International Policy Center Home Page

The State of Democracy around the World (Dean's Symposium)

April 12, 2024 1:16:34
Kaltura Video

Stephen Biegun, David Carroll, Jenna Bednar, and Susan D. Page discuss the true state of democracy around the world in this crucial year. April, 2024.


0:00:00.4 Dr. Bednar: Just absolutely my pleasure to welcome you to this final panel of the Dean's Symposium. And I hope that you've been able to attend some of the other sessions because they've been marvelous. Before I get into introductions, I will note that we have one missing member of the panel whose plane has just landed, because again, back to the weather stuff it was delayed a bit. So Steve Biegun will be joining us as soon as he can, and in a second I'll tell you a little bit more about Steve, and this will be his chair. All right.

[overlapping conversation]

0:00:48.1 DB: So today we are talking for the whole afternoon because I hope that many of you are staying for this later this afternoon when [0:00:53.4] ____ Stacey Abrams. But today we're talking about democracy or the state of democracy around the world. And this is an exciting year. The most significant elections of bracing 70 countries, eight of the 10 most populous countries. 20 that will take place on the African continent. Two billion people will vote in 2024, representing more than 60% of the global gross domestic product, which is a funny way of talking about people.

0:01:30.2 DB: And there must have been something wrong with my mic. So here we are. So and we won't see this same confluence in the opportunity for democratic participation again until 2048. So this should be a moment of celebration, and yet we're worried. It's a moment of worry. Worry about the health and strength of democracy and our commitment to it. And so just a couple of things. The Atlanta Council had a recent meeting that summed up some of the most salient points. The Financial Times calls this year, the most intense and cacophonous 12 months of democracy since the idea was minted more than 2500 years ago. Foreign policy says this coming year, you will see a global battle between democracy and autocracy, literally at the polls. And so we have a sense that democracy is on the defensive, but according to Freedom House, democracies need to counteract a recession in undemocratic rights and freedoms that's been underway globally since 2006.

0:02:52.6 DB: So, to help us think about these issues we have an outstanding panel, and let me just tell you a little bit about them, including our so far empty chair. In fact, the empty chair is where I'll start. Steve Biegun, he's a deep friend of the Ford School and of the University of Michigan. He has served as a Towsley Policymaker in Residence here at the Ford School. He's currently a board member of the National Endowment for democracy. He has more than three decades of international affairs experience in government and the private sector, including in the Department of State, the White House, and the United States Congress. In 2021, he concluded his most recent government service as the US Deputy Secretary of State. Importantly, he's also a graduate of the University of Michigan, where he was awarded a bachelor's degree in political science and the Russian language.

0:03:48.6 DB: So we will welcome him as soon as he can get here from the airport. So Dave Carroll comes to us from the Carter Center, where he leads the Center's initiative on developing standards and best practices in international election observation. He's managed or participated in more than 70 Carter Center projects to strengthen democracy and electoral processes around the globe in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. And then my colleague, my dear colleague, ambassador Susan Page is a Ford School Professor of Practice. Although she was due to moderate the discussion, because this is how we roll at Ford. We're ready for anything. She's actually way overqualified to join as a panelist. But so let me tell you a little bit about her qualifications for the few of you who don't know her yet. She's served also in the US Department of State, the US Agency for International Development, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations in senior roles for decades across East Central and Southern Africa.

0:05:00.7 DB: And in Haiti and Nepal. She was the first US ambassador to the Republic of South Sudan and served as assistant secretary General of the United Nations in Haiti. So I wanna... Before we launch, and I'm gonna be asking the questions, I would like to thank our co-sponsors, the Weiser Diplomacy Center and the International Policy Center, as well as our media partner, Detroit Public Television. And once the panel has spoken for a little while, we're gonna open it up to audience questions. If you're watching online, please click on the webpage. If you're here in the room please use those QR codes. I think they're on those little... That's a pretty deep maze color, but the maze colored pieces of paper that are roaming around on the tables. And then my colleagues, Nayab Ali and Bosma Emam will moderate those questions. Okay. And if you're posting to social media please use @fordschool and #dean'ssymposium. And that is with two ss. As you type it out, you'll see what I mean. All right. Thank you very much. And let me just sit for a second and grab the questions and we'll get started.

0:06:29.9 DB: Okay. So at this moment, I think I'll just turn to you David, if you wanna just maybe share some of your thoughts about the state of democracy worldwide.

0:06:40.8 Dr. David Carroll: Happy to do that. And assuming that the microphone's working.

[background conversation]

0:06:54.5 DC: Okay. Okay. Is that better? No?

[background conversation]

0:06:56.1 DC: Oh, yes. No? Let's see. I'll keep talking and tell me if it's getting any better.

0:07:05.7 DB: It sounds amplified. I'm amplified.

0:07:11.0 DC: How about now? Can you hear me pretty good? Yeah, that sounds good. Okay. I see a lot of nodding heads. Okay. I'm gonna put this back here. So your question was...

0:07:22.2 DB: Just...

0:07:23.4 DC: Say something about the state of democracy. Yeah.

0:07:23.5 DB: Yeah Just...

0:07:23.8 DC: So clearly it's a very important challenging moment as it's been laid out in the introduction. But from where I sit, having been doing this work for more than 30 years, it's actually something that's been going on for a good 10 or 15 years. But I think it is kind of reaching more important, breaking points or serious crossroads. And it's a sense that more and more countries in the world are affected. But if you look at the indices that track democracy and the state of the democracy around the world, the varieties of democracy scoring and freedom house scoring, you'll see that for 15 or 20 years, there's been kind of a leveling off of what had been progress for 30 years or so from the '70s, it's leveled and it's starting to decline in the last 10 or 15 years, kind of slow, gradual decline.

