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US Promotion of Democracy: Tools and Approaches Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: May 20th, 2020


In the last quarter-century, several countries have adopted democracy and many others are in various levels of the transition to democracy. The meaning of democracy has remained a controversial subject among various scholars and political thinkers. Democracy commonly refers to a type government that allows and recognizes the importance of the involvement of citizens in key decision-making processes that affect the destiny of their country. Citizens can equally engage in public decision making directly or express their views through their elected leaders. A democratic administration is different from other types of governments where a single person, as in monarchy, wields political authority, or where a few people control political power. An oligarchy exemplifies undemocratic system of governance.

However, these distinctions, drawn from Greek point of view, are presently unclear since current governments have blended facets of democracy with those of monarchy and oligarchy. For instance, “in the USA, division of authority is frequently cited as a fundamental feature, but in other nations, such as the United Kingdom, the overriding principle is that of parliamentary sovereignty” (Patterson, 2006, pp. 2-11). Although there is little consensus on how the concept of democracy should be defined, equality and liberty have since antiquity been identified as significant constituents of democracy. This implies that a democratically governed state guarantees impartiality before the law to its qualified citizens.

Moreover, “democratically governed nations are more likely to secure peace, deter aggression, expand open markets, promote economic development, protect American citizens, and protect human health” (Dixon, 2004, pp. 14-32). Democracy has progressively developed in the USA since it attained its autonomy in 1776. If democratization promotes humanity, it follows that countries that have embraced democratic principles will employ various instruments in promoting democracy. It is against this background, that this paper discusses the policies and practices associated with the US promotion of democracy.

US Liberalism

Various nations and kingdoms have habitually exported their social economic and political practices; the US has often done the same as proselytizer rather than vanquisher. Americans are inimitably persuaded of the virtue of their reason so that the enthusiasm to transformation has more often corresponded rather than clashed with its domestic interests and principles. “What makes the world a better place makes the US a more secure nation and vice versa” (Diamond, 2008, pp. 14-89). Most presidents prefer steady, democratic nations to other forms of polities.

Lawmakers understand that the more firmly entrenched democratic liberalism turn out to be, the more often our political and financial associations with such countries become. Although despotism may offer temporary political stability in a given country, studies indicate that lasting political stability is mostly achieved in liberal, self-governing countries. The penchant for the thriving stability that usually goes along with democratic liberalism has usually guided the US activism overseas. Contentedly, there is close convergence of US overseas policy goals and the endorsement of liberal democracy. “The most significant instance of convergence between the twin goals of US security and the desire for a more liberalist world is the recent recognition that democratic states do not make war on each other” (Waltz, 2009, pp. 34-78).

Immanuel Kant avers that in the past two centuries democratic citizens would hold back their leaders from instigating conflict with other nations because the citizens would be the victims (Muravchik, 2010, p. 156). Echoing these sentiments, Woodrow Wilson frequently inscribed the pacific merits of a planet of democratic nations. Certainly, in the current years, elected officials have declared what IR intellectuals were beginning to comprehend—that democratic states rarely engage in conflicts with other territories. Undeniably, studies now demonstrate that democracies are generally unlikely to initiate conflicts as other nations.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Democracy is a central theme that shapes the social, economic, and political spheres of the USA, and it governs its foreign policy. This is because democracy not only promotes humanity, but also fosters world peace and deters aggression. The US overseas policy refers to the manner in which it relates with foreign countries and regulates the level of contact for its citizens, companies, and organizations. The US overseas policy has remained dynamic since independence. For instance, right from the 19th century, there has been a move from realism to idealism perspective in the U.S overseas policy; Woodrow Wilson championed the latter. At the core of the U.S overseas policy is the promotion of democracy and fostering global peace and security. Apart from intermittent clashes with European Powers like the Conflict of 1812, the US largely refrained from aggression and war intervention in the 19th century.

It mainly focused on expanding its commercial ventures and securing its borders. In the 20th century, U.S. joined hands with its allies and subdued its opponents both in the First and Second World War; hence, elevating its global reputation. In addition, U.S. infrequently applied military power during the Cold War crisis in order to strengthen political parties of some nations like Central America, which did not favor communism. At present, the primary objective of the US overseas policy is to ensure that as many nations as possible institute democratic governance. This implies that the US is keen on nurturing its democracy from the outside. Therefore, it is worth examining the overseas policy tools that have aided this process.

