Stability, Resilience, and Democratic Values

Stephen DeAngelis

March 02, 2006

Robert D. Kaplan, writing in The Washington Post, is right and wrong at the same time:

Globalization and other dynamic forces will continue to rid the world of dictatorships. Political change is nothing we need to force upon people; it’s something that will happen anyway. What we have to work toward — for which peoples with historical experiences different from ours will be grateful — is not democracy but normality. Stabilizing newly democratic regimes, and easing the development path of undemocratic ones, should be the goal for our military and diplomatic establishments. The more cautious we are in a world already in the throes of tumultuous upheaval, the more we’ll achieve.

Kaplan is a pragmatist — he wants us to focus on establishing institutions, as opposed to exporting democratic values.  Absolutely correct — without such institutions, there will be no stability.  But establishing these institutions requires bold action, not caution — action to create public-private partnerships, capture the best practices that support essential systems, then, through technology platforms and rules automation, create government mechanisms and infrastructure that can be replicated in country after country.

Such systems — resilient systems — are inherently democratic.  They do not impose U.S.-style democratic values, but they operate on democratic principles — of distributed control, and immediate responsiveness to individual needs and changing conditions.  And they are the result of U.S.-style democratic capitalism — of entrepreneurship, innovation, and the spontaneous collaboration of the public and private sectors to meet public needs.

So by all means, establish the institutions that will in turn establish stability.  But remember that action, not caution, is required.  And remember that in creating stable institutions in Iraq and elsewhere, you will still be promoting democracy.