The U.S. military doesn’t exactly have a perfect record when it comes to promoting democracy. Too often national interests – security, oil – have been given primacy over democratic values and human rights. The legacy of the Bush administrations has severely tainted the phrase democracy promotion and lead to a justified suspicion about promoting democracy by military force. However, the idea that the U.S. military should play a leading role in promoting democracy is far from dead.
Hence, the Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD) is developing a handbook on the role of the armed forces in democratic transition that will serve as a knowledge base for military and defense officials. The book is titled ‘Military Engagement: Influencing Armed Forces Worldwide to Support Democratic Transition’. In it former US Director of National Intelligence, retired US Navy admiral and leader of the CDD project Dennis C. Blair suggests elevating the pursuit of democratic ideals to the status of a strategic objective for the U.S. military, on a par with the more traditional aims of protecting American economic and security interests around the world.
There is certainly nothing new here. This idea that U.S. foreign policy strategy should include democracy promotion along military and economic interests has been proposed by several American presidents. These include President Clinton who made the case that a strategy of ‘Democratic Enlargement’ should be the new guiding principle to replace the Cold War strategy of containment. This democratic enlargement was to be created through the use of several foreign policy tools – including the military.
However, Blair’s proposal deserves attention. The heart of his idea is that democratic values should be a vital part of military-to-military relations when military officials of democratic countries engage with their non-democratic counterparts. Blair argues that cross-networking with international military delegations can put external pressure on autocratic countries and persuade them that democracies are best not only for the country itself, but also for the armed forces.
To the skeptics who hear the echo of neoconservative warmongers, it should be noted that modesty is an important part of Blair’s vision. He's not advocating grand nation-building experiments like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead he focuses on the military-to-military interaction on the individual level and praises supporters of non-violent resistance to authoritarian regimes.
Whatever one thinks of the prospects of the U.S. military (or the military in other democratic countries) promoting democracy, the CCD project offers an interesting contribution to the debate about democracy promotion.
This blog post was inspired by the Foreign Policy article ‘The Tip of the Democracy Spear’ by Christian Caryl.