David Mathieson and Richard Youngs of Madrid’s FRIDE connect the European left’s declining commitment to democratization with perception of American foreign policy. For Mathieson and Youngs, the sense that America uses democracy promotion as a “cloak for [US] power propagation” is jeopardizing one of the benchmarks of European liberalism.
The authors chart the rise of the European left as “a political force in Europe [that] went hand in hand with the evolution of democracy on the continent.” European liberalism has largely offered enduring support to democratic systems worldwide. However, the 1990s provided domestic distractions–the fall of Communism as well as EU integration—that have since taken away the momentum of external democratization projects. US foreign policy after 9/11 has done the most damage, alienating Europe’s left-leaning political parties. The European left is now caught between a history of facilitating democracy worldwide and a global US power that it views as having distorted the purposes of spreading liberalism. Patterns of dissent among France’s Socialist Party (PS), Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), and Spain’s Social Democrats (PSOE) support the argument.
According to Mathieson and Youngs, the European left’s ambivalence and concerns relate to four areas:
- Military intervention as the cornerstone of democracy promotion.
- US unilateralism.
- The legitimacy of democracy as a universal value.
- The lack of sound economic development as a prerequisite condition for democracy promotion.
The authors prescribe a course that might help to alleviate European concerns but hinges on the left’s ability to rationalize a new reality in global democracy promotion:
- On military intervention: Europe’s left must not let the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan force a regression in the support for democracy; the justification for the two conflicts was never an issue of democracy to begin with.
- On US unilateralism: Europe needs to be wary of forcing the US into isolation through its blanket rejection of American foreign policy. Moreover, Europe needs to ensure that it doesn’t isolate itself through anti-American policies; Europe alone may now possess the legitimacy to forge true democracy promotion.
- On universal values: The European left should realize that there does not need to be a contradiction between promoting democracy and supporting peoples’ rights to “choose their own destiny.”
- On economic development: Rather than emphasizing development as a necessary precondition for democracy, Europeans should understand that it runs hand in hand with democracy promotion; growth in one area will facilitate growth in the other.