This approach is embodied in the work of the National Endowment for Democracy and affiliated implementing institutes (of which NDI is one), as set forth by President Ronald Reagan in his speech to the British Parliament in June 1982. There, he highlighted the salience of what Bill Clinton would later describe as “democratic enlargement” as part of long-term U.S. strategy, when he said:
While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections.
The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.
While this is certainly not the only thing the U.S. has done in the world since then, it has been a point of bipartisan consensus that U.S. interests and global order are enhanced to the extent that the world is democratic. There are, to be sure, outliers in both parties who either disagree with the premise or believe the U.S. ought not or cannot do anything to help decision-makers and activists in other countries.
In pursuit of this large strategic vision, over more than a quarter century, a mostly informal division of labor has emerged. Some things only the government can do as official foreign policy (high-level engagement with other countries’ leaders and sometimes security agencies), or contract for (deploying specific governing expertise in various realms, such as law enforcement or municipal management). There are other specific tasks that are better left to non-governmental actors with their very different skill sets (like organizing political parties and election campaigns, or training watchdog organizations to fact-check and mount advocacy campaigns). While some advice or training is discrete and tailored, the overall effort is generally quite visible and transparent.
Yet while the U.S. and like-minded governments implementing democracy support programs have evolved this new kind of international engagement that is benign and neighborly, the Russian government remains, one might say, un-evolved.
Consider, for instance, the multi-year effort by the National Democratic Institute, with funding from the National Endowment of Democracy (an independent enterprise funded directly by Congress) and more recently from the U.S. Agency for International Development (the official foreign aid arm of the executive branch), to support GOLOS (“vote” or “voice” in Russian), the volunteer Russian election-monitoring network. The purpose is to identify problems in the administration of elections so that they may be remedied in subsequent elections. It is also an exercise in participatory citizenship to empower civic-minded Russians who don’t want to engage in party politics. That’s it. An analogous effort from the Russian government would be if they were supporting the work of the League of Women Voters to educate American voters, or voter registration drives in the U.S. to help increase minority participation in elections to overcome structural impediments in the American system. Spreading disinformation and aggravating discord is not strengthening American democracy.