For Democracy

WHAT a season for democracy! Starting with that landmark referendum of South African whites in March, popular votes have come in thick and fast around the globe. Coming shortly to a country near you: more elections, including in Israel, the United States, and (finally!) the limited-franchise vote in liberated Kuwait.

Yes, there are negative blips, too. After the Haitian Army blocked democracy in their country, the Algerian Army and Peru's President Alberto Fujimori followed suit. But still, the big trend in the post-bipolar world thus far seems to be toward unleashing democratic forces stifled by the cold war.

Sometimes, this worldwide trend toward democratization may seem chaotic, or even threatening. After all, these changes are taking place in a world still over-armed with nuclear weapons. But if policymakers can keep a few basic principles in mind, the democratic trend could end up enhancing everyone's security.

* First, having a democratic process means almost inevitably that sometimes the guys you don't like win. But just because you don't like them doesn't mean you can't work with them. Moving beyond narrow partisan sensitivities is a sign of democratic maturity - whether domestically or in international relations.

* Second, democracy really can be the best system for people of all religious or national cultures. Too often, people in the West say that Muslims or black Africans, for example, "have no experience of" or "are not ready for" democracy. That patronizing attitude is being challenged in many parts of Africa. Turkey's long experience of electoral politics and experiences in other Muslim countries could help disprove it for Muslims, too.

Westerners like to claim democracy as a Greco-European concept. But many elements of democratic practice are found in other cultures, too. So which way can we more effectively promote democracy worldwide? By engaging people from other cultures in dialogues that draw on and increase the democratic strengths in everyone's traditions - or by claiming democracy as exclusively "ours"? The former, I would say.

* Third, a crucial component of global change will be to press everywhere for increased democratic control over the military. Societies around the world have suffered because of excessive spending for "defense." The results have been measured in the casualties of war, in repression, and in huge burdens on national economies.

The US's most distinctive contribution to the practice of democracy has been the ability of elected representatives to exercise control over war and peace issues, and over the details of military spending. These parts of the American experience have given our country resilience and cohesion in dealing with tricky war and peace issues - one that we should not be shy to recommend to other societies facing similarly tough decisions.

* Fourth, democracies have a good record, over the long haul, in finding stable solutions to difficult inter-group conflicts. It was the democratic victors of World War II who, by drawing on their own democratic traditions, found an effective way to rehabilitate Germany and Japan in their respective regions. Democratization has been actively pursued, to help to resolve deep conflicts in Namibia, Nicaragua, Cambodia - and now, South Africa.

* Fifth, this whole idea of democracy as a building block of stability may require a new mindset. Maybe we should all try to follow the recent examples from - of all places! - South Africa. According to South Africa specialist Pauline Baker, President Frederik de Klerk's genius during the recent referendum was to transform Afrikaner politics "from a politics of grievance to a politics of national destiny." Secretary of State James Baker III also noted that an essential part of the referendum's success st emmed from Nelson Mandela and other black leaders who, by keeping the black townships quiet, maximized Mr. De Klerk's chances for success with the whites.

Such mature welcoming of democratic change is an attitude leaders and analysts elsewhere might do well to emulate.

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