Europe, America, and Israel: The Need to Promote Democracy and Freedom

By June 15, 2005

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 7

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: It is imperative that America lead a drive to promote democracy and freedom around the world. The successful implementation of these values can be realized even in hostile places such as Iraq, Iran, and the Palestinian Territories.

This Perspectives Paper is based on a presentation at a Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies conference on “Pax Americana in the Mideast” on June 6, 2005.

Last year we, in Europe, celebrated two important events: the sixtieth anniversary of the Normandy landings – the beginning of the end of Nazism — and the fifteenth anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin Wall — the beginning of the end of communism.

In both events, we must recognize that the United States of America played a vital role. The victory of the forces of good over these evils was only made possible thanks to the sacrifice, perseverance and will of America, its people and its leaders. Without US intervention, Europe and the world would be very different today.

At a time in which it seems we are moving towards an age of anti-Americanism, acknowledging the fact that America has been an open-minded and generous power, that it has paid to sustain the democratic order that we now enjoy, with hundreds of thousands of lives and wounded — is not only a question of historical justice, but a necessary point of departure for any reflection that seeks to define and understand the exact role of the United States in today’s world.

The United States has been a decisive power, an “indispensable” power in the words of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and it will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. In fact, we are all extremely fortunate since “freedom has found a dominant power on which to rest”.

Having said that, I have also to point out that I don’t feel comfortable talking about Pax Americana. The US seems to be an empire because its interests are global, and because it is so powerful in soft as well as hard power, that the moment we are living can be characterized as unipolar.

But the reality is that the US is not an empire. Not only do Americans abhor the word, but America is also not in the game of conquering lands and people. On the contrary, the problem is not that the United States is an empire; the problem is that they don’t want to become one. When they intervene, they promote empowerment and self-rule, not ruthless domination. Iraq is a good example.

Bearing in mind that the US not only projects power, but above all values, liberal, free-market, democratic values — I propose to use the term Pax Democratica instead of Pax Americana.

Why? Because I believe freedom is the most powerful tool at our disposal to change the world for the better; and because I believe extending freedom throughout the world is the only way we have to win over our enemies.

Freedom and democracy are important, firstly because it is within a climate of freedom that the dignity of the individual is best promoted. Secondly, democracy is the best political system when it comes to promoting development and fighting against inequality and poverty. It is not a coincidence that the worst-performing economies over the last four decades have belonged to non-democratic governments.

Thirdly, there is a close link between the nature of a political system and its inclination towards violence and the use of force. A little over 200 years ago, in 1795 to be precise, the German philosopher Emmanuel Kant expounded his hypothesis that political freedom within a republic (the equivalent to democracy in modern terms) was an essential factor in eliminating war from our lives. His thesis is presented in an essay, which is largely forgotten, entitled Perpetual Peace.

Unlike Kant, who simply elaborated a hypothesis, today we have access to empirical information concerning the behaviour of democratic nations with regard to war. And the conclusion seems quite obvious: democracies are not inclined to fight amongst themselves. And when they are forced to go to war against non-democratic enemies, they do so as a last resort, seeking to achieve victory as soon as possible and with minimum loss of life and property. We can call this “democratic peace”; the fact that democratic systems are less belligerent than dictatorial and autocratic regimes.

That is the reason why I believe expanding democracy, transforming dictatorships into free societies, is so important nowadays. You can say that, for instance, some democracies, like my own country, Spain, suffer the threat of terrorism, so democracies are not immune from internal violence. This is true. But in my own experience, I’m convinced that democratic regimes are the best suited to fight and win over terror. Particularly so when facing the challenge of delegitimizing the political cause the terrorists are always willing to use as a justification of their brutal actions. A free society is the best armed to fight the moral battle.

But there is also another important factor to consider: if we agree that political oppression, religious intolerance, and social frustration are factors that allow terrorist groups to flourish and recruit young militants, putting an end to all of them may be the logical path in trying to diminish the appeal of the terrorists in some quarters. Particularly here in the Middle East and the Arab world.