0:08:18.4 DC: Not a significant decline, but something that you can see. So, progress toward democracy that had been happening for a very, very long time is in trouble. There's no doubt about that. And if I was to kind of anticipate some of the things we'll be talking about, and I try to say you want to know why and should be what can be done about it, I'll at least try to say a few things about what I think is why. And the first is global political change. So just when I was a graduate student in the early '80s, I remember reading about global declines and shifts in power balances and in my life, I'd never seen those. I thought, what are they talking about? What does that even look like? Now I know what it looks like.

0:09:03.4 DC: There's global political change. We're moving from what had been a very stable bipolar world of two superpowers to a context where there's at least a third superpower and many other middle powers, nuclear weapons, proliferation. We're entering a period of significant political instability that's happening. Second I would say economic inequality and economic development and however you wanna put those together, your economics professors can say a lot more about them. But clearly in societies across the world, we're not addressing inequality sufficiently. And the economic development has been challenging. The third thing that I would point to is the cluster of media, traditional media, the decline of traditional media and the rise of social media and the effects those have on the information environment, and the information that people receive and hear and believe, and the complications that's introducing to how we as societies deal with all of that.

0:10:10.9 DC: So I would say those are the things that concern me and it's in countries all around the world. And well, I should say I work at the Carter Center. I've been working on elections for more than 30 years, and it's only been in the last four years or so. And that the Carter Center has said we should be thinking about working inside the US And it was a difficult decision for the Carter Center to work on political issues in our home country. When we work internationally, we are automatically seen as a non-biased, non-partisan entity. And President Carter is highly respected around the world. We were concerned of having a former Democratic president working on political issues in the US and how that would be perceived. And we've been pleasantly surprised that so far people think it's important for us to work on these issues, but it was a difficult decision for the Carter Center to say, we are going to work on these issues in the US and it's a reflection of our assessment and conclusion that we're entering a very, very difficult space in this country in this time.

0:11:19.5 DB: Susan, before I get into these questions, what's on your mind when you think about democracy globally?

0:11:26.7 Ambassador Susan Page: Well, since I was supposed to be asking the questions, I'll have to shift my hat a little bit, but I think one of the biggest issues is something that came up at the last panel. And David has really just laid it out, which is the global inequality, but within every society. And we often like to think of countries even in the US or groups of people as a monolith. And that's unfortunately very misguided. And so when I think about the countries that I've worked the most on throughout my career, mostly in Africa, but some elsewhere like Haiti we're not talking about solutions for those countries in quite the same way or dedicating as much attention to them. And we're questioning, well, why are these countries having coups? And a large part of it is because they're not seeing democracy working for them, they are the providers of all of this wealth that is going out. But receiving very little in return. That's not to say that there isn't also bad management, mismanagement, interference by foreign powers, including the United States. But I think the problem really is, well, why would they overthrow this government that's been supposedly democratically elected? But as we all know, elections are not the only indicator of democracy.

0:13:14.8 DB: Susan just brought up where I will definitely gonna be going in the upcoming few questions, which is really about the public and the public's commitment to democracy. And so David, I just thought we've been hearing this word backsliding, democratic backsliding a lot and I'm wondering whether that is consistent with what you're seeing. It sounds like it was from your opening remarks. But if you maybe wanna tie it to the public's commitment to democracy in the way that Susan has just invited us to think about it.

0:13:57.8 DC: Sure. There is some debate in the academic literature about exactly how to measure and different schemes to attract this, but I don't think there's much doubt that we are experiencing some backsliding and certainly different countries are moving in different ways. So there are countries that are making progress, some of them are ones that had been declining and they've turned it around. So that's a little bit of a mixed bag. But there are pretty clearly more countries declining on democracy scores than rising. So I don't think there's too much significant debate about whether or not backsliding is occurring. It's more about how much and how to measure it and how to understand it. And you said link it to?

0:14:36.6 DB: Well, to the public support. And by the way, can you all hear me without the mic? I might be double amplified. All right. To public support, that is, is that the source of backsliding? It's just in the sense that Susan was describing democracy, people are saying democracy isn't working for me. And so it's lack of public commitment to it that's causing democracy to decline.

0:15:00.5 DC: I think there's multiple things, but I think that's definitely a big part of it. I mean, people are not seeing democracies satisfy their needs. So democracies are not doing a good enough job. But there is all these other other factors generally economic success, the information environment is I think a very, very big important one. And just this political relations between countries adds stress to it.

0:15:24.9 DB: Yeah. Now, so when we look at some different countries like Brazil, France, India, Italy, Tunisia, Uganda not to mention of course, the United States and many other nations, it seems like leaders are using certain like hot topics like immigration, religion, crime, identity, to vilify the other, to divide us particular groups of people as a means to appealing to voters... To voters' fears, or to justify usurpation of people's rights and freedoms as long as they're in this category of the other. So I'd like to invite each of you to think a little bit about this. And in particular, should we be thinking about this as a form of populism or nativism?

0:16:19.6 DC: Would you or would you like me to.

0:16:24.8 AP: Go ahead.

0:16:26.4 DC: Yeah. Are you sure?

0:16:29.8 AP: Yeah.

0:16:30.9 DC: Okay. I mean, I think there's definitely elements of populism and nativism and there's an overlap between those a little bit more of who's being targeted in those two concepts. But nativism and being more, the people outside your country or the immigrants, those who are different from you, are who are the ones who are somehow to be blamed and populism it's more of an economic focus. But there's an overlap. And both of those I think are elements and symptomatic of how people are reacting to these pressures that you're needing someone to blame, you're needing someone to be moving ahead of, and it's a reflection of the economic and the political distress that our societies are facing. I think fundamentally at the end of the day, that's how I look at it.

0:17:15.7 AP: Yeah. I would just add, I mean, I think that's right. The additional factor is that people are honing in on people's fears and also what works in order to get them elected. And...

0:17:35.4 DC: For sure.

0:17:35.5 AP: People universally are afraid of change. All of us we don't like change. We don't know what that is going to portend. And so the blame being able to see someone as worse off than you are is an important kind of psychological way that we think of ourselves, but also this inequality is really causing a lot of stress. And when people think about these new people coming in, it doesn't take much to then go that extra step and vilify them and say, well, they're the reason that I'm losing out.

