The popularity of capacity building continues unabated. The following excerpt from the USAID (2004) ‘A Year in Iraq: Building Democracy’ report demonstrates the importance ascribed to capacity building. As part of the US democracy promotion effort in Iraq, a former official from Colorado was asked to write a guide explaining how to run a meeting, how to encourage people to speak and contribute, and how to resolve disagreements and reach decisions through compromise. The guide was translated into Arabic and distributed to all members of local councils in Iraq. In order to assess how these lessons had been absorbed, a district council meeting was observed. According to the report:
At the district council meeting, the Iraqi experiment in democracy seemed to be running off the tracks when a couple of council members began shouting their opinions around the table, appearing to be angry enough to come to blows. (USAID 2004: 12)
For instance, in recent years there has been growing selective remembrance (that is, forgetting about the political repressions and lack of freedoms) and intensifying nostalgia for the ‘stability’ of the Soviet past and a questioning of the benefits of democracy, which is linked in the minds of many post-Soviet citizens with the introduction of the shock therapies that led to poverty, gross inequality, social exclusion, gangster capitalism and the rise of the oligarchs (see box 4.2). Democracy promotion in Eastern Europe was also affected by the close association between democracy and market reform programmes. Because the rapidly implemented market reforms and shock therapies of the early 1990s led to vast inequality, poverty and social exclusion, people soon became disillusioned, not only with the market reforms but also with the associated programme of democracy building.
Achievements of democracy promotion programmes
Many of the democracy promotion success stories are about the countries in Central and East Europe, although South Africa and the Philippines are also mentioned (Gaventa 2006; Hawthorne 2004: 5). The EU enlargement and accession process has come to be seen not only as the EU’s first major experience of democracy promotion, but also as one of the most successful cases of democracy promotion in general. Integration into the EU is often described as an effective tool of democracy promotion because it provided incentives for the leadership of democratising countries to pursue internal changes (McFaul 2004: 157). Certainly, great strides have been made and many democratic institutions and practices have been established in the countries of Central and East Europe. However, this did not happen overnight and enlargement is not an approach that can be replicated elsewhere. Moreover, the ‘return to Europe’ has been more complicated than would initially appear. Examining democratisation processes in Central and Eastern Europe, Mary Kaldor and Ivan Vejvoda recognise the establishment of formal democratic institutions and maintain that there is hope for the development of substantive democracies in these countries. They contend that the process of democratisation, in substantive terms, is ‘underway’ (Kaldor and Vejvoda 1997: 80). While acknowledging the successes of Eastern European countries in establishing democratic institutions and practices, it is important to also recognise that the development of democracy and the growth of Eastern European civil societies (namely, an increased number of organisations) has not necessarily been translated into greater citizen engagement or participation (Celichowski 2004: 77), or led to greater benefits for various social groups (Hann 2004: 46).
Non-state actors and democracy promotion
In addition to bilateral and multilateral agencies, non-state actors, including private foundations, Northern NGOs, private service contractors, political parties and others have been involved in democracy promotion. There are differences among these various actors in terms of their objectives and missions, as well as levels of financial independence and autonomy. Some organisations, such as the Open Society Institute (also known as the Soros Foundation) and the Ford Foundation, are funded by private endowments and consider democracy promotion as an integral part of their mission. They have been actively engaged in democracy promotion and civil society strengthening. Meanwhile NGOs or quasi-NGOs such as the US-based NED and National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, or the UK-based Westminster Foundation for Democracy (URL), which are also committed to promoting democracy around the world, have less financial independence than the aforementioned private foundations and are dependent on government funding. For instance, NED receives an annual appropriation from the US Congress through the Department of State (NED URL), while the Westminster Foundation is an independent body that receives £4.1 million annual funding from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (URL). In addition to these various types of foundations, there are also political parties or organisations affiliated to political parties that engage in democracy promotion. In Germany, for instance, there are a number of organisations, including the Friedrich Ebert, Friedrich Naumann, Heinrich Böll and Konrad Adenauer foundations that are associated with various political parties and that have been active in democracy promotion. Finally, among non-state actors, there are the private service contractors or consulting companies (such as Planning and Development Collabrative International and Development Alternatives, Inc. URL), which procure contracts and carry out democracy promotion, civil society strengthening and governance on behalf of and based on the specifications of their clients. USAID, in particular, provides a significant amount of contracts to such consulting companies and private service contractors. In 2004 alone it provided US $8 billion to contractors engaged in carrying out international development projects throughout the world (USAID 2006).
