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«Development, Security, and Cooperation Policy and Global Affairs THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001 NOTICE: The ...»

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Such meetings are especially important for ensuring that the varied insights derived from impact and process evaluations, academic studies, and examinations of democracy assistance undertaken by independent researchers, NGOs, think tanks, and other donors are absorbed, discussed, and drawn into USAID DG planning and implementation. While only USAID has the ability to develop and carry out rigorous evaluations of its projects’ impacts, many organizations are carrying out studies of various aspects of democracy assistance, and USAID’s staff can benefit from the wide range of insights, hypotheses, and “lessons learned” that are being generated by the broader community involved with democracy promotion.

Results of the Initiative

At the end of this five-year period, USAID would have:

• Practical experience in implementing impact evaluation designs that will indicate where such approaches are feasible, what the major obstacles are to wider implementation, and whether and how these obstacles can be overcome.

• Where the evaluations prove feasible, a solid empirical foundation for assessing the validity of some of the key assumptions that underlie DG projects and rigorous determinations of the impact of commonly used DG projects in achieving program goals.


• A core of expertise within USAID on the latest evaluation methods and practices.

• Institutionalized learning practices across the organization to keep officials engaged, informed, and up-to-date on the latest findings from within and outside USAID regarding democracy and democracy assistance.


The committee stresses that the goal of USAID should not be merely incremental improvement of its project evaluations, or funding additional case studies, but building the entire capacity of the agency to generate, absorb, and disseminate knowledge regarding democracy assistance and its effects. This will necessarily involve (1) gaining experience with varied impact evaluation designs, including randomized studies, to ascertain how useful they could be for determining the effects of DG projects; (2) focusing on disaggregated, sectoral-level measures to track democratic change; (3) expanding the diversity of case studies that are used to inform thinking on DG planning; and (4) adopting mechanisms and activities to support the active engagement of DG staff and mission personnel with new research on democratization and DG assistance.


Finkel, S.E., Pérez-Liñán, A., and Seligson, M.A. 2007. The Effects of U.S. Foreign Assistance on Democracy Building, 1990-2003. World Politics 59(3):404-439.

Finkel, S.E., Pérez-Liñán, A., Seligson, M.A., and Tate, C.N. 2008. Deepening Our Understanding of the Effects of U.S. Foreign Assistance on Democracy Building: Final Report.

Available at: http://www.LapopSureys.org.

Democracy Assistance and USAID


The United States has been supporting democracy abroad for many decades. From Woodrow Wilson’s efforts following World War I to the reconstruction of Germany and Japan after World War II, U.S. policymakers have aimed to create a world of democratic nations. During the Cold War and the current war on terrorism, efforts to foster democracy have been inconsistent or have clashed with other strategic goals, but the U.S.

commitment to the growth of democracy abroad has been repeatedly expressed. Over the past 25 years, the United States has made assistance for the development of democracy in other nations a key element of its national security policy (see Box 1-1).

In recent years democracy assistance has become not merely a goal for diplomacy (although it remains that) but an increasingly frequent practical problem. A host of international and multilateral donor agencies and even military forces (both NATO and U.S.) have taken on the task of helping build democracies in highly challenging environments, including authoritarian and semiauthoritarian states, recently emerging and transitional democracies, and societies scarcely out of, or even in the midst of, violent conflicts (e.g., Ukraine, Bosnia, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Democratic Republic of the Congo). U.S. efforts to assist the spread of democracy encompass a host of activities: diplomatic pressures, trade sanctions, economic development aid, military and political support for democratic forces, or in some cases (e.g., Zaire, Philippines) withdrawal of support for dictators.

–  –  –

“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... reconcile their own differences through peaceful means....

It is time that we committed ourselves as a nation—in both the public and private sectors—to assisting democratic development.” —President Ronald Reagan, “Speech at Westminster,” June 8, 1982. Available at: http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?documentprint=926.