0:18:18.6 DC: For sure.

0:18:19.1 AP: It's someone else's fault. It's nothing to do with me. But some of that is particularly unique to the United States and the way that it's partly capitalism, but always this mechanism of pull you up from... Pull yourself up from your own bootstraps. Well if you don't have any shoes, you don't have any bootstraps to pull up. And so I think that that is not necessarily the way that people see things in other parts of the world that have a much more... A much stronger commitment to working together. And there's a Swahili word, Harambee, it's that togetherness that is really important. And capitalism doesn't like that. It's very much individualism. And that's coming home to Ruth, where we don't have a lot of those jobs that provided a good wage. And so a lot of people are struggling and the people who have long been at the top don't particularly want to share that with anyone else, but they're using that rhetoric as a way to upset the apple cart.

0:19:37.4 DB: That's really interesting. And David, I hope you don't mind if I just follow up with Susan's just raised that maybe... She's laid out a hypothesis for us. That it's even worse than the United States because of our culture of individuality or self-reliance. And does this ring true to you? And is this part of, at the Carter Center, as you're thinking about, as you are moving into the United States, is that part of the way that you're thinking about it, the Carter Center?

0:20:08.1 DC: I agree with the analysis. We're not in the way that we're structuring our programming. That's not a very specific focus of what we're dealing with. But I certainly think it's clearly part of the underlying explanation of some of the forces at work. I no doubt about that.

0:20:24.2 DB: That it's just, that's amplifying the problem. So all that's threatening democracy globally. There's a cultural factor that's making it maybe even worse.

0:20:34.5 AP: Except that it's not necessarily true. But that is the language that we have always used. It's individualism as if there are no programs that the government has provided that there are no social safety nets as if everything has actually been accomplished by individuals all along. Which of course is not the case.

0:21:00.7 DC: But the ideology persists in our national self story.

0:21:05.4 AP: Exactly. And that's not necessarily the self story elsewhere.

0:21:11.2 DC: And if it's our narrative, it's something that our politicians can play off of, for their own game.

0:21:16.2 AP: For sure.

0:21:16.7 DC: Yes.

0:21:17.1 DB: That was so interesting. All right. So actually the next thing that, that we had planned to talk about is a continuation this some of the underlying conditions that are causing these changes. And what's appealing to citizens. So, I don't wanna take you outside of the United States because it's so much on our minds, but maybe put it in contrast with what you're seeing elsewhere as driving this uncertainty about democracy.

0:21:54.1 AP: Yeah. Again, I think that people are starting to rise up and part of it is media, social media. We saw how it was used in a number of countries, during the Arab Spring, in 2011, 2012. That was something that was used to get people to gather, to set meeting places. But of course, governments have gotten smart now, and they've turned that around and are controlling media access. So oftentimes recent, in more recent decade, they're shutting down, the media and people's access to the internet because they want their own narrative to be the one that prevails or they're surveilling what people are actually saying. And shutting down that ability to have a say, have a voice. So I think it's... I think one of the problems is that, all foreign policy is inconsistent.

0:23:07.9 AP: It just is real politic. But I think we're seeing that more and more from countries around the world, but in particular from the United States in how it is demonstrating its foreign policy in different countries. So we need to take a step back and have policies that work for the United States and not necessarily contracting out our policies to other countries like France for West Africa or the Middle East for dealing with some of North Africa and somewhat Central Africa. Sudan, we have lead countries that are implicated in many of these wars. And so how do you have a country that is basically, gaining something, even if the war stops, they're still in control of some of the mining, some of the gold, some of other precious metals, etcetera. But the people on the ground are getting little to nothing.

0:24:27.8 DC: Can I add a comment?

0:24:27.9 AP: Oh, please.

0:24:29.6 DC: Yeah. So I agree with all of that, and I think one of the things that this reminds me of, and listening to this is there is this, unsolvable dilemma that, all countries face really, but great powers like the United States. How can we be committed to advancing our national interest and committing to advancing democracy? Too often they are not easily compatible those two goals. And, if you... Like, I'm a firm believer in global democracy and human rights, and that should be one of the leading consistent goals of a country and its national leaders. In my mind, that's gonna lead to some trade offs sometimes, and things that are in your economic development interests. But it's hard for political leaders to make that those decisions. They will quite often compromise, will be allies with undemocratic states routinely because it's in our national political interest.

0:25:26.8 DC: There's a sensitive zone that we need to make sure that our economic interests have access to those markets, or we want this country to be an ally politically because of a global or regional struggle. Government leaders will quite often let democracy suffer as a goal. We see it all the time. And we're not alone. We're probably better than most, but it's hard to be a country that's a consistent leader on democracy when you're also trying to do what you think is necessary for your political and economic interests. And so that's a central, central dilemma. I wish we were more on the side of democracy more consistently. I wish that, the Carter Center, I mean the Carter Center, the United States, and others could do more to make that happen. But I'm also trying to be a realist and understand that politically it's just difficult.

0:26:18.7 AP: Yeah. And I would just add, I think part of the problem with "democratic regimes" is that these days, especially some people aren't so interested in governing, but they're interested in power. And so we're all talking about these issues that mean a lot to us. Rights, democracy, rules based order that we violate a lot, but then all of a sudden, but it's not okay for you to violate that rules based order, or for the competition over whose rules. And then lastly, I would say where you have systems that... When I first started in the State Department, in the office of the legal advisor for the first 10 years of my career, change of government, change of leaders, change of parties, really the political situation didn't change. Our policies didn't move that significantly. You always would have a big issue that might come along the opening of China, obviously it was before I was [0:27:37.2] ____.


