Remarks at the Inaugural Meeting of the Governing Council of the Community of Democracies

Wendy Sherman
Under Secretary for Political Affairs 
New York City
September 22, 2011

I want to thank President Elbegdorj for the energy and enthusiasm Mongolia is demonstrating in its leadership of the Community of Democracies. Lithuania’s presidency was a difficult act to follow, and Mongolia is rising to that challenge.

This inaugural meeting of the Governing Council represents the culmination of a long effort to revitalize the Community of Democracies. The United States – and Secretary Clinton personally – have been committed to that process, and we are glad to see it coming to fruition.

The Community has been transformed from a forum for democracies to get together into a platform for democracies to get things done. And that transformation couldn’t have come at a better time. The presence of Tunisia’s Foreign Minister at this meeting is a reminder that we are in the midst of the most significant wave of democratization since the founding of this organization in 2000. As we gather against that backdrop, this Governing Council faces several important questions:

  • How do we harness the potential of a newly empowered Community of Democracies to advance democracy at this moment of historic change?
  • How do we define the Community’s place and comparative advantage in a global ecosystem of many international organizations?
  • And how do we ensure that the Community continues generating concrete results rather than simply meetings and declarations?

Today, on behalf of the United States, I would like to suggest three principles that can help guide our answers.

First, in this season of democratic change, the Community’s success will be measured in large part by its ability to support the transitions underway in the world’s emerging democracies.

Every nation at this meeting – including the United States – has had help in its transition. And as nations embark on the journey that is democracy, we have an opportunity – and an obligation – to be partners on that pathway. As Secretary Clinton said in Vilnius, “all of us here in this Community of Democracies have a stake in supporting them and a responsibility to help. We see our own stories in theirs.”

The Democracy Partnership Challenge launched at the Vilnius Ministerial is an example of how we can use the CD to channel concrete support to countries in the midst of promising transitions. We are grateful to Slovakia and the Netherlands for co-chairing the task force focused on Tunisia. And we thank Poland for joining with the U.S. to co-chair the Moldova task force. The United States has committed $5 million through USAID to support this initiative.

We hope that the CD’s other working groups and initiatives, including the working group on women and democracy that we co-chair with Lithuania, can also help address the challenges and opportunities presented by ongoing transitions. Mongolia’s focus on democracy education can play an important role in this work as well.

Second, with actors outside of government driving much of the democratic change we are witnessing in the world, civil society should remain an integral part of the Community of Democracies. One of this organization’s greatest strengths is its ability to provide a platform for working with – and strengthening – civil society. The Community’s working group on defending civil society offers a case study in how partnerships between governments and civil society can yield outstanding results. As we work to establish the Community’s identity as an international organization, a strong role for civil society should be one of its defining features.

Third, we must ensure that members of the Governing Council share a commitment to the principles on which the CD is founded – and a willingness to back up that commitment with concrete support. Our effectiveness depends on it. Members of the Governing Council are supposed to make financial contributions to the work of the CD, second diplomats to the Secretariat, and/or take an active role the CD’s working groups. The United States has taken all of these steps. We hope other nations will do so as well.

Today, we stand at the confluence of a stream of history that is bringing liberty to millions, and a stream of action that has renewed this Community. Let us use this moment to equip this Community and its aspiring members to navigate the challenging waters that lie ahead. This isn’t only the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do. Our world will be more peaceful, more prosperous, and more democratic as we come together to meet this challenge.