The announcement that the State Department may eliminate the promotion of justice and democracy from its mission has the potential for devastating consequences around the world. It would signal a dramatic shift in America's role in the international community.
The promotion of justice and democracy has long been a vital hallmark of U.S. foreign policy. These ideals are the guideposts for the innumerable initiatives the U.S. has undertaken to ensure human dignity, promote the rule of law, increase individuals' access to justice, and protect the free exercise of basic rights on a global scale.
Language matters. The proposed omission of "just" and "democracy" from the State Department's mission statement would communicate that the U.S. is solely interested in advancing its own economic interests, without reference to or possibly even at the expense of human rights, justice, and democratic values. Indeed, such single-minded ambitions could corrupt American moral authority, subvert vital diplomatic tools, and potentially fly in the face of international law.
This will be particularly vexing to our NATO partners and allies, predominantly in our interactions in conflict-ridden and post-conflict states from which international threats often arise. Furthermore, the shift in mission will serve to embolden authoritarian regimes, which will be free of the exertion of U.S. diplomatic, financial, and other intervention when they oppress their people or act with aggression on the international stage.
The espousal of democracy, justice, and human rights is critical to national security interests. Healthy democracies with the rule of law and entrenched protections of human rights help prevent extremist and other violent elements from filling governance vacuums, through which they impose and spread their oppressive ideologies. The more just democracies that exist in the world, the more allies and trading partners the U.S. will have. The more stable, economically empowered states, the more secure and prosperous the world will be.
The promotion of democratic values is a key "soft power" implement in the U.S. foreign policy toolbox that lessens the need for the U.S, to utilize military force. Related assistance and programming provides people around the world with the capacity to articulate their concerns and demands to their governments and, in turn, helps foreign governments be more responsive to their constituents. This creates more stable states, which can engage constructively in international relations, trade, and security — all to the benefit of the U.S. and the international community.
This proposed change in mission would fundamentally alter the role and programming of numerous State Department bureaus that perform vital work to on these issues. The efforts of and funding from the State Department provide millions of people — particularly marginalized populations, and no group more than women — access to their basic human rights, justice, and the opportunity to participate in the decision-making of their governments.
Due to U.S. initiatives in fragile and transitional states, millions of women and other excluded populations have been lifted out of poverty; freed to exercise their fundamental rights; and incorporated into peacebuilding processes, government, academia, the economy, and leadership roles — all of which have helped fledgling democracies become more inclusive and thrive. This proposed mission shift, in tandem with the proposed 32 percent budget cuts to the State Department, would serve to further erode the credibility of U.S. diplomacy, the exercise of the expertise of career civil servants over delicate matters of international relations, and the ability of the U.S. to avoid and resolve conflicts around the world.
As former Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "Our interests, in the end, rest on our values. I am concerned because the country seems to be veering away from the values that are so foundational for us."
The State Department must maintain its current mission and reject any efforts to alter or undermine U.S. leadership on the promotion of democracy, justice, and human rights on a global scale. Indeed, promotion of these ideals will ultimately serve the U.S. economic interests in which this administration expresses such interest. But if the administration chooses instead to embolden bad actors and states in the world economic and diplomatic order, it will be defeating its own objective.
Megan Corrado is an international human rights lawyer and the Advocacy Director for Women for Afghan Women, the largest women's nongovernmental organization in Afghanistan.
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