0:27:37.5 AP: But, or changing our approach on, Vietnam or Cuba. But by and large, not a whole lot changed at the policy level. So it almost didn't matter who was at the top, they had different approaches perhaps, and different philosophies, but that tended to affect much more the domestic level. But when you are running in elections every four years, your policy really, as David said, it comes down to, well, we've gotta make these compromises, but it's not necessarily because they're in our best interest or rail politic, it's domestic rail politic. And if we do something like this, how is that going to be viewed, not necessarily for elections, but we're in a financial cycle with appropriations and a money cycle that leads us to short term planning and short term thinking and democracy, governance, the rule of law, human rights. These are long term objectives and goals that are not solvable in four years.

0:29:05.2 DB: Let me... So I wanna continue this thread and thinking about it in terms of great powers and realignment. And so, maybe one way of thinking about, given, Susan, the way you've been talking about your history at state and what had been going on for a while before that is, for a long time with under Cold War competition, it was the US and it's Democratic allies and the USSR and it's non-democratic allies. And so we managed, the global democracies in that sense that we could support democracies because they were our friends and push against undemocratic regimes because they were not our friends. But now since, we're in this new phase of great power competition, in particular with China entering the scene so strongly and with Russia. So, first are there other countries vying for influence that we should be paying attention to? I'm wondering particularly about the future with Africa and with the Indian subcontinent, and then other countries like, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE or Turkey, how do they fit in here? Is this a new era? Is there realignment? And how is that affecting democracy?

0:30:44.8 DC: I should do that to my state department.


[overlapping conversation]

0:30:48.3 AP: So yeah, I don't know that I would say necessarily realignment and I bristle at the great power competition language being used today. I don't really think that's exactly right. But I think we also don't give other countries enough credit for when we make it all about China. Other countries are just operating without being seen. They're under the radar to us, not necessarily to anyone else, but, Turkey is a huge competitor. And they are making their mark in lots of places, but it's going unseen unheard. And that I think is quite dangerous.

0:31:48.4 AP: And then the other bit is, when we think about some of the deals that have been made recently that the US was taken by surprise. Well, countries aren't sitting around waiting for the United States to make a move. And Africa's never been top of the list. It's only rises up when there's an issue. But right now what's going on in Sudan, for instance, this has really serious global implications because Sudan is so large and the countries that it borders, and the war has been going on, April 15th will be the one year mark. And the country is devastated. They're moving in the direction of famine. It's not being talked about, but we have basically, I don't wanna say allowed because it's not allowing, but sent out our policy to the UAE can handle this.

0:32:57.3 AP: Saudi Arabia can handle these negotiations, but there are links between what Saudi Arabia is doing or what UAE is doing, or what Qatar is doing in different places, not just in Sudan. What's happening in Syria? What's happening in the Central African Republic? What are they doing in Libya? What are they doing in the Middle East in Israel, Palestine? Who has connections. So I think even the way that we divide countries or regions, at least within the State Department, Africa is divided into Sub-Saharan Africa, north Africa, the Asian subcontinent, the Asian subcontinent versus, it's a continent. And so I think we do ourselves a disservice when we pretend that there are no other spheres of influence and that it's only within their little sub region of whichever continent that might be.

0:34:10.7 DB: Well...


0:34:12.5 DC: I thought I [0:34:12.6] ____ I agree.

0:34:16.2 DB: Could you say a little bit more, and maybe David also, thinking about the Carter Center, but maybe talking about Sudan in particular, but what are these externalities in terms of the health of democracy? If one country is struggling, how is that affecting other countries within the region?

0:34:37.4 AP: Well, I would say, Sudan is a particularly interesting case. And I know the Carter Center has been in Sudan for a long time, and Southern Sudan before South Sudan, Southern Sudan, seceded to become South Sudan. It's interesting because it's straddles really, Africa and the Middle East. And the people themselves of Sudan are grappling with their identities as, are they Arab? Are they Africans? They're Africans, they're Arabs. But we like to reduce things to simplistic, either good guy, bad guy, Muslim, Christian. It's not that simple and it doesn't operate that way. And so we often get it wrong because we don't understand, and we don't, as the last panel said, we're not even teaching American history to Americans. How would we possibly learn about the history of other countries? And so, but the people of the country know, they know their history.

0:35:48.6 AP: Again, we don't necessarily know our own history, but they know their history and they know what other countries have done to them or how they are perceived. We need to be much more in tune about what people on the ground are actually thinking. And a militaristic approach, which is what we have taken, towards diplomacy in the last 10, 15, 20 years. It's not new, is helping us to get where we are, but the world is much more interconnected than it ever was. Social media is one way, but that works in both directions. So, separating us out into it's important to recognize the individuality and the uniqueness of each country, but they also have connections to, like the African Union, they're part of that, but they're also part of the Arab League. And there are dynamics within those bodies as well as between states.

0:37:00.8 DB: So these, David, I'm turning to you. But I'm gonna kind of... So Susan was just talking about the political complexity and economic complexity, but a little bit earlier in her remarks, she was talking about social complexity. And that these people have these, very rich and complex identities, and those identities may spill across political borders. And it's part of that spillover, I imagine, that can really cause maybe a decay of democracy in one country, have very real spillovers in others. And so I'm wondering to what extent, we used to think about, I know when I was an undergraduate here, and I also forgot to give, ambassador Paige the shout out of most importantly being a wolverine of...

0:37:51.3 AP: Go Blue.


0:37:54.0 DB: That we talked about the domino theory. And you've got a... You can't let, 'cause if one goes, then the rest go. But when we're building this kind of sense of the complexity of these societies that spill across political boundaries, we could also think about, ah, okay, we know we need to really shore up democracy here, because it will help bolster democracy elsewhere. Or if it fails, it can cause this cascade of failure. Does the Carter Center think in those terms?

0:38:28.7 DC: Yes. I mean, we certainly, we try to understand what's causing a decline in democracy. What are the challenges to good elections? What are the social and political forces that can be cited as things that are driving stuff? But we actually... We don't dwell on that. We don't study it in depth. We don't research it. There's plenty of people who are doing that. We tend to be focusing very specifically on, okay, now there's a question of will we observe elections in Sudan. Well, are we gonna be invited? And then we'll do quickly an analysis of the issues there. But it's connected to that moment in time. Sometimes it's years that we're working on that particular country. But we're not doing the broader deep reflection and analysis that places like University of Michigan are.

