but calm. Clashes between rival tribes have been constant, protests have been a common occurrence, guns have become a major problem,  and goods prices in the country have soared. / Xinhua (Edited by Zhang Fan)

The US regards elections as the “be all and end all” of democracy. As such, in exporting democracy, the US is in fact exporting elections. Moreover, these elections must be Western-style elections that involve competition between multiple parties. Taking this as the standard, the US divides the countries of the world into two categories: democracies and autocracies. Any country that holds Western-style elections is regarded as a “democracy,” no matter how poorly governed that country may be, or even how backwards its primitive, tribal society remains. On the contrary, any country that does not implement this system is an “autocracy,” regardless of the economic development, improvements to public wellbeing, and social progress that may be taking place in that country. The “democracies” that the US recognizes naturally observe human rights, even when fact dictates the opposite; whereas those labeled as “autocracies” can of course only ever deny human rights, even when reality says that they do not.

Even when it comes to elections, the attitude of the US differs depending on the countries in question. The US is willing to acknowledge elections that play to its benefit, hailing them as “victories of democracy,” but refuses to recognize elections whose outcomes do not accord to its interests, accusing them of being fraudulent. In such cases, it has even incited the opposition to take to the streets in protest, aiding them in overturning election results. Having taken place during most of the “color revolutions,” this has almost become a fixed mode of action. Following the turn of the century, leftwing political parties scored a number of election victories in Latin American countries, coming to power with overwhelming public support under the leadership of figures such as Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, both of whom are renowned for their strong anti-American stances. However, the US will never hail these countries as paradigms of democracy. Likewise, Iran also holds highly competitive government elections, but the US has never acknowledged that it is a democracy. In 2006, Hamas emerged victorious in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, which were held under the supervision of international election observers supplied by Western countries. But despite this, however, the US still regards the group as a “terrorist organization.”

It is therefore evident that the “double standards” employed by the US actually boil down to a matter of the country’s national interests. In adherence to this criterion, the US draws a line between those countries who are for America and those who are against it. 

“Missile-Bomb democracy”

Russia has repeatedly criticized the West for exporting “missile-bomb democracy,” accusing it of pushing democracy with “iron and blood” in an attempt to intervene in the internal conflicts of other countries. 

Generally speaking, the US employs two means of exporting democracy: peaceful evolution and “missile-bomb democracy.” During the Cold War, the US mainly depended on the peaceful evolution strategy to export democracy as opposed to the indiscriminate use of force, because the Soviet Union and the US were evenly matched in military strength. This strategy was declared a major success with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the dramatic changes that took place in Eastern Europe. However, having emerged as the world’s only superpower, the US has leant towards unilateralism and the indiscriminate use of force since the end of the Cold War. Although peaceful evolution has worked in the past, the time and effort required for it to succeed make it less attractive than the promotion of democracy by force. This being the case, the US used the September 11 attacks as a pretext to launch wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

However, two wars later, establishing democracy has proven much more difficult than scoring victory on the battlefield. Afghanistan’s elections have taken place under the supervision of armed US soldiers, ensuring that there can be no chance of victory for anyone who does not have the support of the US. As for Iraq, the US originally had plans to turn the country into a “democratic model” for the Islamic world, but ended up sinking deep into the mire. The result has been the tremendous loss of life and property in Iraq. Even today, bloodshed is endless.  

The “Arab Spring” reflected the demands of people in West Asia and North Africa for change and development. However, the US wasn’t always a supporter of the “Arab Spring,” given that the wave of change mostly threatened pro-American governments. When massive protests occurred in Tunisia and Egypt, the US was doubtful to begin with, but then jumped onto the people’s bandwagon as the situation developed. As for the civil war in Libya, the US government began by voicing its support for the opposition, and followed up with military intervention. As yet it remains unclear whether or not this will be repeated in Syria. Regardless of whether the US has sailed with the current, chosen sides, or opted for “missile-bomb democracy,” its aim has ultimately been to capitalize on the situation and feast on the success of the “Arab Spring.” In doing so, it has continued to draw a dividing line between those who are for America, and those who are against it. 

“Democratic trap”

To reveal the true motives behind America’s attempts to export democracy, we must look at what Western-style democracy has really done for other countries. 

In recent years, more and more people of insight have pointed out that democracy emerges once a country has reached a certain level of economic and social development. Being closely linked to a country’s history and culture, democracy can only thrive when it is generated internally. Democracy that has been forced on a country externally, on the other hand, will be unable to adapt to the conditions in that country. For many non-Western countries and regions, Western-style democracy has failed to deliver the economic development, political stability, and social progress that it promised, but has instead led to the emergence of numerous political parties, political unrest, and the fragmentation of society. Western-style democracy has not only failed to address corruption, but has also done nothing to resolve the gap between rich and poor in these countries. At the same time, many pressing issues concerning the national economy and the wellbeing of the public have been cast aside amidst constant political bickering. Given that such democracy is of no benefit to the people, it is often referred to as “low-quality democracy” or the “democratic trap.”

If we dig deeper, we will find that the US is the biggest beneficiary of “low-quality democracy” or the “democratic trap.”

First and foremost, Western-style democracy has been the cause of social disintegration and factional rivalry in non-Western countries and regions. Such rivalries often cause a widespread loss of reason as people descend into rashness, radicalism, and even madness. This is the most favorable social state for the contesting of votes among multiple political parties, but it causes the loss of cohesion on a national and social level. Secondly, Western-style democracy has given rise to constant political disputes, instability, and weak governments in non-Western countries and regions. In these countries and regions, politics is held to ransom by elections, governing parties see reelection as being more important than their obligations, opposition parties mount opposition for the sake of opposition, and politicians indulge in endless fighting to claim and retain power. As a result, the capacity of governments to make and implement policies diminishes and a culture of short-sighted behavior becomes prevalent. Hampered by infighting, these countries are unable to formulate or implement effective domestic and foreign policies, and thus pose no challenge to the hegemony of the US. Under such circumstances, the US can easily influence and manipulate these countries, even turning them into its client states. 

On the other hand, the fact that governments in these countries employ the rules and procedures of Western-style democracy makes them appear legitimate. This facade of legitimacy prevents these countries and regions from totally collapsing. Capital is the lifeline of American politics, which means that serving capital is the mission of the US government. In the age of globalization, America’s capital needs to be able to flow around the world freely in order to profit from cheaper resources and labor and export high-end products and services. This being the case, the US always sells Western-style democracy as a package together with the free market economy. So in fact, US capital does not stand to gain if countries should totally collapse or fail. On the contrary, having a few more countries that are internally divided and politically weak, but not likely to totally collapse, actually conforms to the interests of the US. 

Is there a non-Western country in the world that has not demonstrated such features after importing Western-style democracy? Is there a non-Western country in the world that has become strong and prosperous after introducing Western-style democracy? After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s attempts to copy Western-style democracy succeeded only in bringing about economic recession, political unrest, and both domestic and international difficulties. Yet despite this, Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded a peace prize by the West, and Boris Yeltsin was unanimously praised in Western countries. Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, has worked to strengthen the power of the central government, clamped down on oligarchs and separatists, and taken strong steps to safeguard Russia’s national interests since being elected to power, giving the Russian people hope that their country may once again be strong. Yet despite this, Putin has been branded a “dictator,” and his administration attacked as “a step back for democracy,” by the Western media. These facts unveil the deepest, darkest, and truest motives behind the unrelenting efforts of the US to export democracy. 

Although the US claims to be on the side of the people and history as it exports democracy, what the facts show us are its hypocrisy and selfishness. One day people will eventually wake up to the truth. 


(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.1, 2013) 

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