Democracy, international actors, and foreign aid

democ and soctySince the third wave of democratization, Western donors have been following a strategy of democracy promotion to non-democratic countries that involve giving assistance to both governmental and non-governmental actors including parliaments, judicial institutions, political parties, civil society, electoral management bodies, and election observation missions. With recent backlashes in the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe in mind, what do we know about the relationship between foreign aid and democracy?

The Democracy and Governance Program at Georgetown University is seeking well-written, interesting submissions of 1,500 – 2,000 words for their Spring-Summer 2015 publication, Democracy & Society. The submissions can be new publications, summaries, excerpts of recently completed research book reviews, and works in progress. Submissions for this issue will be due by April 1, 2015. We are seeking articles that address the following issues and questions:

The Historical Development of Aid Politics and Aid Governance: What are the origins of Western aid programs and how have they changed to remain effective and relevant in changing international contexts? How has the current aid paradigm differed from those in the past? What forecasts can we make for future adjustments to aid policy? In reaction to changes in the international political context, how have democratization efforts modified their efforts in order to maintain relevance in the short-term? Have these fixes produced favorable results for countries? Have past development paradigms produced problems for policy implementation in the present?

The Efficacy of Foreign Aid: How has foreign aid affected democratization efforts in non-democracies? What are the political implications of such efforts and how have they affected international relations between states? What results has foreign aid had on establishing and fortifying democratic institutions and governmental efficacy? What are some of the positive and negative impacts of funding political parties and civil society organizations abroad? What cases can we study that demonstrate successes and failures of democracy promotion? Which agencies/organizations have been innovating democracy promotion to draw more favorable results?

Changes and Challenges for Democracy Promotion: Not only has democracy become widely accepted as a universal norm, but also the international community is now more readily inclined to accept the legitimacy of intervention in the event of gross violations of human rights even when this transgresses state sovereignty. Likewise, recent years have seen the emergence of new actors in the democracy promotion field. It now extends well beyond the U.S. For example, the European Union has emerged as a key player, spurred by the need to consolidate democracy in its post-communist eastern periphery, especially as these states became candidates for EU accession. What is the role of the new actors? Will organizational diversity complicate democratization?  What restrictions are placed on funds directed at democratic, political, and social organizations? Have these restrictions yielded positive or negative results in securing a more democratic environment for developing governments? Should there be restrictions placed on certain practices that do not currently exist? Who or what should dictate these restrictions?

Prospects For A More Inclusive Paradigm: Should democracy promotion be more inclusive? How can democracy promotion incorporate the perspectives of the local populations it affects? Given that governmental efforts typically work through institutional channels, does this limit the influence civilians and non-elites can have within their political systems?

Variations on these themes will be accepted. Research on democracy assistance programs is encouraged. Questions and comments are welcome. Please email all submissions along with a brief author’s bio to

Please visit, for more information about Democracy & Society and for more information about the M.A. in Democracy and Governance and the Center for Democracy and Civil Society.

Please click here for the D&S Style Guide.

Ukraine violence shows Russia designs for puppet state

ukraine euromaidanThe escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine has again left western governments and strategists trying to understand the strategy of pro-Russian rebels and their Kremlin supporters, FT analysts Sam Jones and Roman Olearchyk report:

Western intelligence officials are increasingly alarmed by the developments and suggest President Vladimir Putin’s tactical approach — opportunistic, pragmatic and designed to keep options for escalation and de-escalation open — appears to now to be giving way to a more fixed set of goals.

“Taking Crimea was a retaliation for the ousting of Yanukovich. But that took 2m pro-Russian votes out of Ukraine so Mr Putin’s next strategy was to carve out influence in enclaves in eastern Ukraine in order to blackmail Kiev and wield some kind of federal constitutional veto. That has failed too,” says Jonathan Eyal, international director and a Russia expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“So now we are moving to him establishing a more permanent situation: a Mickey Mouse Russian-controlled state. It’s the Abkhazia situation and the Transnistria situation. And like those it is something that could stay like that for 20 years.”

“[It] is certainly the indication,” concurs one senior figure in the Nato intelligence community. “Not a separate enclave any more. Not a constitutional settlement. Something totally separate from Kiev and with more direct control.”

British aid ‘risks promoting US models of democracy’?


MDG : Dfid : Department for International Development LondonThe British Department for International Development‘s use of US groups to strengthen parliaments in developing countries risks using taxpayers’ money to promote “less accountable” political systems at the expense of those based on the Westminster model, The Guardian reports:

In a report published on Tuesday, the International Development Committee acknowledges that DfID is a major contributor to parliamentary strengthening – spending around £22.5m bilaterally last year – but urges it to ensure its long-term aid is being spent effectively by putting parliaments “at the heart of its governance work” and taking a more “hands-on approach” to the issue.

 While the UK does not “explicitly promote its national parliamentary traditions”, says the report, the situation is very different in the US, where USAid set up the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (Cepps) program to provide funding for US institutions to work together to promote democracy in its country programmes.

“The Cepps and National Endowment for Democracy programmes provide some US institutions with an advantage over UK institutions; they have been effectively subsidised by US taxpayers to become powerful institutions well-positioned to win DfID tenders,” says the report. “In contrast, Westminster institutions are largely unable to win bids for US money spent on promoting democracy since much of the money is reserved for core US institutions.”

Relationships between parliaments and the president or prime minister, government ministries, civil society groups and media can be as important for effectiveness of parliaments as the formal capacity and resources of the parliament itself, the report notes, citing a submission by the Carnegie Endowment’s Rachel Kleinfeld, which argued:

Donors should look for areas of interest where elements of society itself, or portions of parliament, are already organized and active. Highest priority should go to programs where there is both citizen demand and receptivity from some portion of parliament…. Where elements of the broader public are speaking on behalf of an issue, but there is a lack of parliamentary interest, it may be a good choice for allocating funds to both civil society and to parliament, in order to enable and encourage responsiveness to citizen demands. Funding to both sides is essential to ensure oversight from citizens, as well as enable parliament to act.