The UN approach
Even though democracy is not a precondition for UN membership and the word ‘democracy’ does not appear in the UN charter, since 2005 the UN has also made a foray into democracy promotion. According to Newman and Rich,
It is not one of the stated purposes of the United Nations to foster democracy, to initiate the process of democratisation or to legitimise other actors’ efforts in this field [democracy promotion]. (Newman and Rich 2004: 5)
European democracy promotion
While democratisation is by no means a new departure for the EU or European bilateral donors, Richard Gillespie and Richard Youngs contend that the US began focusing more systematically on democratisation slightly earlier than the EU and that effective co-ordination of EU democracy promotion efforts has been conspicuously absent (Gillespie and Youngs 2002). They maintain that until the late 1990s, the lack of mechanisms for marrying national initiatives to overall common guidelines on democracy presented a serious challenge to effective concerted European action (Gillespie and Youngs 2000: 6). Discussions on transatlantic democracy building efforts have intensified following September 11 (Schmid and Braizat 2006: 4), but as Jeffrey Kopstein points out, following the war in Iraq, many European leaders and the European public remain suspicious of democracy promotion, interpreting it as ‘a repackaged commitment to the unilateral use of force as well as justification for war and occupation’ (Kopstein 2006: 85).
Donor approaches to democracy promotion
US democracy promotion
Although the US has been engaged in democracy promotion since the 1980s through a focus on election monitoring, civil society strengthening became a significant part of US foreign policy following the collapse of the socialist regimes (Ottaway and Carothers 2000). Since then, civil society assistance has come to be considered ‘a centrepiece of America’s international outreach’ (US Senate 2006: 1) and ‘a matter of principle’ (Tobias 2007). This position is reflected in the fact that since the early 1990s, more money has been spent on civil society assistance than on any other sectors of USAID democracy assistance (Finkel et al. 2006: 33). From 1990–2003, most USAID democracy assistance was sent to the countries in Eurasia ($5.77 million) with the lowest levels of aid going to Africa ($1.29 million) and Asia ($1.29 million) (Finkel et. al. 2006: 33–4). US-funded civil society assistance has largely been directed at NGOs, because the USAID position in the early 1990s was to provide vigorous support for local NGOs, which would ‘be a critical element of civil society strengthening’ (USAID 1999: v). Although the earlier strong focus on NGOs has shifted somewhat and civil society is now defined more broadly, the assumption persists that ‘a strong civil society is desirable and makes democratic practices and traditions more likely to flourish’ (USAID 1999: xi). As US Senator Joseph Biden stated in the 2006 Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on NGOs, ‘we must understand that an election does not a democracy make…A democracy must rest on the foundation of a strong civil society’ (Biden 2006, emphasis added).
Of the various strands of democracy promotion, in this chapter I focus on civil society strengthening programmes and ask the following questions. First, can democracy be promoted through civil society strengthening, and second, given that democracy appears to have near universal appeal and acceptance (at least at the level of rhetoric), why has there been a backlash against democracy promotion that targets civil society? My reasons for focusing on civil society strengthening programmes instead of programmes that are aimed at election monitoring or state institution building are twofold. First, civil society strengthening was viewed as an end itself as well as a means of furthering the other components (such as human rights and free and fair elections) within the democracy promotion agenda. Second, the current backlash against democracy promotion is almost entirely directed at civil society strengthening programmes and involves legal and extralegal measures aimed at constraining, co-opting, coercing or closing foreign-funded NGOs (Gershman and Allen 2006: 38; Howell et al. 2007). Foreign funding of NGOs is increasingly being described as a form of interventionism and neo-imperialism, and as the creation of a fifth column.
