Spreading Democracy Around the Globe

THE recent World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna made vividly clear that the end of the cold war is only the first half of the struggle for freedom. Dictators from Beijing to Damascus and on to Havana were aggressively represented and effective. The forces of democracy, represented primarily by consensus-seeking diplomats and United Nations bureaucrats, escaped with a tie at best.

This is a struggle to take power from the hands of the dictators who are the major cause of war and instability in the world. We need to apply the same determination with which we fought and won the cold war, but we must develop a new set of tools.

Economic sanctions may be helpful under certain circumstances, but we see in the case of China a reluctance by the West to apply them. Military power can be effective, and in some cases should be used, but there too is reluctance to apply it.

There are other steps that would significantly alter the balance of power in favor of the forces of freedom. First, our diplomats working in dictatorships must be instructed that their central objective is to bring about change, that they are accredited to the country and its people and not to a minority government.

A host of practical and powerful consequences follows from this seemingly innocuous statement. Traditionally, diplomats have been reluctant even to be seen with opposition figures; they believe their task is to get along with those in power. I suggest a profound change: Our embassies and ambassadors should seek every occasion publicly to identify themselves and their nations with the local democrats.

American ambassadors who have tried this - for example, Winston Lord in China, Harry Barnes in Chile, and myself in Hungary - have been richly rewarded by gratitude from thousands of Chinese, Chileans, and Hungarians. We have seen dramatic effects in sustaining or accelerating the transition to freedom.

Some of us were told by the State Department to get back into line. This is "old think," and it must change. We should train our foreign service officers in the techniques of democratic action.

We should be proud to represent and push for American values abroad. We need to persuade other democratic governments also to transform the traditional old-style diplomacy with new diplomats who deal directly with the public. I distinctly recall the discomfort of some of my NATO colleagues in Budapest at the "dilemma" they faced in having to get to know, much less support, the growing opposition groups in the late 1980s.

Fortunately, young diplomats in the US and other democratic foreign services are eager to participate in the fray. The measure of our progress, in part, will be the number of our diplomats expelled from dictatorial or authoritarian states in coming years for "intervening" on the side of the people. Based on 26 years of experience as a diplomat in Communist countries, I believe that we must literally stand with those who force change.

The second major step we can take is substantially to strengthen the ability of our democratic organizations to operate in countries that need their help. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who came to Vienna on behalf of the majority aspiring for freedom were underrepresented, underfunded and treated by many of their own governments (except the US and Canadian delegations) and the United Nations as second-class citizens. Organizations that stand clearly for democracy were far outnumbered by those eit her actively opposed to democracy or with other agendas that can and should be dealt with in other forums of the United Nations.

It was striking that democratic groups that have recently triumphed, were so pitifully unable to promote democracy in Vienna. Hardly any Russian or Eastern European NGOs could afford to come to combat the horde of anti-democrats well-financed by dictatorships like China and Cuba.

What can be done? We must recognize that the political means to shift the balance of political power are relatively cheap. And changing the culture of diplomacy would require no increase in the State Department budget. Helping NGOs will require our foundations and private donors to rethink their priorities and to be more willing to support democracy activities overseas.

The US government should redirect its own financing. The building up of a large bureaucracy to support human rights should be reversed and the money saved should be allocated directly to legitimate democratic organizations. Overall, there should be a doubling of the pitifully small funding devoted specifically to democracy - from about $100 million to $200 million a year.

The Clinton administration's willingness to support a significant increase in funding for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) - the major vehicle for supporting the international democracy activities of the Democratic and Republican parties, the AFL-CIO, and the US Chamber of Commerce - is only a beginning. NED was dealt a blow last month by the House of Representatives decision to kill the institution's funding. The administration and all those supporting democratization must now make the Senate put NED back on track.

Momentum is clearly on the side of democracy. Powerful dictators have not faded from the scene, but they need not carry the day. With a concerted new campaign, the year 2000 could witness a more peaceful and prosperous world.

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