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The changing nature and architecture of U.S. democracy assistance, an interview with Luiza Mateo, by Mauricio Kenyatta

The paper “The changing nature and architecture of U.S. democracy assistance,” (Vol. 63, n. 1) authored by Luiza Mateo and published in the Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional – RBPI, examines the definitions and practices of American democracy assistance, considering its institutional architecture, budgetary levels, and political priorities. The author explores why and how the U.S. undertakes democracy assistance. Maurício Kenyatta Barros da Costa, Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of International Relations at the University of Brasilia (UnB), interviews Luiza Mateo regarding her article.   

In American foreign policy, can we understand democracy assistance and the promotion of human rights as the synthesis (or the complementarity) of liberal and realist international relations theories?  

I would say that democracy assistance represents a common ground between liberal and realist traditions in U.S. foreign policy thinking. In terms of justification, we can identify both those who defend democracy as an end in itself or as a means to U.S. power projection. In liberal internationalist tradition, decision-makers usually revive Wilsonianism to defend democracy as the structuring norm in international society, in which democratic principles and practices would guarantee stable and pacific relations. Not only in political terms, but also in economic ones, encouraging free trade, for instance. The interesting is that, even in administrations centered in realpolitik calculus, moving away from idealism in direction to hard power balance, democracy promotion served its role. The amalgam of the democratic community, initially composed by North Atlantic allies, expanded during the Cold War. We could also say that democracy assistance has been an instrument to support “moderate” leaderships in strategic countries, meaning local elites in accordance with U.S. interests. As we know, in cases where it was not possible, the American government didn’t hesitate to maintain a close relationship with so-called “friendly dictators.”  

Do the pattern changes of democracy assistance under the Trump administration mean the resumption of a more isolationist foreign policy? What are the impacts of these changes in the international order?  

I wouldn’t say isolationist, as I don’t think that is the best adjective to describe Trump’s foreign policy. It is marked by selective international engagement oriented to short-term gains, departing from traditional foreign policy formulations that articulate the projection of American power in a broader and more sophisticated way – through international institutions and regimes, the acquiescence of regional leaders, and even the identification American values or model (of free-market democracy) as universal. That is usually described as the foundation of American hegemonic order that was consolidated after the Second World War, bringing democracy promotion as one of its formulations. Trump presidency questions the costs associated with U.S. leadership with the America First motto. And that includes not only the proposal to cut foreign aid budget, but also contributions to international organizations, and the review of multilateral compromises. The point is that even if there is no real isolationism, the relative departure from the historical leadership position can create a vacuum and accelerate the erosion of American power in the international order in the near future. 

Read the article  

Mateo, Luiza Rodrigues. (2020). The changing nature and architecture of U.S. democracy assistance. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 63(1), e010. Epub August 19, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329202000110 

About the authors  

Luiza Rodrigues Mateo, Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo, Relações Internacionais, São Paulo, SP, Brazil  

Maurício Kenyatta Barros da Costa, Institute of International Relations, University of Brasilia, Brazil 

How to cite this interview  

Cite this article as: Editoria Mundorama, "The changing nature and architecture of U.S. democracy assistance, an interview with Luiza Mateo, by Mauricio Kenyatta," in Revista Mundorama, 01/09/2020, https://mundorama.net/?p=27616.


Professor e pesquisador da área de política externa brasileira do Instituto de Relações Internacionais da Universidade de Brasília (iREL-UnB). É editor da Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional - RBPI (http://www.scielo.br/rbpi) e de Meridiano 47 (http://www.meridiano47.info). Pesquisador do Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq).