Democracy Development Long-Term Task, Rice Says

Washington - Developing democracy in the world “is a long-term, generational task,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the inaugural meeting of the Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion on November 6.

“America can have a leading voice in promoting democracy” working in concert with universities and other nongovernmental institutions to help develop civil society in new democracies, Rice said.

“[E]ven even if people hold very dear in their hearts the desire to be free, it is still quite a challenge to get from that desire to be free, to working governmental and nongovernmental institutions that can be the core of helping people to realize those dreams,” she told the group of policy expert.

“If you ask people, ‘do you want to live in a society in which you have some say in who will govern you, in which you can educate your children, both boys and girls, in which you can speak your conscience, in which you can worship freely, in which you can associate to promote your interests’ - the sort of basics of democracy - most people will say ‘yes.’  And we're learning around the world that most people will say ‘yes’ whether they are sophisticated and literate or … they are poor farmers.”

Rice said democracy is a process of development that does not follow straight lines, and is "prone to fits and starts. They are prone to reversals from time to time."

Rice said governments must be responsive to the needs of their people, but often a new democracy cannot deliver benefits to the people immediately. “[W]hen people have voted, they seem to expect that there is going to be change, and when that change doesn't come, there is sometimes frustration and a tendency to blame democracy,” she said.

The United States had its own struggles with democracy, she said, noting that it was not until 1965 that all American citizens were guaranteed the right to vote. “[W]hile our institutions were created to sustain, support and protect democracy, ... they were initially institutions of a very limited franchise, but ... over time, little by little, step by step, brick by brick, the United States has included more of its population in the democratic enterprise,” she said, adding that the same process might be expected for other evolving democracies.

International organizations such as NATO and the United Nations play an important role in promoting democratic values, she said.

Rice explained that delicate diplomacy is necessary to maintain complex bilateral relationships with states that are not strong protectors of human rights and other democratic freedoms. “You have to keep pressing the issues, no matter how important other elements of the relationship may be,” she said. For this reason, she said, it was important to support the independent press by meeting with the staff of Novaya Gazeta when she was in Russia.  (See related article.)

Individual freedoms can suffer when “the institutions that one would hope would separate power are not very strong – the legislature, the press, the judiciary,” she said.  (See Freedom of the Press.)

Another example Rice cited was Egypt. Civil society “is stronger in Egypt than I had known,” and its long-standing and “articulated set of institutions” merit support, she said. But she said the United States has protested the detention of opposition politician Ayman Nour.  (See related article.)

When asked about the elections in the Palestinian Authority, Rice said, “Because sometimes elections turn out differently than we might have hoped,” it does not mean the United States will withdraw support of democracy there. “When Hamas won the election in the Palestinian Territories, we recognized that this was a legitimate election; by all accounts it was free and fair.” She said where Hamas fails is in “the international acceptability that it takes to get assistance and to provide for the Palestinian people.”  (See related article.)

She asked, “Would we ever have seen Hamas confronted with that dilemma without elections?”

All young democracies require multifaceted support to become “well-governed democratic states” that can sustain democracy, Rice emphasized.

“You can’t just have an election and leave these states to their own devices … you have to help to build the infrastructure.”

Government officials serving on the committee include Rice, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance Randall L. Tobias, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula J. Dobriansky (the committee’s executive director) and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Barry F. Lowenkron.

Other committee members are former U.S. government officials and representatives of corporations, nongovernmental organizations, public policy organizations and academic institutions. Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, chairs the committee.

For more information, see Democracy Dialogues.