Wednesday, September 30th 2015
Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. At the beginning of last year he offered comments on the need for patience and steady pursuit of democratization as a foreign policy goal.
South Korea had no prior history of democracy. Some believed it was part of a more general “Confucian exception” — the notion that Confucian societies are inherently authoritarian, that people in those societies like to be told what to do, and that so-called “Asian values” are antithetical to Western democratic values. Well, South Korea and Taiwan are Confucian societies, so there went the “Confucian exception.” And Taiwan was also the end to a “Chinese exception.”
And now, with the upheaval that is sweeping the Arab world, we are witnessing an end to the Arab exception. It was premature to label this uprising the “Arab Spring,” but I think it is also premature to label it the “Islamist Winter.” It will be many years before we know the true results of this upheaval, but the West has a huge stake in the outcome and we need to remain engaged.
The example of Korea illustrates dramatically the need to take a long view of this kind of societal change. The armistice that ended the Korean War was concluded 60 years ago this past July. For the first 10 years that country was a wretched, corrupt, failing democracy. Then it was a slightly less corrupt but brutal dictatorship. It wasn’t until the 1970s that we began to see the signs of the Korean economic miracle, and not until the next decade that Korea’s political transformation began in earnest. Today that country is a miracle story of political and economic development, but it took decades to achieve.
The enormous advance of freedom in the last 30 years has been good for tens of millions of people, whose lives have improved directly as a result. It has also been good for the United States and Europe. It has turned enemies into friends. It has made our friends stronger and more self-reliant. And where we have been seen to be on the side of freedom — and unfortunately that has not always been the case — it has improved our standing in the eyes of the people of those countries.
Western Leadership Remains Vital
So it is fair to say that the world today is more secure, prosperous, and free than it was 50 years ago, and those achievements would not have been possible without a Western alliance that provided the underpinning of international security, Western leadership that maintained a relatively open global trading system, and Western support for democratic change.
Of course, the people in those countries that have progressed so much are the ones who deserve the greatest credit. Nonetheless, though a wise man once said “there’s no limit to what you can accomplish as long as you don’t care who gets the credit,” in this case Western nations should take a little bit of credit. For two reasons: first, because there’s a dangerous loss of confidence developing in the United States and Europe about our ability to contribute to global progress. And second, and even more important, an effective Western alliance is vital if we’re going to sustain the progress of the last 50 years — indeed, if we’re going to avoid what could become a calamitous reversal of that progress.