Foreign Policy Instruments


Many countries often provide aid with a primary objective of promoting and securing their social, political and economic aspirations and the US is not an exception. Nonetheless, it has used aid as an indispensable tool for promoting and rewarding democracy. “In recent years legislation has been passed creating numerous programs, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Freedom Support Act, that are specifically charged with assisting nations undergoing democratic transitions and supporting pro-democracy forces in other countries” (Meernik, 1996, pp. 391-402). Monetary and other development support expose overseas countries to the US political principles and assist to create a civil society. The pillars of democracy are promoted in this process. In simple terms, the US uses aid to inveigle and transform despotic nations in the world. On the other hand, it withdraws its aid from nations that constantly violate democratic principles. “The Department of State is considered to be the lead agency for democracy promotion activities; others involved with democracy promotion include the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Departments of Defense and Justice” (Burnell, 1998, pp. 74-167).

US Military Force

In the entire history of US, force has been used based on liberalist principles. For example, in the early period of the 20th century, the US applied its military might in fostering peace in Central America as well as in the Caribbean. Indeed, “one of the five major objectives of US military strategy stated in the Annual Defense Report of 2000 aim at fostering an international environment in which democratic norms and respect for human rights are widely accepted” (Meernik, 1996, pp. 389-402). George W. Bush contended that America bombarded Iraq with a primary objective of instituting democracy in that nation.

More importantly, the Bush government promoted democracy as a key tool for mitigating terrorism. In the current Obama’s government, the US has deployed its military force to assist in reinstituting democracy in Mali, which in the recent past has been subjected to autocratic control by Islamic terrorists. Of all the instruments in the US overseas strategy arsenal, not any generates the level of direct pressure that military power do. Military intercession may be intended to ease or force democratic transitions. For instance, the US applied force to impose democracy in Germany and Japan when World War 2 ended.

Still on the use of military force, the US has strategically created military installations around the world to secure its key associates and military equipment. Although not directly authorized to meddle with internal affairs of these countries, the military presence to some extent has secondary impacts on the possibility of democratization. Native citizens, who reside near, or employed at US foreign military establishments, become mindful of numerous American social and political practices.

Lasting exposure to these customs and thoughts may encourage democratic ideals in the public and encourage political change. “The US armed forces also sponsor a number of programs and classes for foreign military personnel to impress upon them the importance of civilian control of the armed forces and other democratic and human rights values (Muravchik, 2010, pp. 89-167)”. The US authorities also maintain their access to overseas bases by encouraging stability of governments in those countries and may shove some regimes in the direction of democratization. Studies further indicate that when the US retains about 100 troops annually in an overseas country, that country’s democratic status is 71 units superior to states devoid of such a presence.

Congressional Involvement

The role of the Congress cannot be ignored in the democratic agendas of the US since it regulates the funding of activities that promote democracy. For example, from the 101st Congress to the 110th Congress, several legislations were enacted to approve and appropriate resources for democracy promotion in particular regions and nations, and to push despotic regimes to embrace democracy. For example, in the 2006 fiscal year, the Congress allocated $94.1million to fund a variety of democracy promotion initiatives.


From the above discussion, it is evident that the US applies a multiplicity of tools and approaches in its endeavor to advance democratic practices a cross the world. The realization that democratic countries desist from attacking each other has become an essential postulation of the U.S. overseas strategy and the momentum behind increased struggles at promoting democracy overseas. States that are more democratic benefit much from the US monetary and military support since their policies and practices do not clash with those of the US. On the other hand, the US usually target despotic and aggressive governments with discrete application of armed forces. Lastly, most nations that have experienced US military intercession have a great potential than other countries to become democratic.


Burnell, P. (1998). Funding Democratization. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Diamond, L. (2008). The Spirit of Democracy. New York: Henry Holt & Company.

Dixon, W. (2004). Democracy and the Peaceful Settlement of Conflict. American Political Science Review, 88(2),14-32.

Meernik, J. (1996). United States Military Intervention and the Promotion of Democracy. Journal of Peace Research, 33(4), 391-402.

Muravchik, J. (2010). Exporting Democracy: Fulfilling Ameria’s Destiny. Washington D.C.: AEI Press.

Patterson, T. (2006). The American Democracy. Texas: McGraw-Hill.

Waltz, K. (2009). Theory of International Relations. New York: Random House.

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