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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchLearning to Live With Despots: The Limits of Democracy Promotion

Learning to Live With Despots: The Limits of Democracy Promotion

Author: Stephen D. Krasner

Affiliation: Stanford University

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: March 2020/ U.S. 

Type of Literature: Article 

Word Count: 3232


Keywords: Democracy, Despots, U.S., Consolidation



The article argues that United States foreign policy has fluctuated between two fronts: forcefully remaking other countries in the American image, or demonstrating (but not imposing) the benefits of consolidated democracy—free and fair elections, a free press, the rule of law, the separation of powers, and an active civil society. Both these strategies have repeatedly failed, as seen in the case of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The author emphasizes that the US should not support despotic leaders because they do not want to provide benefits to those they govern; they only support with arms or money those who can keep them in power, and will not accept policies that aim to end their rule. The focus of US President Donald Trump’s first speech was that “it’s going to be America first, OK? America first. We’re going to put ourselves first.” But because it’s the time of nuclear and biological weapons, which are circulating and can kill millions of Americans, the US has to play a role in the outside world whether it wants to or not, in order to lower the chances of the worst possible outcomes. The author concludes that the US can adopt a foreign policy that keeps countries safe by working with rulers the world has, not the ones the US wishes it had. Therefore, promoting policies that can improve other states’ security, boost their economic growth, and strengthen their ability to deliver some services will help in governing well. 


By: Razia Wadood, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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