Obama ‘embraces democracy promotion again’?

obama un sept 25

FOR MORE than a decade, democracy has been in retreat around the world. But this week President Obama sounded something like the beginning of a counterattack, the Washington Post reports.

If he acts on the vows he articulated in two speeches in New York and in a presidential memorandum, the United States could begin to shift the momentum, the paper adds:

In talks to the Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday and the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, Mr. Obama mentioned democracy sparingly, preferring to talk about civil society. But he left no doubt about his meaning when he pledged “to stand with the courageous citizens and brave civil society groups who are working for equality and opportunity and justice and human dignity all over the world.” He saluted democracy activists, including in nations whose governments in the past he has been loath to offend — Ahmed Maher in Egypt, for example, and Liu Xiaobo and Ilham Tohti in China.

“Oppressive governments are sharing ‘worst practices’ to weaken civil society,” Mr. Obama said in remarks addressed to democratic activists around the world. “We’re going to help you share the ‘best practices’ to stay strong and vibrant.” It is significant that the president recognized that dictators are banding together to promote autocracy and checkmate democracy. It could be even more significant if, having recognized the altered landscape, Mr. Obama really invigorates democracy promotion as a key plank of U.S. foreign policy.

“Now, as he is forced to confront an aggressive Russia and a rampaging Islamic State, he may be remembering that the United States and its allies cannot defeat Islamist fundamentalism or Russian neo-fascism without a more hopeful ideology of their own,” the Post continues. “That would be a sound foundation for a reinvigorated, and more successful, foreign policy over the coming 28 months.”


The virtues of modesty: work with the grain to develop democracy

dem asstce levy grainNeither modestly incremental ‘good governance’ nor transformational transition programs are effective at building sustainable democratic institutions, says Johns Hopkins University’s Brian Levy.

As part of a leadership team within the World Bank tasked with integrating governance into development strategy. I participated in forging the good governance consensus. But I’m now convinced that it is wrong, he writes for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab:

I’ve come to realize that it completely underestimates how much time and commitment are needed to transform a country’s institutions. As my new book argues, we need to shift our attention away from trying to achieve everything at once and focus instead on gains that can initially seem quite modest — but which, if pursued persistently, can sometimes.

Here is what makes efforts at far-reaching institutional reform in nascent democracies so unlikely to succeed. Many emerging democracies depend for their stability on complex personal alliances and compromises. Rival factions may agree to use an election to decide who gets to govern — but beyond that they’re generally unwilling or unable to commit to formal rules for either the economic or political game. Instead, as Nobel Prize-winning economic historian Douglass North has underscored in his recent work, what really holds things together are deals on how to share the spoils of power. Sometimes insiders can be wholly predatory. But at other times, personalized arrangements can provide just enough stability to push economic development forward and to strengthen democratic institutions.

Economically, an approach that goes “with the grain” offers three key lessons on how we might engage differently, Levy contends:

First, do no harm. The experience of Bangladesh offers an excellent example of the advantages of caution. In both 2001 and 2005, Transparency International rated Bangladesh as the world’s most corrupt country. Even so, since its transition to democracy in the early 1990s, its economy has grown at a rate of 6 percent annually, while the child mortality rate has fallen by two-thirds, from 151 per thousand in 1990 to 52 per thousand by 2009. Far-reaching institutional reforms — such as high-profile campaigns against corruption — might have destabilized the (ethically ambiguous) institutional arrangements that have made these achievements possible, potentially doing more harm than good….

Second, practitioners should focus on achieving concrete results via “islands of effectiveness” rather than on across-the-board overhauls. Political and economic elites are rarely willing to give up their special privileges in settings where they enjoy enormous power. In such situations, reformers have a better chance of doing good by nurturing zones of economic dynamism rather than endlessly (and fruitlessly) pushing for a “level playing field.” ….

