Last week, CIGI released the newest edition of A Diplomat’s Handbook for Democracy Development Support, co-published with the Council for a Community of Democracies. Authored by Jeremy Kinsman and Kurt Bassuener, the Handbook presents a wide variety of on-the-ground diplomatic experiences. To learn more about the goals of this third edition, we speak to Ambassador Kinsman, a scholar at the University of California’s Institute of Governmental Studies and Ryerson University, and former Canadian ambassador to Moscow, Rome, London and the European Union in Brussels.

CIGI: What new insight can readers expect from the revised 2013 edition of A Diplomat’s Handbook?

Jeremy Kinsman: In the six years since the first edition, much has happened to add to the evidence of what enables democratic transitions to succeed. We knew that overthrowing a dictator is generally easier than constructing a democracy in the aftermath, but the North African revolutions provided a stark laboratory that our country case studies illuminate, especially the new ones on Russia and the Arab Spring.

The Handbook underlines that challenges of democratic transition are essentially behavioural. Democracy isn’t a process. It is about human interaction and the development of inclusive institutions. Its building blocks and incubators are in civil society.

In their centralization of power, dictatorships and one-party states repress the growth of civil society. In so doing, they prevent the development of the sort of reflexes of compromise among different groups and interests that are essential to inclusive self-government.

From the outset, emerging democracies need to aim at being inclusive. All societies are pluralist in their different ways; if not in ethnic and sectarian terms, then in economic and cultural terms. Shutting a group out of power doesn’t work. It requires tolerance and habits of give, take and compromise that have to be learned over time and through experience.

 Anatoly Sobchak, the Mayor of St. Petersburg, Russia, said in the early 1990s that “in this society, democracy and dictatorship are living side-by-side.” The difficult challenge is building a constructive consensus, as opposed to the sort of populist majoritarian top-down regimes against “others” of the kind Vladimir Putin has marshalled.

A free and fair election is only one of many starting points; it’s what happens after the election that really counts. Winners shouldn’t aim at repressing losers and opponents, or a revolutionary new order sweeping out old ones. It’s about “pacting” and reconciliation. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt just didn’t get it, and tragically, the first-ever elected President was turfed out by a coup from the military that has restored a police state. Blame 30 years of dictatorship that we in the West pandered to.

Supporting the building of the capacity for inclusive civic behaviour is the best task that outside democracies can assign themselves, usually through support for constructive international civil society partnerships.

Developed democracies have learned to drop the sense they are in a global “competition” with non-democracies. The notion they once held that their own systems offer value as superior models has been dashed by economic woes and partisan gridlock in much of the democratic world. However, by-products have been greater objectivity and even humility.

We now recognize more readily the Handbook’s first truth — that democracy cannot be exported or imported, but has to emerge from the peoples in question, in their own way and according to their own trajectory. A positive revelation from the Arab Spring is that there was no outside “hidden hand.” The aspirations and values that underlay the popular revolutions were not “Western,” but universal. The evidence piled up that no region is immune to their power.

The Chinese Communist Party continues to maintain that notions of universal human rights and political competition are Western conceits, inadequate rewards compared to the record of Chinese governance in lifting 650 million Chinese out of poverty. The evidence builds, however, that the complexities of increasingly modern Chinese society and the challenges of moving to the next, more innovative level of economic development, are exacerbated by top-down governance that mistrusts the people.

A related point is that the content of international relations is increasingly about peoples and among networks of people, rather than being just about state-to-state relations. Everywhere people are seeking more agency over their own lives, and the relationships between peoples and their governments are changing. Diplomacy has to adjust. Western democracies were shocked by an Arab Spring they had not anticipated — largely because they over-invested in repressive regimes that promised stability, and hence, security — on overarching issues such as the “war on terror.” They now recognize that dictatorships are inherently unstable. Interests and values are not in competition in foreign policy but can be mutually reinforcing; strategic partnerships based on interests can enhance influence with which to represent values.

CIGI: One obvious development in global affairs is the way that technological advancements have changed the nature of political activism, democratic accountability and the consumption of international events. How does the third edition of A Diplomat’s Handbook acknowledge such changes and their impact on diplomacy?

Kinsman: The Internet revolution has undeniably been a major factor in events. Increased interconnectivity between societies and within them has heightened expectations, galvanized a sense of common causes and enhanced the notions of individual empowerment.

In terms of outside information, apart from gaining knowledge of outside events, people everywhere are familiar with the norms applying elsewhere and are able to compare. Arab youth felt for the first time included in a global conversation.

The way that the Internet has facilitated the inside conversation, within societies, is equally important. As communications specialist Clay Shirky has described, it has permitted “open secrets to become public truths” about corrupt and repressive leadership.

More widely, communications from society to society have widened and deepened the sense of international solidarity through the creation of civil society networks and partnerships of individuals, researchers, NGOs, services, etc. The content of international relations is moving from state-to-state to non-governmental.

Famously, hand-held technology facilitates witnessing of atrocity, and its uplinking to a world outside.

The Internet empowers individuals. It contributes to the demonstrably growing need of “agency,” the power to affect decisions about peoples’ lives.

But there is warning not to become “techno-utopians.” There are self-evident downsides: communications technologies facilitate the mobilization of extremists and social polarities based on the hatred of others. Moreover, repressive regimes have used the Internet to attack and undermine legitimate protest.

The Handbook documents developments and counter-developments, and concludes that overall, the effect of communications technology has been hugely positive. However, there is a powerful caveat: technology doesn’t make revolutions; people do. Technology is only a facilitator.

CIGI: In light of some recent, twenty-first century democratization and diplomatic efforts gone awry — for example, the war in Iraq or last year’s deadly attack on US diplomats in Benghazi — there may be a renewed sense of isolationism and weariness to engage with non-democratic countries, shared by Western governments. Is the world facing a democratic recession? What lessons does this new book teach those who argue that the risk of diplomacy outweighs the value?

Kinsman: Again, the Arab Spring demonstrated emphatically that no region is immune to the aspiration for human rights. Everywhere the relationships of individuals to their governments are changing. People want agency over the decisions that affect them and will eventually seek it. As multiple Russians told me, “we are tired of being treated as political infants.”

People in North America (the United States in particular) and in Europe are dispirited by the experience of costly wars that were motivated by a hubris they can no longer identify with. The invasion of Iraq did inestimable damage in pretending it was about “democracy” once the false rationales of weapons of mass destruction and 9/11 connections came up dry.

Democratic leaders heed arguments that priority attention must be paid to economic disarray at home, though it is less clear they hear as readily the pleas to strengthen democratic practices of their own.

There are signs of a form of isolationism that will thwart what Václav Havel treasured as the “venerable practice of solidarity” that joins free people to the “lives of others,” the un-free. Polls repeatedly show now that publics in the West are inclined to stay out of other peoples’ business. In many ways, this disinclination reflects the reality that change for other peoples’ lives has to come from themselves.

But we either care about the lives of others or we don’t. Canadians can sleepwalk with eyes glazed, or they can pay attention to the planet we share with billions of others who have aspirations that are as human as our own, but that are still repressed by authoritarian leaders we could never accept. Our government has to do business with all sorts of regimes for economic and security reasons. It also has to represent our values. The Handbook demonstrates how it can do both — and it shows how individuals can join up to offer supportive public diplomacy of their own.

Our government has to do business with all sorts of regimes for economic and security reasons. It also has to represent our values. The Handbook demonstrates how it can do both — and it shows how individuals can join up to offer supportive public diplomac
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