0:39:18.6 DB: Look who's here. I'm gonna pause for a moment so we can all welcome fresh from the airport.


0:39:21.1 DB: Hello, Steve. You go ahead and take this seat.

0:39:23.5 Mr. Steve Biegun: Okay, thank you.

0:39:37.1 DB: I've already introduced you. And we're just in this, we're talking about democracy, trying to maybe find some bright points. But there's a lot of worry. And so you missed it. But there.

0:39:47.8 MB: I didn't miss it. I actually listened to the whole program on the way...

[overlapping conversation]

0:39:54.7 DB: Really?

0:39:54.8 MB: Yeah.

0:39:56.2 DB: All right.

0:39:57.0 MB: Don't thank me. Thank the people in the back who are doing the technology. But...

0:40:01.1 DC: There you go.

0:40:01.2 MB: I did have a chance to listen to both of you. So thanks.

0:40:04.2 DB: Oh, fabulous. All right. So then you heard that a few minutes ago, Susan was talking about worries about the media. And that the media has been controlled, the messaging has been controlled, which is antithetical to a pluralistic society where people don't have access to a variety of information and a variety of ideas. And we can see that as maybe one symptom of many, of moving away from a commitment to democratic norms. So there's free press, the free and transparent elections that the Carter Center is so dedicated to. And so are you seeing this as a trend? If so, what kinds of democratic norms most worry you that they are decaying?

0:41:05.9 MB: So the information space in general is certainly one of the largest vulnerabilities of democratic societies now. And one of the places where the challenges to existing democracies is playing out most acutely. It's more than one issue. The singular control of media outlets is part of it, possibly. But that's complemented in societies where there's a monopoly on the spread of information as well. So you don't have competing voices or competing sources. But even in societies where there's completely unconstrained media, or at least the unconstrained flow of information, and I would certainly argue that's the case in our country, there are still huge vulnerabilities built into the system. I'm old enough to remember when we thought that the internet would be a democratizing factor, that we, in the late 1990s, and Susan will remember this, we had the hubris to get rid of a department of the United States government called the United States Information Agency because we judged it was no longer necessary, because everyone around the world would be able at their fingertips to get the information that they needed to make what we considered to be the right decisions.

0:42:31.9 MB: And boy, were we wrong, were we wrong. And now we see disinformation, misinformation, and even selective advocacy around specific information that's used to polarize and divide, to misinform, and to undermine democracies. And this is a real challenge in our societies. And we don't have an answer. The Europeans just passed a large regulatory action in the digital space that probably will be the inspiration of at least a debate here in the United States. I'm not sure if this will culminate in action. But we clearly have a challenge here and we don't have an answer.

0:43:17.0 AP: I would maybe just add to that, and welcome, and Steve Biegun is also a Wolverine.

0:43:25.2 DB: We gave him that shout out before, we're claiming him.

0:43:29.4 AP: But I would add to the, on the information, misinformation side, one of the issues that the lack of our Congress, even when they have hearings with the media giants, the Facebook, all of these sources, our Congress is made up of such an elderly set of people that, and it's no disrespect. I mean, they've earned the right to be where they are and their age, but they don't necessarily understand this new technology, or what my parents would have called that new math. And that's problematic as well because then understanding how this information spreads and what that technology is all about is even more difficult for the people who are supposed to make the laws that will regulate it that much more difficult.

0:44:40.4 DC: And there's a lot of money and a lot of campaign contributions somewhere in that picture. Yes.

0:44:50.8 DB: So, all right, I wanna think we've brought up the United States, I wanna get us back to the United States. In President Biden's first speech at the State Department after he took office, he declared, "Democracy is back, multilateralism is back, is the US setting, oh, that's the end of the quote. Now it's the question, is the US actually setting a good example for struggling democracies around the world? Steve.

0:45:20.0 MB: Well, as a struggling democracy, we should be inspiration to the struggling democracies 'cause we're certainly struggling. Now, I think in all seriousness, we are and will be an excellent model for other countries around the world. We are wrestling with our own issues right now. When you think about the eras in our society when we grappled with issues of such huge magnitude, Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, things that both showed the worst of the United States of America and the best of the United States of America. I am highly confident that the resilience of our democracy at the end of the day will prove to be an excellent example for countries around the world. But democracy is not easy. It's messy, it's hard to preserve, and as you all know, we're in a period of democratic retreat around the world right now. But I do think we are a good example. Are every one of our policies and every one of our decisions? Of course not. Across the 200 and nearly 50 years of our country's history, there are many moments like that. But in the arc of history, I am absolutely of the belief that the United States in its model of democracy will continue to inspire countries around the world.

0:46:45.3 DB: Thank you for saying that. David.

0:46:50.6 DC: I don't disagree completely. But I do have a, maybe... I tend to be an optimist, and I would say that's my optimistic take. But there's part of me that is not so confident. I hope you are right. And I really want you to be right. But I am worried about the many countries in the world and the United States. I wish I was as confident as you, but that actually helps me feel better. Because you've worked in government, I've never worked in government. And you've worked in government, and I've never worked in government. And so that actually does make me feel a little bit better because it's good to know that you are that confident.

0:47:28.4 MB: I've worked on the other side, though, too. I'm on the board of Freedom House and NED, National Endowment for Democracy. In Moscow in the 1990s, I was a field worker working with Russian partners who were trying to build a democracy, unbelievably in Russia, and the passions inside the Russian people for what they thought was democracy. And admittedly, they were coming off a very low base, but it was inspirational. That's still there. That's still part of us, too, David.

0:47:56.0 DC: Oh, I agree with that. I think that is part of us. I'm just a little less confident than you are, but I am inspired by your confidence, honestly.

0:48:06.4 MB: Glad to be of assistance.