Third, don’t overreach. One form of overreaching is to over-promise — suggesting, for example, that newly democratizing countries can quickly create market-supporting institutional arrangements that usually take decades to build. A similar error is to insist that all good things come by traveling the democratic path — and only along that path. The evident success of East Asian autocracies — from South Korea’s quarter-century of strong, inclusive growth under military rule to China’s historically unprecedented success in lifting close to a billion people out of poverty in just a few decades — make a powerful counter-argument to this simplistic view.


West’s democracies have ‘moral duty’ to aid Ukraine

ukrainesolidarnoscRussia praised a Ukrainian law granting self-governance powers to separatist-held areas of Ukraine, a measure that faces a challenge from some politicians in Kiev who call it a giveaway to Moscow, the Wall Street Journal reports:

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow on Wednesday described the new Ukrainian law—which Kiev agreed to pass during recent cease-fire negotiations—as a “step in the right direction.”

Ukraine also needs far more assistance than it has received from the west, says Eugene Rumer, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

The $17bn package given by the IMF in May is tied to painful economic reforms, he writes for the FT:

US aid since the start of the crisis last year has fallen way short of the rhetoric – less than $250m, including technical assistance with reforms, an international conference on how to trace stolen state assets and election monitoring.

On paper, the EU has been more generous with its $14bn aid package but the sum looks better than its parts. It includes $2bn in loans and “up to” $10bn in reconstruction loans. There is also, of course, technical assistance to nudge Ukraine to implement the dreaded reforms.

The chances are that the EU will fail in any endeavor to support a democratic Ukraine, says Jan Techau, the director of Carnegie Europe, the European center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

There is already a sense creeping into the foreign policy crowd that Europeans may have bitten off more than they can chew. Unity among 28 member states is extremely fragile. The remodeling of the European Neighborhood Policy-the instrument that guides EU relations with Ukraine and other Eastern neighbors-will be tedious and fraught with institutional infighting in Brussels. And money is scarce.

More significantly, there are severe doubts that the EU has the political will and the diplomatic toughness to insist on conditionality, the core piece of the neighborhood policy. But without a swift, watertight, and potentially brutal sanctions mechanism for neighbors that do not adhere to an agreed reform process, the transformative power of any new policy will be exactly what it was under the old one: close to zero.

The US and the UK have an overwhelming moral duty to provide military assistance to Ukraine. Two decades ago both countries and Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum with Ukraine in return for which they pledged to provide security guarantees and support Ukraine’s territorial integrity, argues Taras Kuzio, the former head of Nato’s Information and Documentation Centre in Kiev and a research associate at the University of Alberta’s Institute for Ukrainian Studies:

Corruption certainly bedevils Ukraine but it is hardly unique in this respect. Canada and the US cooperate on security questions with many countries with similarly poor records. Afghanistan, where 158 Canadian troops have died since 2002, has an abysmal record on corruption and democratic rights.

Millions of Ukrainians rose up in the Euromaidan to fight corruption and bring about democratic changes and integrate their country into Europe. On September 16 the Ukrainian parliament voted by an overwhelming constitutional majority to ratify the Association Agreement with the EU and a resolution supporting future membership of this body. Ukraine held an internationally recognized free and fair presidential election in May and will hold pre-term elections next month that will bring into parliament young western-educated deputies committed to fighting corruption and introducing European values.

By supporting Ukraine now, Kuzio argues, Putin’s ambitions will be “nipped in the bud before he turns on Nato members in the three Baltic states that would threaten European security on a scale unseen since World War II.” RTWT

CHRIS WALJERDeeply entrenched corruption has been a profound challenge since Ukraine achieved its independence more than two decades ago,  notes Christopher Walker (right), Executive Director of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum:

As the analyst Anders Aslund has observed, nearly $40 billion was stolen from the state while Yanukovych was in power. And this figure may well be an underestimation. This massive corrupt enterprise directed wealth primarily to the president, his relatives, and a limited circle of businessmen around the president.