I think that is what is behind the Bush Administration initiative for a ‘Broader Middle East’; pushing forward reforms that will lead to more open regimes and societies, and ultimately, Arab democratic countries.

Expanding democracy is not an easy task. If we look around, there are three issues in the international and strategic agenda where expanding democracy can be vital in producing a good outcome.

The first issue is Iraq. There is no doubt that Islamic terrorism has launched its own jihad against America, liberal values and a democratic Iraq. A complex political process is taking place in Iraq. So it is legitimate to ask whether the war can be won against the terrorists who have made Iraq their own battleground; and second, whether a democratic system is feasible in an Arab society with a Muslim Shiite majority. I believe both questions can be answered positively.

The second issue is Iran. We all know that Teheran is playing cat and mouse concerning its nuclear programs; and we all know that Iran’s nuclear ambition is unquestionable. But a nuclear Iran is worrisome because Iran today is a fundamentalist Islamic republic. The evil is in its nature. I’m not saying, in any case, that a democratic Iran has the right to become nuclear. Proliferation must be stopped. But I have little doubt that an Iranian liberal democracy would be a totally different actor to interact with.

Finally, let’s consider the peace process. Democracy among Palestinians may not bring automatically the end of terrorism, but it would be a good tool to try. Besides, there is no better alternative if we consider the creation of a Palestinian state at some point in the future. In Europe we talk about it all the time, but putting “democratic” as a qualification of the Palestinian state would allow to focus the EU efforts in the right direction instead of supporting the Palestinian Authority no matter what.

There are other issues at stake as well, like the democratization of Lebanon, pushing Syria, and the openings in Egypt and other countries. But in all cases, the US has something to say and to offer.

What is not clear is whether the Americans’ plan will be accepted. Talking as a European, it seems quite obvious that the agenda for change and the democratization push by the US has received a lukewarm welcome in Europe, if not open rejection. Europe has always believed in stability and feared change.

So, instead of embracing the broader Middle East Initiative, instead of calling for regime change in the region, the EU prefers to advance the so-called ‘alliance of civilizations’. Even those who propose it don’t know what this is all about. I think that it would be much better to strengthen the Atlantic alliance instead of promoting whole new initiatives.

The Iraqi crisis opened a deep wound between America and those Europeans who want to pose Europe as a counterweight to the US. Unfortunately, this vision of a European Europe, inwards looking, detached of America and protectionist, has been on the rise during recent months. The balance of the Atlanticists, like myself, and the continentalists was broken in favour of these when Spain changed side with the new government.

Nonetheless, after the referenda in France and the Netherlands, and the “No” vote on a constitutional treaty, a new Europe seems to be emerging. The Atlanticist vision is more relevant to the future of Europe today than a week ago, and maybe there is the possibility to change gear and put the European construction in the right direction. If that happens, the normalization of the transatlantic relations will be easier, and, I do hope, Europeans would return to a normal pattern of cooperating with Washington. If so, the two together could influence the dynamics here and in the region for the best. It is too early to say with confidence. Europe could still go either way, and many months will pass before the fog is cleared up. If something dramatically wrong happens before that, I’m not sure how Europeans could react.

Anyway, democracies are very strong and resilient, though there are also many weaknesses. One of the most positive steps taken after 1945 was the creation of many institutions that gave form to the Atlantic community: NATO, OCDE, etc. – which all have served well the purpose of defending our democracies from the communist shadow emanating from the Soviet Union.

We now live in a different strategic environment. I believe it is time to transform the old institutions. We must generate the bodies that allow us to promote freedom, to build up democratic regimes, to encourage free market economies.

I believe an alliance for freedom is in the interest of many, above all America, the great promoter of liberty in the world, but also in Israel’s interest. You are the only democracy in the region, you suffer tragically from terror, and you have been quite isolated for too many years. Now there may be a chance that all like-minded democracies will join together to promote democratic change in the world. Survival will be impossible if we do not do so.

Click here to see a PDF version of this page

José María Aznar

José María Aznar was Prime Minister of Spain from 1996-2004.