0:48:10.5 AP: I think I would add importantly, the comment that you just made, which was, back in the 1990s, working with local people on the ground. And that's something we don't do very well, is we oftentimes have this top-down approach, including at our embassies, which obviously I've served in. We deal with the same group of that top-flight, educated people who speak our language, and they are the ones who are trained over and over and over again. But I'd like to see that commitment to localization that we talk about actually used more and more in reality and in practice. And just remembering that democracy is fragile. And I'm sure all of us have written... I mean, I've written op-eds about the fragility of democracy. And, you know, presidents have talked about the fact that the rights may be defined, but they're not self-enforcing. We have to constantly renew our efforts. And admitting that our country isn't perfect, and that's where I think diplomats on the ground are so important by admitting, yes, we have made a number of mistakes, we continue to make mistakes, but we're constantly trying to become that better nation. And I think that's important.

0:49:44.3 DB: And so we do have some questions, and if you have a question, go ahead and submit it. But before we turn to the audience questions, I want to just ask you one last time. You've already started to talk about whether you're optimistic or pessimistic, in particular about the US, but Susan just got us to thinking about in particular about what, through the State Department, what we can do in terms of the US foreign policy to bolster democracy's health elsewhere. And does that make you optimistic or pessimistic about democracy's future? That is, I'm asking you to peer into your crystal ball and give us a sense of by the year's end, such an important year for democracy, will we feel like we're more worried or like we're bouncing back?

0:50:41.3 AP: I will feel more worried, I believe, because I don't think that our policies are moving away from militarization. I think we are militarizing even more our foreign policy than less.

0:51:00.6 DC: I will say that before the 2020 election, my view was if we got through that election in a decent place, that I was gonna feel a lot more optimistic about the future. And What I felt was we got through that election, but I don't think we are out of the woods. And I think my suspicion now, my strong sense is that we won't be out of the woods after the next elections, no matter what. That doesn't mean that I am pessimistic, but it means that I am worried.

0:51:36.8 MB: I will say a word about the US, but let me start globally. One of the metrics that I look to, to understand trends in global democracy is, and there are a few out there, but one is produced by an organization called Freedom House, a human rights organization based in Washington, DC and New York. It annually releases a report called Freedom in the World, and they go globally across all countries and rate them on an index of democratic freedoms, liberties, respect for pluralism in their societies. And they reflect what I think many social scientists will tell you, which is that there's a little bit of debate about when, but we're approximately in the 18th year of a steady decline in the number of democracies around the world. So we peaked around 2007, 2008, and there's been a steady decline in what is objectively measured as democratic governments, democratic nations. And so I suppose that the good news is that this isn't a problem that just started. The bad news is it's been going for 18 years. We are talking about it today, but we have... Many of us who work on these issues have been concerned about this for some time. We have seen democracies backside, but we've also seen them come back. And so one very important observation is democracy is resilient. We just saw an election in Turkey, a country in which many people were worried about the democratic direction in Turkey, but the opposition just won a landslide election in Turkey.

0:53:15.9 MB: And that doesn't undermine the concerns that one might have had about a country like Turkey in recent years. But it also validates having a general confidence and faith in democracy as long as constitutional order can be preserved. And that's very important because when an authoritarian or dictator completely abolishes the constitutional order, like we see for example, in Russia, there's no chance for a competitive election. Just, I won't enumerate all the ways that someone like Vladimir Putin can deprive his people of democracy while still having a vote, incidentally, as I think we started to call an election-like activity, but not an election. But democracy is resilient in many places in the world. Brazil is another example that's been cited recently. And it doesn't mean that there was a horrible government and it's been succeeded by a perfect government, but the trend lines can be better. And so I do think we will see this trend in the world. It will be nothing like what many of us who are in our middle age or older remember from the 1980s and the 1990s, where we saw the end of civil wars in Central America and the birth of new democracies, where we saw the collapse of communism in the Warsaw Pact countries and then the collapse of the Soviet Union, where we saw the fall of the apartheid system in South Africa and Nelson Mandela elected to be the president.

0:54:43.1 MB: We saw Chinese students protesting in the main square of their capital, demanding democratic freedoms and so on and so on and so on. It's not gonna be like that. It's gonna be more of a grind and more of a fight and one that we Americans who are devoted to democracy have to work in partnership with people in those countries, not telling them how to run their countries, not preaching the virtues of democracy, but rolling up our sleeves and working with them to build the fundamentals of a pluralistic society, of strong civil societies, of good political organization and ultimately of free and fair elections. In the United States, we all feel it, so I'm not gonna make David feel any more optimistic. We know that there's a pretty negative vibe out there in our system right now. And I won't restate my devotion of faith to things working out in the end, but what I will say this is it's up to us. This is not them that's gonna fix this one. We're not gonna have others come in here and tell us how it gets better. We all have to play our role as citizens, as political activists. We have to invest in the system, and if we check out, then we are gonna get the worst outcome.

0:56:12.3 DB: I'd like to turn things over now to take your questions, but asked by my two colleagues here, Nayab and Sharif.

0:56:23.8 Nayab Ali: Thank you so much. Can you all hear me? Thank you so much, Ambassador Page, Dr. Carroll, Mr. Biegun, and Dr. Bednar for this excellent discussion. Like Dr. Bednar introduced, I'm Nayab Ali. I'm the Assistant Program Manager for Weiser Diplomacy Center. And with me here today is Sharif El-Meki, who is one of our MPP graduating students this year. We will be moderating the audience questions, so if you have anything, please use the QR code placed on your desks. And yeah, we'll take it from there. Our first question today is, how responsible is the US foreign policy for the democratic backsliding that has been seen in the recent years? As an example, the US foreign policy during the Arab Spring saw nascent democracies go unsupported and eventually succumb to counter-revolutions. Additionally, US policies in the Middle East played a hand in the European refugee crisis, which fueled the rise of far-right parties across the EU.

0:57:26.0 DC: I differ to.


