The Relationship Between Foreign Policy and Democracy
In March 1990 then Republican Secretary of State James Baker delivered a speech to the World Affairs Council in which he delineated the role, as he saw it, between United States Foreign Policy and democracy. Essentially he stated that the United States would make democracy the “central value” of its foreign policy (Baker). Despite this claim United States foreign policy does not have such a relationship to democracy.
During Baker’s speech he made several observations about democracy and foreign policy. Presumably these observations were intended to be persuasive and convince those listening of the link between the United States Foreign Policy and democracy. Unfortunately these observations are not always correct and paint a different view of Foreign Policy than Baker would have one believe. First Baker claimed “democracy means individual rights and individual responsibilities” (Baker). Although this is a nice sentiment, this statement is almost certainly false. There is no necessary link between democracy and individual rights. Democracy means the rule of the majority. It need not concern itself with individual rights or responsibilities at all. Democracy is simply majority rules. Should the rights of an individual be infringed upon based on a majority of the popular vote, there is no recourse in a democracy to address this. This point is dramatically illustrated in Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” with the rights and lives of individuals are willingly sacrificed for the good of the population at large.
Baker’s second observation is that “democracy offers a unique political legitimacy” (Baker). This position is much more plausible and is probably true. Since democracy occurs when the people institute it, the government does enjoy a particular justification for its existence. However the truth of this statement does not appear to strengthen the alleged connection between the foreign policy and democracy.
Baker next alleges that democracy cannot stand on its own. There must be economic development and security for the people and that war and poverty are the great opponents of democratic governments. It is certainly true that poverty is an opponent of democratic governments. However, the same poverty is an opponent of totalitarian state. A well-fed population is much more likely to support the current government than is one where the people are starving. Revolutions do not occur when people are content whether the government is democratic or otherwise.
Baker’s fourth point is that “American foreign policy abroad must reflect democratic values” (Baker). This observation, of course, is the point of his speech. He makes this observation without offering proof that it is true. If it is true, it is only recently true because the cases cited below, United States Foreign Policy has not reflected democracy in the recent past
Lastly, Baker claims that a foreign policy centered on democracy provides a “potent instrument for rallying international action” (Baker). That is, by having a foreign policy centered on creating democracies throughout the world, the United States will be able to involve its allies and other countries through out the world to align with United States’ efforts (Baker). This would provide an important tool the United States could use in its dealings with other countries. In other words the power of the United States would be increased by having such a foreign policy. Somehow this self-interest somehow reduces the decision to promote democracy from a lofty moral standard to a stance designed to promote the self-interest of the United States.
There is a certain irony to Baker’s remarks when one examines more closely the history of the United States’ foreign policy in the last half of the Twentieth Century. Based on the Truman Doctrine that the United States should work to prevent the spread of communism, the United States removed from office a number of democratically elected leaders and replaced them with non-democratic regimes. In fact, the Domino Theory that attempted to justify military action against communism was predicated on the notion that non-democratic communism would spread throughout the world if unchecked. In 1953 the United States, using the CIA removed from office the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh and installed the man who was to become the autocratic Shah of Iran (Hornberger). In Chile in 1972, the United States tried to influence the presidential election by giving more than $350,000 to the opponent of the socialist Salvador Allende. Despite this attempt Allende was elected by a plurality. Evidence suggests the CIA supported his overthrow in August 1973 (Kornbluh). It is evident that in recent history the United States has not engaged in a democracy centered foreign policy, but has engaged in an anti-communist foreign policy.
If democracy is not the heart of foreign policy then what is the relationship between the two? Technically, there need not be a relationship at all. Based on the cases cited above and the United States’ current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan it appears that the heart of U.S. policy is economic more than political. While it might sound good to say that the United States has a foreign policy based on democracy, the reality is far different. Even if it were true this connection has a disturbing element. Since so many of the U.S. attempts seem to involve military violence there is a quality of these efforts that is reminiscent of a mother telling her son to swallow a foul-tasting medicine because it is good for him. This is remarkably reminiscent of the European efforts to convert the natives of the Americas to Christianity because it would be could for them. The so-called paternalistic attitude resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths for those who failed, even those who did, convert. Just as the assumption that American natives would want to convert to Christianity turned out to be false, the assumption that democracy is good for the other people in the world may not be true. Rather than having a foreign policy that forces democracy on other peoples, a foreign policy that encourages and aids self-determination, regardless of the type of government or economic system a country has seems a better, more palatable solution.
Baker, James. “Democracy and Foreign Policy.” Mar. 1990. World Affairs Council. 5 May 2007 <http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/
Hornberger, Jacob G. “An Anti-Democracy Foreign Policy: Iran.” 31 Jan. 2005. The Future of Freedom Foundation. 5 May 2007 <http://www.fff.org/comment/com0501i.asp>.
Kornbluh, Peter. “Chile and the United States: Declassified Documents Relating to the Military Coup, September 11, 1973.” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 8. n.d. George Washington University, 5 May 2007 <http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB8/nsaebb8i.htm>.