The topic that I will be researching this year is the various methods of US democracy promotion, a topic I’m interested in for two reasons.
First, the expanding or declining trends of democracy worldwide have been a key theme of world history for the past few decades. The fall of the Soviet Union brought about democratization in Europe that helped expand the project of European economic and political integration started after World War II. The Arab Spring and subsequent faltering of democratic movements in the Middle East created new layers of instability in that region. And politics today in countries from Turkey to Russia to the Philippines is largely defined by increasing strength of authoritarian actors. Almost all current international events can be seen in part through a lens of forward or backward moving democratization.
And secondly, democracy promotion is a feature of US foreign policy that is often known a mile wide and an inch deep. Anyone who follows foreign policy knows that it plays a prominent part at least in the rhetoric of American leaders, and it was perhaps the most prominent element of the foreign policies of Presidents Clinton and Bush 43. (Its relative absence with Obama and Trump is equally notable.) However, while the basic concept of democracy promotion is widely known, the various methods remain largely untouched in conversations about the topic. When they are discussed, discussions revolve around large scale military intervention, which is important but excludes a large part of the policy. Smaller military action, commercial tactics, and the use of aid and diplomacy receive practically no mention or evaluation. With this research, I hope to make the conversation about democracy promotion more holistic.
The “puzzle” I used when applying for the program was to determine the effectiveness of the various methods of democracy promotion. I thought that such a question was probably too broad at the time, and I now think that even more so. To further focus my work, I could evaluate individual tactics or compare the democratization in countries targeted by America versus other democratizing countries, etc. I am still largely unsure of a particular direction I want to take the project.