0:57:30.2 AP: Okay, I'll start. I think that, I don't know if I would say responsible, but, yes we certainly play a role. We often will say an official level that we support democratic change, that we support these students or whoever is trying to get their governments to move forward, but the US is like any government, we don't like change and we like what we think of as stability, even when that stability is not necessarily terribly democratic. So yes, I think... But it's also very hard for governments to support groups that are kind of amorphous. Our own political system is basically a two-party presidential system, other governments around the world are multi-parties in their parliaments, a parliamentary system which operates differently, and so they are more accustomed to having to negotiate and discuss compromises. I don't think that we are as accustomed to doing that. So we like to back who we think is going to be a winner. And that is, again, I think the way that our society has sort of grown up, but it's problematic when you look at different case studies, well, why did we support this one, but not that one? And we don't always take a similar stance.

0:59:19.1 MB: I agree with what Susan said... What Ambassador Page said that...

0:59:26.6 DC: Susan's fine.

0:59:28.9 MB: This is a struggle for us in US Foreign Policy, and it's partially informed by what David spoke to earlier when I was in the car, trying to balance our interests versus our values, but also in different readings of our own history and in the role we should play. And so the underlying premise of the question isn't exactly right, because the United States did intervene in several places during the Arab Spring, the United States and NATO forces toppled Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and the US pulling support out from Hosni Mubarak was absolutely the critical blow in him ultimately falling in surrendering the country to democratic elections. In the case of Syria, the United States provided military assistance and even has troops to this day in Syria, in support of what started as a truly spectacular uprising of democratic voices in Syria, but now has developed into an ugly internecine, that has both extremist overtones as well as the dictatorial tendencies of the leader of Syria itself.

1:00:34.2 AP: So it's not we've been indifferent to these or even a stand-off ish. The challenge we've had is though, more formidable is follow through. So when you topple a leader like Muammar Gaddafi in a country that's a complex mix of tribal loyalties and regional interests, and then by the way, you throw in there for good measure, huge reserves of gas and oil, to walk away from that after you topple dictator like Gaddafi is an invitation for the kind of ugly civil war that we saw in and probably our reticence to be more involved in Syria allowed that to develop into the brutal conflict that became...

1:01:20.2 DC: But that reservation was guided by a president who had seen the United States going to Iraq and topple government in Iraq, and the terrible lessons that we learned from that experience were applied to Syria and led to some reservation to go any further. So I would say that there's a lot of different factors here, but I think follow-through is actually the one that the United State probably has failed most.

1:01:50.8 AP: Can I add just a little tiny bit? I don't completely agree with the Libya example, because that was exceeding what NATO was actually supposed to do. And I think that that drove a lot of the issues that are apparent right now, which includes massive refugees. And then the EU also basically giving a green light to Turkey will sign this deal, keep those people within your border so that they don't come to Europe. I mean, those are some of the ramifications. And the UN Security Council resolutions had nothing to say. It was to protect the population, not to topple Gaddafi. So I think that one is a little bit more complicated for my way of thinking and the negative consequence of involvement, because that then stopped a security council resolution to help the Syrian people because of what we did that exceeded what we were supposed to do, not just the US but what we were supposed to do in Libya.

1:03:02.3 Sharif El-Meki: So we've talked a little bit about doing the work and about the follow through and kind of what comes after some of these changes. And so this question is about how specifically can the US better its public diplomacy engagement in building civil society throughout the world? And what role can US agencies like USAID, peace courts that are play in that goal moving forward? And I think this is supposed to be more forward facing visionary. Like what needs to change?

1:03:31.8 MB: Well, we already do a lot, Sharif. And it is a significant pillar of our foreign policy is to help those in societies seeking to build or sustain their democracies and so we do. Probably where we fall shorter is addressing all the other social ills that make it so hard for people to make the democratic choice that I think left to their own themselves. They would make when they're struggling to survive. And so it's kind of probably bypassing the question, but I wish we were doing much, much more to help societies struggling with demographic and economic and humanitarian issues. I think we would have a lot more success with our democracy programs.

1:04:33.0 DB: David.

1:04:36.2 DC: Shall I?

1:04:38.5 DB: Yeah.

1:04:40.2 DC: So I agree with everything Steven has said. I think where I would maybe shift emphasis a little bit is, it kind of goes back to that, that original tension between our interests and our values. And you know how, I think it's almost a reconcilable dilemma. You can't consistently always pursue both your values and your interests. And I think there's some countries where it's just going to be very hard for us in instances around the world to really think we're going to be able to have a sustainable long-term interest that we are going to impact through our engagement. I mean, I think we can, when we should try where we can, but there's so much that we can't really control. There's so many other forces that are affecting what's happening in other countries.

1:05:28.9 DC: So it's just another, in my view, a very difficult tension because there's so many places that would benefit from US engagement that we could try to push in the right direction. But there's so many factors in every single country that are also gonna be at play that you quite often find, oh, we can't really control what's happening in this country. There's all these other factors that are contributing it. And if we wanna stay engaged and continue to shape events, we gotta do a whole lot more. And you know what? We don't have the public support to do all this. So we quite often get into those situations where it's very, very difficult. And I'm not recommending anything in particular, just trying to be acknowledging how difficult it is to have a long-term, sustained serious foreign policy engagement support to countries that is also going to be kind of consistent with our values. It's just hard. It's just hard.

1:06:24.7 AP: Yeah. I would only add that I think that, well, two things. One, the US government doesn't put a lot of money behind these programs, and that's just reality. So yes, we care about them, we care about democracy, support good, governance, human rights, but the monetary value to those programs is a complete drop in the bucket. And so that's one. The second thing though, is the organizations that do really good work working at the local level, and I'm a disclaimer, I am on the board of trustees of the Carter Center. So but getting down to the grassroots, working with people who are, as Steve said, doing the work. They're on the ground forming organizations that are doing local domestic election monitoring. They're working with their own political party systems, trying to make it better, or local human rights groups, information is so important.