Civil society strengthening subsequently became a central part of democracy promotion programmes implemented in both transition and developing countries. Since 1989 very large sums of money have been spent by international development agencies, private foundations and other actors on strengthening and nurturing the institutions of civil society, training civil society activists and funding their projects as a means of promoting democracy. In the former socialist countries, the aims of ‘democracy promotion’ and ‘programmes strengthening civil society’ have been to assist the transition from socialism as well as to support good governance and free and fair elections, human rights and the rule of law. In developing countries, in addition to these aims, it was hoped that promoting democracy and civil society strengthening would also enhance aid effectiveness and support efforts to reduce poverty. In conflict or post-conflict areas, promoting democracy is seen as a tool for preventing or reducing conflict (Kaldor et al. 2007: 110). In addition to all these aims, after September 11, democracy also came to be seen as vital in countering terrorism.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, democracy promotion means imaginative responses to demands from global civil society. The best form of empowerment is success, the knowledge that engagement leads to meaningful outcomes. Action designed to fulfil an emerging global social contract or covenant – the consequence of numerous debates, campaigns, arguments taking place all over the world – offers a political project that can help to recast democracy at local and national levels. A good example of what is meant by this is the enlargement of the European Union. The European Union can be understood a new type of multilateral organisation at a regional level, promoting, as it were, regional public goods. Membership of the European Union for newly emerging democracies has become an appealing political project that does take democracy forward. In the same way, a global social covenant could offer a political project for ‘civilising’ globalisation and pressing for global public goods like resource redistribution or global action to tackle climate change that represents an alternative to backward-looking sectarianism.
First of all, administrative tools and money need to be guided by communication, by debates at local, national and global levels. The aim of substantive democracy promotion is to help create and protect political spaces where projects and procedures can be discussed and negotiated. Bureaucrats tend to favour ‘capacity-building’ and measurable outcomes. Yet the most important role that outsiders can play is facilitating discussions and meetings and responding to local agendas. This may mean less rather than more funding. But it does require more ambitious efforts to create channels through which ordinary people and the associations they form can have access to political authority at all levels.
The second type of tool is money. It has been estimated that some $2 billion a year is spent on democracy assistance, mainly by the United States and Europe, though it is increasing and the true figure is probably much higher (Youngs 2006). Democracy assistance tends to cover such areas as elections and election monitoring, security sector reform, justice including transitional justice, public service reform, support for political parties and parliamentary institutions, public service reform, local government, and support for media and civil society. US assistance is both public and private – the Open Society Foundation (founded by George Soros) is probably the biggest single funder of democracy programmes. After 9/11, the US increased official democracy assistance from $800 million in 2000 to $1.4 billion in 2005 (Mathieson and Youngs 2006). European funding is primarily public. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) calculates that the EU spending accounts for some 1.4 billion Euros a year.
The first type of tool is administrative. Administrative tools consist of coercive pressure by governments and international institutions on other governments; they are pressures ‘from above’. They include Neo-Conservative efforts to bring about ‘regime change’ as in Afghanistan and Iraq, sanctions on South Africa, Iraq, Serbia and North Korea, as well as various forms of conditionality attached to aid. The European Union always attaches a democracy clause to agreements with third countries. During the 1990s, international financial institutions (IFIs) insisted on political and economic reforms as a condition for loans.
During the Cold War, the left were generally suspicious of democracy promotion; it was seen as part of Cold War rhetoric and neo-colonial interventionism. The general presumption during this period was one of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. In the 1970s and 1980s however, peace and human rights groups became increasingly active in opposing dictatorships, especially apartheid and the military dictatorships in Latin America. Those opposed to the Cold War division of Europe began a strategy of ‘détente from below’, linking up with opposition groups in Eastern Europe (Kaldor 2003a).
