Democracy promotion

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Democracy promotion is the range of policies, assistance, external organizations and even military action that contribute to the formation of democratic societies in previously authoritarian states. While democracies obviously formed in the 18th century, the deliberate creation of a democracy, or the reversal of a possible trend away from democracy, is much more recent. The first examples dealt with reconstruction of Germany and Japan from fascist rule. Next, there was a concern, largely clandestine, that some democracies, such as Italy, might become Communist after World War II. There has been another surge, in Eastern Europe, since the fall of the Soviet Union, with Polish Solidarity (solidarnosc) being one of the most indigenous and visible. Most recently, in America, it has been a neoconservative belief that displacing totalitarian regimes in the Middle East will lead quickly to liberal democracy.

Fukuyama agrees that there is a broad societal trend toward liberal democracy, but insists that institutions must be in place before a democracy can emerge in a specific time and place. He also observes that good governance is even more important than abstract democracy. [1]

There are world, regional, and national democracy promotion organizations; they may be governmental, QUANGO, or nongovernmental. At the official world level, there is the United Nations Development Programme. [2] The Programme receives support from the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF).[3]

The issues are being examined at a public-private world level. [4]


Fukuyama argues that where democracy did emerge, it had external support that focused on building institutions. In Serbia, for example, opposition groups were aided by the National Endowment for Democracy, as had been the institutions in Ukraine. Successful democracy promotion requires, in his view:[5]

  • An initiative from within
  • Sufficient freedom to organize, which did not exist in Saddam's Iraq
  • A type of nationalism conducive to external engagement, such as the Eastern European countries eager to join Western Europe, rather than tribes forced together by a colonial power

He agrees with the principle that there is a moral imperative to liberate population under tyranny, while the classic realist regards the internal character of a state as its own concern. This imperative goes well back in American tradition; the motto of United States Army Special Forces is de oppresso liber, which they translate as "to liberate the oppressed."[6]

Cautioning that effective democracy depends on both economic development and social institutions, he points out, agreeing with an argument from Fareed Zakaria that a rule of law is more important to economic development than pure democracy. It may, in some cases, be more important to modernize the institutions of authoritarian societies than immediately moving to "feckless democracy". Doing so, however, is not a generally useful strategy; liberal authoritarianism tends to be rare, mostly seen in East Asia.

Social institutions, internal to a country, may include independent political parties, trade unions, or interest groups. A practical argument to otherwise authoritarian governments, China being cited as an example, is

societies that allow their citizens to express their concerns freely and participate in political parties, trades unions and civil society movements – are better placed to weather the economic storm than the non-democratic alternatives[7]

WWII Occupation

A structural model that did work came from the Federal Republic of Germany, which created "party foundations", called Stiftung (plural Stiftungen). each associated with a political party but receiving government funding, both to remove Nazi vestiges and to spread democratic models. , each aligned with one of the four German political parties, received funding from the West German treasury. "In the 1960's they began assisting their ideological counterparts abroad, and by the mid-70's were playing an important role in both of the democratic transitions taking place on the Iberian Peninsula."

The Stiftung model became the prototype, in 1977, for a proposed foundation based on the Democratic Party (United States) and the Republican Party (United States), which was founded in 1980 as the American Political Foundation. The APF received funding from the Agency for International Development to design a more general model.

Stiftungen are now operating worldwide. [8]

The United States National Endowment on Democracy, operating worldwide, is based on the stiftung model, with the addition of organized business and labor to political parties. It was created from:

  • Business: Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE)
  • Democratic: National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI)
  • Republican: National Republican Institute for International Affairs (later renamed the International Republican Institute or "IRI")
  • Organized labor: Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI) (later reorganized as the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, also known as the “Solidarity Center.”)

Cold War democracy encouragement

While the effort was clandestine, the U.S. government launched CIA influence on public opinion to support political and intellectual organizations, often of the left, as a counterbalance to Communist expansion in Western Europe, especially in Italy.[9] It also worked through U.S. organizations, such as the National Student Association.

When these efforts came to public attention, the U.S. political backlash was considerable; it was not felt appropriate for a clandestine effort. The National Endowment for Democracy was one of the responses.

Some tasks assigned to CIA really did not need to be clandestine, and having an overt organization support initiatives desired by the U.S. government has much less political risk. The United States Information Agency (USIA) has always been an overt white propaganda organization. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, as distinct from the Voice of America (VOA), had been clandestinely funded through the CIA, but, with the VOA, now all come under the authority of a quasi-public corporation, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). BBG was part of USIA until 1999.

The 1967 exposure, by Ramparts magazine, of CIA subsidies to the National Association, according to Time, led to the term "orphans", referring to nearly 100 private agencies that had been getting CIA money, and were affected by a Presidential order that support must end by the end of 1967. Time succinctly summarized the issue with "the question is whether, in a free society, it is right, wise—or necessary—for supposedly independent organizations to receive secret subsidies."