Putin’s preemptive counter-revolution ‘built on shaky foundations’

putin“Read our history: the Russians will never give up their leader. We will tighten our belt, eat less food, suffer any privations, but if outsiders want to force changes on us, we will be united as never before,” Russia’s deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov told the World Economic Forum at Davos, the Daily Telegraph reports:

Mr Shuvalov said a utopian quest for freedom is the curse that brought down the Soviet Union. In a bizarre digression, he then launched into tirade against former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, accusing him of leading the country to destitution and collapse by opening up to western ideas.

“This freedom they are trying to impose on us, it is freedom from common sense, it is freedom of the media to insult anybody, to throw dirt in his face. That’s not freedom,” he said.

But Vladimir Putin’s regime is built on shaky foundations, says analyst Maxim Trudolyubov:

The desire to retain control compels such a leader to concoct a strange blend of nationalism and religion, subjugating all values and ideology to the higher purpose of ensuring his political survival. …..This system considers ideas in any form — unless they serve the needs of the regime — as mortal enemies. This even includes nationalism and fundamentalism. Leaders know that if any idea were to ”break free” from its Kremlin handlers and unite the masses under its banner, it could completely obliterate the political system as it now exists.

russia info warfarePutin’s Russia has no appealing ideology, such as communism, which helped the Soviet Union to survive for 74 years, notes Jonathan Adelman of the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies:

It has the profile of a Third World country, exporting primary goods and importing secondary and tertiary goods. Russia has already had four successful revolutions since 1917….Having lost 50 percent of its population in 1991, Russia has a $2 trillion economy, barely 14% the size of the American economy… Russia remains a kleptocratic authoritarian society without an independent judiciary, press freedom, or transition to democracy.

And yet, there is little likelihood that Putin will fold because he retains some key assets, Adelman adds:

Putin remains at a stunning 80% approval rating in Russia.  …Russia, with one of the five permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council, has a large-scale arsenal of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, equal to that of the United States. Russia spends $70b. on the military which, despite problems, remains the No. 3 military in the world. It has a reserve fund of nearly $90b. With almost a million scientists, technicians and engineers, Russia can place well in global defense technology.RTWT

Arguments that Putin’s regime represents a form of continuity with Russia’s cultural traditions, that it has a cultural DNA that transcends revolutions, or that this continuity works through national character do not withstand scrutiny, says Alexander Etkind, a professor of history at the European University Institute in Florence. Empires come and go, as do their traditions, he writes for Project Syndicate:

For every expansionist Czar, or commissar, from Catherine II to Putin, there have been leaders prepared to retreat. …The belief that Russians desire an authoritarian leader is also misplaced. To be sure, as 2015 begins, Putin’s approval ratings remain high (though they are no more reliable an indicator than Russian budget projections, political pronouncements, or gas deliveries). But, even if the polls are accurate, his popularity is largely irrelevant: dictators do not rule through a social contract, and neither his position nor his legitimacy derives from popular appeal.

Although anti-Americanism has become the centerpiece of Putin’s policies, his newest cultural offensive is targeting the European Union and the Head of its Permanent Mission to Russia, notes Michael Haltzel, Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies:

In mid-January the International Department of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science sent out a special letter to the country’s universities, asking to be notified about planned events involving staff members of the EU Mission to Russia.

Singled out for criticism was Ambassador Vygaudas Ušackas, the EU Mission Head in Russia. Under his leadership the EU has been holding a variety of public meetings called “European Schools” around the country, many of them at universities. Inevitably, uncomfortable topics like Ukraine have come up for discussion.


Rethinking interventions in fragile states: lessons from the DRC

DRC virungaTwenty years ago, the now-Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) received massive influxes of refugees from neighboring Rwanda, triggering a state collapse that claimed millions of lives. The international community has invested billions of dollars addressing recurrent humanitarian needs in the east of the country, and yet, fragility and crisis persist.

Join a high-level discussion on new field research from North Kivu on the gaps and opportunities in the humanitarian response, and a discussion on what lessons donors, governments, and NGOs must draw in order to “do more good.” 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

2:30 PM to 4:00 PM

  • Shamil Idriss, President and CEO, Search for Common Ground
  • Andrea Koppel, Vice President of Global Engagement & Policy, Mercy Corps
  • Jonathan Papeledis, Executive Advisor for Fragile States, World Vision 
  • Moderator: Alexandre Marc, Chief Technical Specialist, Fragility, Conflict, and Violence, World Bank.

4:00 PM to 6:00 PM

Film Screening and Discussion: Virunga is an Oscar-nominated 2014 documentary film directed by Orlando von Einsiedel. Virunga focuses on the conservation work of rangers within Virunga National Park, and the activity of a British company, Soco International, which began exploring for oil within the UNESCO World Heritage site in April 2014. The documentary tells the story of four characters fighting to protect Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to the world’s last mountain gorillas, against war, poaching, and the threat of oil exploration. 

  • Betty Bigombe, Senior Director for Fragility, Conflict, and Violence
  • Moderator: Paula Caballero, Senior Director, Environment and Natural Resources

The Great Lakes Policy Forum event is organized in conjunction with the World Bank’s 2015 Fragility Forum. These events will be held at the World Bank at 1818 H Street NW, and all guests are asked to pre-register in order to attend the forum as space is limited. Please e-mail your name, affiliation, and email address to