OP-ED: Promoting democracy in the ME —Urban Ahlin, Ronald Asmus, Steven Everts, Jana Hybaskova, Mark Leonard, Michael Mcfaul And Michael Mertes
As well as working at a grass roots level, policies on trade and aid should be used to encourage governments to reform and enlarge the space for legitimate political action. Countries that make progress on democracy and good governance should be rewarded
American and European leaders are talking about the need to promote reform in the ‘Greater Middle East’. Americans see this as the key battleground in the war on terror, and Europeans want stable, responsive governments that stem the flow of illegal migration and organised crime. Both sides accept that working with local partners for peaceful democratic change today is the best way to avoid violent revolution or military action tomorrow.
This enthusiasm for reform marks a paradigm shift. In the past, other interests, such as securing a steady flow of oil or obtaining cooperation on counter-terrorism, assumed priority. But, despite flourishing rhetoric about promoting democracy, promoting it is still not backed with concrete plans of action. A serious strategy must do three things: increase support for the region’s democrats; create a regional context that facilitates democratic development; and, finally, reorganise ourselves at home to pursue and sustain pro-democracy policies abroad.
First, while the West must play a critical supporting role, change must come from within the region. Our task is to strengthen indigenous political forces pushing for democratic change. In many countries, democratic activists sit in jail because of their commitment to human rights — and little is done to help them. No senior American or European leader should visit the region without raising human rights and defending individuals fighting for democracy.
In practical terms, the West must increase its direct support for local NGOs and campaigners (although in countries like Egypt it will first need to get the government to change the law so that they can receive foreign funding). Whereas the US now spends nearly $400 billion on defence, the National Endowment for Democracy lives on a budget of some $40 million, a fraction of which is spent in the Greater Middle East. Support should be raised tenfold or even more to make a real impact. The EU should increase its democracy promotion efforts to at least €500 million a year.
This money should be administered at arms-length from government to ensure that it is not constrained by diplomatic pressures. A new Trans-Atlantic Forum for Democracy Promotion could be created to co-ordinate all activities in the region, including bilateral programmes pursued by European countries. This could be supplemented by an independent Trust for Democracy in the Middle East, to which Europe and the US contribute funds and expertise.
As well as working at a grass roots level, policies on trade and aid should be used to encourage governments to reform and enlarge the space for legitimate political action. Countries that make progress on democracy and good governance should be rewarded; privileges should be withdrawn from those that do not. Second, the US and its European allies need to help create the external security environment and regional context in which democratic change can occur. Providing security is crucial in fostering democratic development. As well as working to further peace between Israel and Palestine, we must help Turkey succeed in turning itself into a full-fledged democracy that qualifies for EU membership, renew pressure on the Iranian regime for democracy and arms control, and avoid premature disengagement from Iraq.
Working with moderate Arab states, we can create a new regional security regime for the Greater Middle East, modelled on the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The contribution of the Helsinki process in Europe was its recognition that true peace required a new relationship between rulers and ruled as well as between states. It empowered societies to demand from their governments that they behave properly. In the Middle East, such a regime would mean giving Arab countries incentives to sign up.
Meanwhile, NATO can provide the peacekeeping capabilities needed to help rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq. It can also promote more democratic practices in peacetime by extending cooperation under a Middle East version of NATO’s Partnership-for-Peace programme.
Finally, we must reorganise ourselves to sustain such a course. This means creating a new generation of diplomats and democracy builders who know the region and its languages, as well as ensuring that governments maintain their commitments over the long term. Winning the war on terrorism will require a combination of offence and defence. For defence, the US created the Department of Homeland Security and is transforming its military. In Europe, the Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs and the High Representative on External Affairs are boosting Europe’s ability to tackle new threats.
But when it comes to offence, or most important missions — building democracy, promoting a political transformation agenda, and winning the hearts and minds of millions of ordinary people in the region — remain buried deep in bureaucracy, deprived of the necessary leadership, attention, and resources.
America needs to create a Department of Democracy Promotion headed by a Cabinet-level official. The Europeans should appoint a Commissioner for Democracy and Human Rights Promotion. The point of such a post would be to give leadership to efforts to promote democratic change — and to create an effective interlocutor for his/her American counterpart so that a joint transatlantic strategy will take shape.
As the debate over the ‘Greater Middle East’ grows heated, there is a danger that Europeans and Americans will pursue competing strategies. Both sides have much to offer, so we should pool the best proposals available and begin implementing them together. —DT-PS
Urban Ahlin is chairman of the Swedish Parliament’s foreign affairs committee; Ronald Asmus is Senior Fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States; Steven Everts is Research Fellow at the Center for European Reform, London; Jana Hybaskova, is a former Czech ambassador to Kuwait; Mark Leonard is Director of the Foreign Policy Center, London; Michael McFaul, is a fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University; and Michael Mertes, a former chief policy advisor to Helmut Kohl is a partner at dimap consult, Bonn and Berlin