Fostering democracy abroad
AMERICAN foreign policy is rediscovering its course in the world. The success of our policies in the Philippines, which helped that troubled country return to the path of democracy, gives the United States a new sense of direction and purpose. The Philippine experience proves that democracy is the strongest suit of US foreign policy. Promoting and protecting democracy is in our best interests. Dem-ocratic countries celebrate human rights, they enhance our security interests, and they are good trading partners.
The Philippines also shows that democracy is not easy. Too often, the US naively called for democracy in developing and third-world countries, only to see elections fail. We have tried to prop up so-called democratic ``white knights,'' only to see them turn into petty despots.
Democracy requires the development of institutions in a society which work against the consolidation of power and open up the society to free political dis-course. Political parties, labor unions, business associations, churches, a free press, and citizen groups concerned about the sanctity of the ballot are all required.
US foreign policy should work to develop these democratic institutions in the world. The US must defend and pro-mote the process of democracy. That is what we did in the Philippines, and that is what we need to do to encourage reform in Nicaragua, Angola, Chile, South Korea, and South Africa. Each country is differ-ent, and the politics of each has to be taken into account. But the goal of US foreign policy should be constant, and that is, democracy. Once we reach a consensus on that goal -- as I believe we are doing in the US -- we can go about implementing that goal within the cultural and geopolitical circumstances of each country.
The Philippine experience shows the importance of the election process. Thousands of volunteer poll-watchers risked their lives to defend the right to vote in the Philippines. They set democratic participation and performance standards by which that election could be judged. Ferdinand Marcos lost the election. When he tried to claim a fraudulent victory, he lost his legitimacy to rule. I was in Guatemala observing elections there on Nov. 3, 1985, when Mr. Marcos announced ``snap elections'' on US television. The conventional wisdom of many in Washington was that the Guatemalan elections would not lead that troubled country to much democracy. Various commentators observed that the military would still be in control, regardless of who won. Much the same argument was later made in the Philippines: Marcos would win by hook or by crook, or call the whole thing off. But in Guatemala, and then in the Philippines, the conventional wisdom was wrong.
There is a passion for democracy in the world. In Guatemala, I witnessed mountain Indians travel many miles to vote. No one made them. This was their privilege, and nothing was going to stop them. Guatemala now has a democratically elected government, and Guatemala is on the difficult road to economic recovery.
The situation was more complex in the Philippines. The generals in Guatemala asked for our help in setting up the election. We helped establish certain election procedures: transparent ballot boxes, identification ink, computerized registration rolls, watermarked ballot paper, and the tabulation process. It was not as easy in the Philippines. Marcos invited American election observers. He did so with bravado, suggesting that since no one would believe how big his mandate would be, he wanted all of us there just to see. Given the history of voter fraud and violence in the Philippines, I was reluctant to commit the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to observe the elections.
Nevertheless, I did not want to flatly reject Marcos's call for American election observers. The committee had already gone on record calling for economic and military reform in the Philippines. Without that reform, we believed the communist insurgency would grow. I contended that the best course for us American election observers in the Philippines was to ally ourselves with the reform movement. The National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections, or Namfrel, was such a movement. It was committed to a free and fair election. They were priests, nuns, students, housewives, and even Kiwanis and Rotary Club members. Staff members of the Foreign Relations Committee had worked with Namfrel in the 1984 parliamentary elections in the Philippines, and in fact had begun preliminary discussions with them about the municipal elections planned for May.
The Foreign Relations Committee held three hearings on the Philippines before the election. It sent a delegation of American election law experts -- top lawyers for the Republican and Democratic Parties who sometimes see each other in court contesting federal election rules -- to review the Philippine election procedures. A second group followed up on their report. These election law experts established a checklist for the committee on what should be done to make the election as free and fair as possible. We questioned the will of the Marcos government to live up to these procedures, but were heartened by the excitement and the passion of the Philippine people for the election. Many members of Congress and the press dismissed the election as a fraud even before it happened. Some of these individuals are now quick to embrace the election success, however. The Philippine people were enthusiastic about their chance to make a democratic choice from the start.
Despite my concerns about fraud, I decided that the US could not abandon these people who wanted to exercise their right to vote. The review of election procedures, and the suggestions we made and Marcos followed, gave us a way to judge the election. For example, before I went to the Philippines, I told Marcos's acting foreign minister that a long delay in the quick count between Namfrel and the Commission on Elections would spell trouble with a capital ``T,'' because it would show that someone was cooking the results. That's exactly what happened. Everybody knew what it meant, and Marcos lost his legitimacy.
The US was able to help the Philippine people transfer power in a peaceful way because we had positioned ourselves as defenders of the democratic process and not as backers of one of the candidates.
When I visited polling and canvassing areas throughout the Philippines, I was swamped by people excited to have us there. They did not know much about me, but they knew I was a US observer committed to supporting the democratic process. The US press had the same experience. Filipinos did not want us to leave. The American people also wanted us to stay and speak out. The intensive coverage of the election on US television and in the press had a strong impact on the American people. Upon my return to the US from the Philippines, I went directly to Indiana after visiting with President Reagan. Wherever I went in Indiana, at high schools, chambers of commerce, factories, and Republican Lincoln Day dinners, there was excitement about the Philippine elections. In the heartland of America there was a strong commitment to promoting democracy abroad, and a strong feeling that our country had been successful in doing that.
US policy succeeded in Manila. Why?
Because it supported democracy.
And the American people, more than any policy, also supported democracy.
When they saw democracy being stolen, President Reagan responded by advising Marcos that his claim of election victory lacked credibility. Marcos left.
In a very simple yet powerful way, the Philippine experience points the way to a renewed American foreign policy based on free and fair democratic elections. This is a corollary in some respects to both the Kirkpatrick and the Reagan Doctrines.
The ``Kirkpatrick Doctrine'' (named after former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirpatrick) contends that there is a difference between authoritarian regimes led by anticommunist dictators and totalitarian regimes led by communist dictators. She argues that the US should be tough on the communist dictators, and help the authoritarian rulers evolve toward democracy, as we did in Guatemala. The ``Reagan Doctrine'' argues that the US should actively back freedom fighters struggling against communist totalitarian regimes. The corollary to these two doctrines is that the US should be busy promoting democracy in all of these dictatorships. I believe there should be free and fair elections not only in the Philippines, but also in Chile, Angola, and Nicaragua. NOW there are some skeptics who argue that it's absurd to push for elections in communist dictatorships. ``Everybody knows that Marxists don't hold free and fair elections.'' But it is apparent that people in Nicaragua and in Angola want democracy, that they want elections, and that they are fighting for their very lives to obtain them.
Actively supporting democracy offers a consistency and an element of consensus that our foreign policy has lacked since Vietnam. Ronald Reagan has led this country past the Vietnam syndrome. We have a President who is not afraid to act, and an American people proud of our role in the world. But we are still debating how we can both be effective and true to our beliefs as we deal with the many crises of the world.
One of my distinguished predecessors as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, J. William Fulbright, criticized the foreign policy that led this nation into the Vietnam war. He called it the ``arrogance of power.'' But after Vietnam, our foreign policy became the ``abdication of power.''
The United States is now ready to reassert its power in the world. Actively supporting the development of democratic institutions is the way to proceed.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R) of Indiana is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.