The spread of democracy, it can be argued, is both a consequence and a cause of globalisation. The opening up of authoritarian states resulted from market pressures, increased communication (travel, radio and television, and more recently mobile phones and the Internet), and the extension of international law. In the 1970s and 1980s, the failure of the statist model of development, the drying up of economic aid, and the growth of indebtedness, contributed to growing disaffection and to demands, often from outside donors, to introduce democratisation measures to legitimise painful economic reforms. In some countries, for example communist countries, frustrated bureaucrats saw an opportunity to translate political positions into economic wealth. These impulses towards democratisation from above were paralleled by pressure from below as communication with the outside world helped to nurture nascent civil societies especially under the rubric of human rights laws, formally adopted by non-democratic states. But while economic, political, technological and legal interconnectedness may have contributed to democratisation, the processes of political and economic liberalisation, in turn, further speeded up global integration.
In this chapter, I argue that the spread of democratic institutions has to be understood in the context of globalisation. Common rules and procedures provide an institutional basis for the global connectedness of states. This is what Condeleezza Rice is hoping for; to create partners for the United States on the global stage. But the spread of rules and procedures is not the same as the spread of substantive democracy, by which I mean the possibility for ordinary people in different parts of the world to influence the decisions that affect their lives. Despite the spread of formal democracy, substantive democracy is under erosion everywhere, in the UK as well as other countries. I argue that this has something to do with globalisation. If we are to renew the democratic process, then it is not just a matter of spreading the formal procedures of democracy, it also requires new fora which provide access for ordinary people to all levels of governance (local, national, global) and a new responsiveness at all levels of governance to public debate and deliberation, as the quotation from Joseph Stiglitz, makes clear. In other words, it requires the possibility of negotiating a global social covenant.
But globalisation does not only take the form of enforced integration into Western governmental models. Even before the 1990s when Richard Falk (1993) gave recognition to globalisation from below, there were plenty of empirical examples of democratisation as the result of successful efforts of social movements in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and South Africa building transnational links and appealing to transnational norms in order to defeat the authoritarian state (Keck and Sikkink 1998; Kaldor 2003; Glasius 2003). This volume provides an example of those transitions: in Chapter 6 Darcy de Oliveira’s charts the transformation in Latin America where NGOs and social movements spearheaded the struggle for democracy in the 1970s and 1980s, but where now the vitality of what he calls the ‘classical notion of civil society’, its organised form, has declined. But they have left a legacy of democratisation at the very personal level: ‘ordinary people tend, today, to be more ‘intelligent’, ‘rebellious’ and ‘creative’ than in the past insofar as they are constantly called upon to make value judgments and life choices where previously there was only conformity to a pre-established destiny. This enhanced capacity of individuals to think, deliberate and decide is a consequence of the decline in diverse forms of authority based on religion and tradition. As he says, ‘democracy is always work in progress, an unfinished journey.’
Ishkanian describes potently in this volume how such integration has taken place at the civil society level. Western governments in the last 15 years have sought to reinforce democratic legitimacy in nation-states by co-opting organised civil society. Based on a particular reading of de Tocqueville (ignoring his concern for social equality), influential scholars like Putnam, Fukuyama and Larry Diamond asserted a direct connection between the existence of numerous associations and the vibrancy of democracy. Applying such theories to transition countries, where they might not find the ‘right’ type of associations for promoting Western-style democracy, donor agencies would in Ishkanian’s term ‘genetically-engineer’ NGOs through training and project funding. Under these conditions of global communication, the types of aid projects Ishkanian describes have provoked a backlash against the twin projects of ‘building civil society’ and ‘democratisation’, often and justly perceived as a form of neo-imperialism.