1:07:35.1 AP: Those are things that groups like organizations like the Carter Center, the National...

1:07:41.2 DC: Endowment for...

1:07:41.3 AP: Endowment for Democracy. I mean, what the NED is doing is incredible. They don't have offices on the ground. They're working directly to support local entities making a difference on the ground. That's a model that we should be replicating at a hundred fold, because that is exactly what people want, is the ability to change their own future. And it doesn't have to even be with a lot of money. But those are the kinds of things that the NED is doing. And there are many more, those are just a couple of examples.

1:08:22.4 NA: Thank you. More than 50 countries are expected to hold elections... National elections in 2024, voters across the world are expressing fears about immigration. And alongside this nationalism, populism is also becoming increasingly common. India specifically is the largest democracy in the world, but under the Modi administration, there are increasing crackdowns on Muslims and Islamic culture, even down to a zoo receiving a court order to rename or separate two lines, sharing an enclosure together. If this trend continues, do you think in the rising tide of religious intolerance, there is the beginning of a harmful snowballing of anti-democratic sentiment that could lead to a further consolidation of executive power.

1:09:04.2 DC: Was that just about India, the way the question was framed?

1:09:12.4 NA: India, it's an example.

1:09:16.6 MB: You wanna start?

1:09:18.2 DC: Yeah. I mean, I think my problem in this context is, I'm gonna give a lot of general vague, unclear answers. 'cause I think that's the best reflection of, in my assessment, of where we are. And I'm not... That was the point? What was the very end of that question? Can you say it again?

1:09:39.3 NA: If this trend continues, do you think in the rising tide of religious intolerance, there is the beginning of a harmful snowballing of anti-democratic sentiment that could lead to a further consolidation of executive power?

1:09:53.6 DC: I mean, yes, I think that could be a factor, but again, I think there's so many other factors that I wouldn't put my finger on any single one. And then, but what I would add one that we haven't talked about explicitly in this context, but I know that it's been discussed in the previous sessions and days. Climate change is making everything harder. The population pressures and the people needing to move to another country and running into borders and running into challenges on their lives. All the problems that we've talked about yet today so far are gonna be that much harder. Not all of them that much harder, but it's gonna be an additional complicating factor.

1:10:33.2 AP: And I would say too, that on the climate change front, there are only very specific reasons that people are allowed to claim refugee status and climate change moving because you are being forced to move because of the climate is not one of them.

1:10:51.7 MB: And while there's absolutely zero, there should be zero tolerance for some of the harsh racist or populist rhetoric that we hear in politics today around the world. This massive migration flow is yet another thing that's straining the systems of democracy. Susan talked a little bit about this before. It challenges people's notions of their own economics and economy. It challenges people's identities. Not that we shouldn't be able to overcome those kind of concerns or resentments that arise in people, but when the system is overloaded, we have such a surge of people moving in the world right now that it's exacerbating a lot of social ills in terms of humanitarian support. Social support from governments that are creating public policy challenges in, frankly in both democratic and on democratic societies. In this you know, there's no unified theory to the case here.

1:11:56.9 DB: David's absolutely right. There's a complex set of issues, but I feel like we're responding to the symptoms when we're talking about controlling immigration or immigration reform or whatever. You know, when you look at a region like Latin America, it's just begging for help in governance and in developing its democracy in a law-based... The development of law-based societies. Until we figure out how to get our arms around that and commit the resources to do so, we're just trying to plug the leak by trying to stop these massive refugee flows in Syria. The failure to deal with that conflict early on led to a massive migration flow, as Susan said, that created tensions in Europe that we still are seeing the ramifications of today in European elections. And in Venezuela, another situation, another place where we've had a global policy failure. I won't lay this entirely at the feed of the United States. 5 million refugees from Venezuela. There were more refugees from Venezuela than there were from Syria during that period. And not surprisingly, a lot of them are showing up at the United States in search of livelihood for themselves and their families. So, and I feel like we have to stop dealing with the symptoms and we have to really start getting at the root causes.

1:13:31.3 DB: I Think we...

1:13:33.4 DB: We have time for one last question.

1:13:38.5 DB: Sounds good. I think we have a pretty good one to send everyone off with your expert advice. So we had a very robust discussion about some of the lack of public support for democracies. We have a wide variety of aspirational policy professionals and interested audience members here. And what would you suggest, concretely that we do beyond basic civic engagement to foster and support our democracies in a productive way? And keep in mind, we also have people from any nationalities here. So what can be translatable?

1:14:08.2 AP: Very quickly, I think understanding the context and getting involved.

1:14:13.7 DC: Yeah. I hate to just say I agree and say the same thing, but I'm gonna agree with both Susan and Steven and say that this is getting involved doing something is really the most important thing. And trying to do it in an as formed way as possible is really the only thing that we can do. And it's gonna be critical to success. And it can be... The good thing is it can take a whole wide variety of forms. And so you can find from your own perspective in life what, what you're comfortable with, what you wanna contribute, where you have an interest or a connection, there's something you can do. And so don't feel like, well I can't do this one thing that people have highlighted, even small things. And just to really go back to what said earlier, it's gonna require everybody to do something, and you can do more than you think. So I think that's the challenge I would leave with you is do something.

1:15:12.8 MB: And for me, there's the systems of democracy elections and, well, there's the underpinnings, pluralism and a free media and a free society. There's the systems elections being central among them. They're the institutions that defend our democracy. Our unique set is a separate court, congress and executive. But I have a growing fear that none of it works without a democratic culture. And that's where we all can also very specifically contribute is incivility and informed a discourse. And that doesn't mean no passion, and that doesn't mean surrendering your principles. It means working with others in a democratic manner. And I think that's the, that's the part of our system that I most worry has frayed. And I actually wonder if the institutions or the processes function or matter if we lose the democratic culture that makes it all come together.

1:16:23.3 DC: For sure.

1:16:26.6 MB: Thank You all so much.

1:16:28.5 DB: Yeah. And just join me in thanking this spectacular panel.