Whatever the merits or demerits of the CIA's methods, most of these groups served the U.S. well in its contest for the faith and understanding of the world's workers and thinkers, students and teachers, refugees from yesterday and leaders of tomorrow. This led to the appointment of a presidential commission, headed by Under Secretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach, to figure out how the gap left by the CIA should be filled. ... a politically ambitious former California newspaper publisher who served with the CIA between 1950 and 1954, added further details. In an article in the Saturday Evening Post, Braden indignantly defended the CIA against charges that it had been "immoral" by recording some of the extremely useful things it accomplished early in the cold war.[10]

Criticism of democracy promotion

A neoconservative view, partially underlying the Iraq War believe that democracy is so inherently attractive that even if it is imposed by force, people will adopt it. This view is not universally accepted. The WWII examples of Japan and Germany were considered special cases: Japan was hierarchical and homogeneous, willing to accept a top-down solution, and Germany had at least some experience with democratic ideas.

Paleoconservatives and libertarians in the U.S. do not see democracy promotion as a critical interest of the U.S. Some, such as Patrick Buchanan, see it as counterproductive. Citing Amy Chua's World on Fire he notes "in Third World countries there is almost always a "market-dominant minority" -- Indians in East Africa, whites in South Africa, overseas Chinese -- which, in a free-market, attains higher levels of income and controls a disproportionate share of the wealth.When democracy arrives, however, the racial, tribal or ethnic majority votes to dispossess these market-dominant minorities." Given this assumption, he then asks the question,

If racial and religious bonds and ancient animosities against the West trump any democratic solidarity with the West, of what benefit to America is democracy in the Third World? And if one-person, one-vote democracy in multiethnic countries leads to dispossession and persecution of the market-dominant minority, why would we promote democracy there?[11]

Regional activity

Buchanan argues from the perspective of what is best for the United States. Other powers or regional coalitions may have other reasons to believe democracy promotion is in their interest.


Europe has created a number of democracy promotion organization. At the formal level, among the largest is the European Endowment for Democracy and Human Rights of the European Union. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has an Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. [12]

Latin America

Ending the Cold War also led to democratization in formerly authoritarian states in Latin America. Not only had states run nondemocratic governments based on arguments of national security, there was intergovernmental cooperation, to violate human rights, under Operation Condor. In the changing political climate of the region, there are democracy promotion initiatives under the Organization for American States.

Middle East

A different aspect of neoconservatism cautions against social engineering, and changing societies in overly ambitious ways. He cites the "broken windows" urban policing model of James Q. Wilson: reducing crime starts with enforcement of minor social breakdown, rather than directly addressing societal issues such as poverty and racism. In the context of foreign policy, direct democratization of Arab societies might be overly ambitious. In the case of the Iraq War, Vice President Cheney told interviewer Tim Russert "I really believe we will be greeted as liberators."[13]

Fukuyama points out that the neoconservatives that pressed for the Iraq War ignored the mechanisms of building democratic institutions, such as the Agency for International Development or the World Bank. Instead, the Kristol and Kagan book Present Danger[14] emphasized military power projection and ballistic missile defense, while it was the editorial policy of the Weekly Standard, during the Clinton Administration, to encourage U.S. defense spending.


With the transition away from the apartheid government in South Africa, there was a strong desire for multiracial democratic institutions to replace it; the white-dominated government, indeed, was internally democratic. [15] Economic storms of apartheid were resisted by democratic institutions, specifically, trade unions, according to Edward Webster of the University of Witwatersrand. He described them “the only bulwark against authoritarianism” in Africa, as they

are virtually the only group representing the popular classes that has the continuing organizational influence at the national level and poses challenging questions about rights of mass access to public resources. [16]


  1. Francis Fukuyama (1992), The End of History and the Last Man, Free Press, ISBN 0029109752
  2. About Us, United Nations Development Programme
  3. UNDEF update, United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF), August 2009
  4. The Century Foundation & Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (30 April 2009), Supporting Democracy: Pressing the Re-set Button on International Policy, The Century Foundation
  5. Fukuyama, The End of History, pp. 137-138
  6. Fukuyama, The End of History, pp. 114-119
  7. Richard Gowand and Sara Batmanglich (2009), Democracy Support: a Fresh Start, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung
  8. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) office in New York: About Us
  9. Saunders, Frances Stonor (1999). The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. New Press. ISBN 1-56584-664-8. 
  10. "How to Care for the CIA Orphans", Time, 19 May 1967
  11. Patrick Buchanan (8 January 2010), "Another God That Failed", Human Events
  12. Marieke van Doorn, Roel von Meijenfeldt, ed. (2007), Democracy, Europe's core value? on the European profile in world-wide democracy assistance, Eburon Uitgeverij B.V., ISBN 9789059721340, pp. 110-112
  13. Dick Cheney (16 March 2003), Meet the Press, NBC News
  14. William Kristol and Robert Kagan (2000), Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy, Encounter, pp. 14-17
  15. Marina Ottaway, Thomas Carothers (2000), Funding Virtue: Civil Society Aid and Democracy Promotion, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, ISBN 0870031783
  16. Edward Webster (2009), The Difficult Dilemma facing Democrats in the Global Crisis, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung