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5 Modernization theory (Rostow 1960, Huntington 1968) argued that traditional authori-
tarianism would inevitably give way to demands for mass participation with the spread of industrialization and mass media. Whether such demands gave rise to liberal democracies or communist dictatorships depended on how such mass participation was channeled into politics, whether through competitive party systems or communist one-party states.
6 See http://www.nationalacademies.org/dsc/USAID_Democracy_Program.html.
DEMOCRACY ASSISTANCE AND USAID
de Zeeuw and Kumar 2006). Practitioners’ reflections, a subset of policy research, provide accounts of experiences with programs for democracy promotion or stabilization in various countries, offering “lessons learned” and generalizations to inform other efforts (Dobbins 2003, Durch 2006).
Within each of these groups, controversies and debates have arisen over the definition of democracy and the role of various factors in promoting or consolidating democracy. Moreover, the lack of consensus is as pronounced across as within the various genres. As one eminent scholar has suggested: “We should not search for a single set of circumstances or a repeated series of events that everywhere produces democracy.... We should look instead for robust, recurrent causal mechanisms that combine differently, with different aggregate outcomes, in different settings” (Tilly 2004:9).
Rather than providing accepted generalizations on which to base DG programming, the academic literature has been more successful in documenting the great degree of variation in the process of democratization. For example, in the past 50 years, many of the countries that moved toward democracy leapt quickly from dictatorship to democracy (as in Eastern Europe after 1989), while others (such as Mexico, South Korea, and Taiwan) made a series of incremental steps, gradually increasing civil liberties and political competition (Goldstone 2007). There is a clear correlation between higher national incomes and the incidence of stable democracy (Lipset 1960, Barro 1999, Epstein et al 2006), yet a number of relatively poor countries have been successful in sustaining democracy as well (e.g., India, Botswana, Jamaica, and Mauritius). It is also clear that multiple processes have led countries from dictatorship to democracy, ranging from violent revolutions to relatively peaceful protest-driven reforms to pacts orchestrated among elites (e.g., O’Donnell et al 1986, Mahoney 2001, Bunce and Wolchik 2006). Moreover, researchers have not yet concluded that there is a single form of democracy that is most sucIMPROVING DEMOCRACY ASSISTANCE cessful. Presidential and parliamentary systems, centralized and federal systems, two-party and multiparty systems have all seen both great success and unfortunate failures in diverse countries (Przeworski et al 2000).
It is not clear what conclusions should be drawn for democracy assistance from these findings, especially since the academic study of democracy assistance per se, in contrast to studying the broad contours of democracy and democratization, is still in its infancy.7 USAID and other democracy assistance agencies therefore face a difficult task. Practitioners’ reflections present informed viewpoints and policy research often presents thoughtful and systematic analysis, but their judgments about program success or failure are not rigorously tested according to academic standards. Yet since academic debates regarding democratization remain largely unresolved, they offer little practical guidance on what to do in a given country to build or sustain democracy. Policy professionals working in democracy assistance have therefore formed their own “practical wisdom,” based on elements drawn from their readings of the academic and think tank literature, their own experiences, and what they glean from other practitioners. Policy professionals thus often describe democracy promotion as “more of an art than a science,” where policy choices must depend on intuition and personal judgment as much or more than on any scientific guidelines.
Despite this range of conflicting findings, there are some things that are known. First, there are more countries that can reasonably claim to be democracies, if only partially achieved, than ever before. Second, among emerging democracies there is considerable variation within and among countries, such that advances are often met with setbacks (Hagopian and Mainwaring 2005). Third, with respect to democracy assistance efforts, one very encouraging finding from recent academic research is that, on average, democracy assistance does matter and has a positive impact on democratic progress. Several statistical studies have found that, while controlling for a wide variety of other factors, higher levels of democratic assistance are on average associated with movement from lower
7 Early and continuing groundbreaking comparative work on the impact of democracy
assistance in different contexts was done by Tom Carothers and colleagues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. By contrast, a major center of comparative/historical research on democracy and democratic transition—Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL)—has only just begun its first studies of the impact of democracy assistance (McFaul 2006). Also, the first statistical analyses of the impact of democracy assistance have only recently begun to appear in major academic journals (Finkel et al 2007, 2008). As further evidence of the relatively immature state of studies of democracy assistance, the Network of Democracy Research Institutes, organized by the National Endowment for Democracy, is just six years old. Harvard University only established its Ash Institute for Democratic Governance in 2003, Stanford University its CDDRL in 2004, and Georgetown University its Center for Democracy and Civil Society in 2002.
DEMOCRACY ASSISTANCE AND USAIDto higher levels of democracy, as measured by some of the most general indices of democratic government (Al-Momani 2003; Finkel et al 2007, 2008; Kalyvitis and Vlachaki 2007; Azpuru et al 2008). These effects are robust and statistically significant, providing the clearest evidence to date that democracy assistance generally meets its desired goals.
Thus, despite all of the confusion and conflicting findings, there is a sense that (1) democracy is moving ahead in the world and (2) foreign assistance generally and in some specific cases has made a difference. Unfortunately, it is also true that in a number of highly important cases—such as Haiti, Egypt, and post-Soviet Russia—large volumes of democracy assistance have yielded disappointing results.
It is also alarming that in a number of cases in recent years—Pakistan, Thailand, Bangladesh—countries that seemed on the path to greater democracy have reversed course. There is mounting evidence for a “democracy backlash” in which authoritarian and semiauthoritarian regimes are actively resisting donor efforts as well as internal advocates of democracy (Carothers 2006a). Some research further suggests that authoritarian regimes have become adept at providing economic openings or limited civil liberties to deflect dissent while still maintaining a tight grip on authority (Bueno de Mesquita and Downs 2005). In summary, the conditions that face the United States and USAID for supporting the advance of democracy are growing ever more challenging.
It is therefore crucial, if USAID’s democracy assistance is to be more effective and make best use of scarce resources, that the agency (and other donors) be able to identify which elements of their complex and multifold democracy assistance projects are doing the most work to move democracy forward. Moreover, they would like to know which DG projects work best to accomplish specific goals in particular countries.
USAID’S REQUEST TO THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL8
Strategic and Operational Research Agenda USAID has supported external research on many aspects of democracy and governance and undertaken significant internal efforts as part of its search for relevant knowledge and insights to guide its policies. The USAID Web site offers a wide array of publications, covering the range 8 The National Research Council (NRC) is part of the National Academies, which also includes the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. Created in 1916, the NRC has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities.
IMPROVING DEMOCRACY ASSISTANCE from practical manuals filled with lessons learned and best practices to academic research. One of the most significant efforts to determine the impact of democracy assistance began in 2000, when the Office of Democracy and Governance in the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance created the Strategic and Operational Research Agenda (SORA) program. SORA is a long-term effort consisting of a number of research activities. Overall, its goal is to improve the quality of U.S. government DG programs and strategic approaches by (1) analyzing the effectiveness and impact of USAID DG programs since their inception and (2) developing specific findings and recommendations useful to democracy practitioners and policymakers.
The SORA effort has struggled with all of the difficulties of attempting retrospective, comparative analysis of complex foreign policy cases, with a welcome willingness to examine both program successes and failures. The first SORA effort consisted of a set of case studies of democracy programs across six countries, which identified a number of key data and methodological issues for retrospective work (Carter 2001, Carter et al 2003). Another piece, undertaken as a small initial pilot effort, was a “Voices from the Field” project based on in-depth interviews with democracy practitioners to gain their insights about the factors that affected the success or failure of their projects.
In 2003 SORA supported a review of past evaluations of DG programs, which was carried out under the auspices of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and later published (Bollen et al 2005). The review found that these evaluations provided useful information for the planning and implementation of DG programs, including insights into management issues, key problems of reception of DG assistance, dealing with local spoilers and other obstacles, and the complexities of carrying out DG programs. These were insightful studies of how DG programs worked, whether or not they worked as expected, and why. However, Bollen et al also found that these past evaluations were not as useful as they hoped for determining the programs’ actual effects.