“Our interests are best served in a world in which democracy and its ideals are widespread and secure. We seek to... promote the growth of free, democratic political institutions as the surest guarantors of both human rights and economic and social progress.” —National Security Strategy of the United States, August 1991. Available at:


“The best way to advance America’s interests worldwide is to enlarge the community of democracies and free markets throughout the world.” —President William J. Clinton, “Statement on the National Security Strategy Report,” July 21, 1994. Available at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.


“We will... use our foreign aid to promote freedom,... ensuring that nations moving toward democracy are rewarded for the steps they take [and] make freedom and the development of democratic institutions key themes in our bilateral relations.” —National Security Strategy of the United States, September 2002. Available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html.

“I would define the objective of transformational diplomacy this way: To work with our many partners around the world to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people—and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system.” —Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, January 18, 2006. Available at: http:// www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2006/59339.htm.

Role of the U.S. Agency for International Development The day-to-day tasks of working with groups and individuals on the ground to help build democratic institutions and offer training and support to citizens, officials, and civil society organizations are assigned primarily to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID was created by executive order in 1961, following passage of the 


Foreign Assistance Act, but its roots reach back to efforts such as the Marshall Plan to reconstruct Europe after World War II and the Food for Peace Program. Originally created to promote economic development, over the years the agency’s mandate has expanded to include health, the environment, humanitarian assistance, conflict management and mitigation, and the promotion of democracy and good governance, as each of these has been deemed crucial to the overall U.S. foreign policy goals of improving the social and economic welfare of developing countries and increasing international peace and stability.

USAID’s current democracy and governance (DG) activities date from the mid-1980s when a series of countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and then Central Europe and the former Soviet Union began the transition from various forms of authoritarian rule. Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton gave USAID the tasks of providing assistance to countries trying to develop democratic forms of government and creating programs to encourage other countries to embark on similar reforms.

The administration of George W. Bush has continued and in some cases expanded this aid as a key element in its policy of “transformational diplomacy.” Behind efforts to support the spread of democracy promotion lies the belief that increasing democracy in developing nations will promote economic growth, diminish the risks of terrorism, and reduce the frequency of internal and international conflicts. Whether or not democracy actually has all of these effects, and under what conditions, is far from certain.

As discussed further below, there is a substantial academic and policy debate on the merits of promoting democratic transitions (Goldstone and Ulfelder 2004, Halperin et al 2004, Mansfield and Snyder 2005, Ackerman 2006, Sanders and Halperin 2006, Epstein et al 2007). However, at present the international community, led mainly by democratic nations, continues to believe that helping nations transition to democracy is a significant route to promoting peace and economic development. This debate is far beyond the scope of this report, which will accept the goal of supporting democracy as a current aspect of policy and focus on how USAID can better assess whether its current efforts are having an impact on achieving that goal.

Since 1990, USAID has supported democracy programs in approximately 120 countries and territories with budgets ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of millions of dollars. The most comprehensive analysis of USAID DG spending estimates total expenditures between 1990 and 2005 at $8.47 billion in constant 2000 U.S. dollars (Azpuru et al.

2008). Total annual USAID DG expenditures currently run over $1 billion;

for fiscal year (FY) 2008 the request for DG, including both USAID and some much smaller amounts for the State Department, was $1.45 billion, 0 IMPROVING DEMOCRACY ASSISTANCE with $374 million allocated to Iraq and Afghanistan (Congressional Budget Justification [CBJ] 2008).1 The programs are supported by hundreds of DG officers and other personnel in Washington and at overseas missions. As of 2004, DG comprised the agency’s largest category of technical expertise among direct hire personnel at just over 400 (USAID 2006), although not everyone in this category is doing DG work at any given time.

Yet the funding of DG efforts, given their high priority for U.S. foreign policy and frequent mandate to help transform political systems into democracies, is relatively modest. In many countries, projects that are not strictly DG but that respond to related national needs may find a home under the DG umbrella, so the amount of effort actually focused on democracy building is smaller than may at first appear.2 Moreover, DG funds comprise only a small portion of what the United States spends on its international engagements. The total FY2008 budget request for foreign assistance, which includes DG programs, was $20.3 billion (CBJ 2008:1).

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (2007) argued in a speech at Kansas

State University:

Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense—not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan—is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion, less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone.

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