The vast web of corruption used a variety of elaborate methods to divert state resources. These included lucrative schemes connected to the natural gas market. They also included the manipulation of large infrastructure projects, such as those connected with the Euro 2012 soccer championship. More generally, the government engaged in a range of other schemes to put public wealth into private hands.

The picture is further complicated by the fact that getting serious about being Ukraine’s guarantor will lead to permanent conflict with Russia, Techau writes for Carnegie Europe:

The EU wants Poroshenko to succeed with his reforms. Russia will do everything it can to make him fail. These two opposing approaches cannot be reconciled. Moscow can escalate its intervention in eastern Ukraine at will, including to the level of military action, knowing that the EU will not respond in the same way.

In the absence of a massive and sustained investment by EU member states to address these internal doubts and external threats, the EU’s attempt to be a guarantee power in Ukraine will fail. Until such investment materializes, the process will be an agonizing spectacle for all involved.

“The inherent problem is that the EU does not currently have the means to win the contest in which it is engaged with Russia, and yet it needs to compete in that contest,” he contends. “The EU is too weak for idealism-that is, to stand up for its values and principles. And it is already too deeply involved for cold-blooded realism-to accept Russian interests in Moscow’s sphere of influence.” RTWT – HT: Real Clear World

Russia is the greatest geo-political threat facing the US, a leading analyst suggests.

A Russian occupation of large parts of Ukraine would clearly threaten the stability and security of our NATO allies on Ukraine’s western border, the Atlantic Council’s Adrian Karatnycky writes for the New Republic:

Further, Ukraine is home to three gigantic nuclear power plant complexes, which could become dangerous battlegrounds with unpredictable consequences for nuclear safety. War could disrupt or destroy Ukraine’s energy pipeline network, which is the central mechanism through which more than half of Russia’s exports of gas and oil to Europe travels. Successful Russian expansion into Ukraine would increase the chances of further adventurism in energy-rich Kazakhstan, where an elderly President will soon physically fade from power. And Russia would be emboldened to exert even stronger influence over the policies of energy-rich Turkmenistan. Would these developments not be as significant in impact as the fate of Saudi, Iraqi, and Qatari oil and gas reserves?


‘Ukraine is not alone’ – how to help counter Russia’s aggression


Experts of the Institute of World Policy have produced a policy brief based on interviews with a wide range of experts from domestic institutes, think-tanks and other relevant bodies in order to summarize the public opinion and perceptions towards the Western support in Ukraine.  

Most Ukrainian experts interviewed admitted that the amount of support in countering Russian aggression received by Ukraine from the international community is insufficient. For instance, almost half of respondents (44%) evaluated global support as “satisfactory”; they believe that Ukraine receives lukewarm support. According to 18% of experts, Kyiv does not receive adequate support at all, and therefore, they “graded” the foreign governments’ assistance with “F” (low grade).

However, 36% of those polled chose an option stating that “Ukraine receives sufficient support, but it might have been increased”, which is why they graded the world’s efforts with “B” (good grade). Only one of fifty Ukrainian experts evaluated the efforts of international community with “A” (excellent grade). The Institute of World Policy has estimated the real amount of aid provided to Ukraine by the international community. Results of the research displayed that the world supports Ukraine not only with declarations and statements, but also with real actions, providing consultants, humanitarian aid, armor vests etc.

Obviously, the international community should not limit its assistance to the aforesaid articles. Most of the Ukrainian analysts (38 out of 50 respondents) presumed that the global community should assist Ukraine by supplying armaments and military equipment. A significant part (27 out of 50) of the experts stand for the world aiding Kyiv by providing substantial security guarantees or granting financial support for reforming the country’s defense system (as well as for the other reforms). Certain analysts (8 out of 50) tend to believe that the Western democracies should send their troops to Ukraine in order to neutralize the terrorist activity in the Eastern part of the country. Indeed, stronger support would confirm that Ukraine is not alone in this conflict.

The criticism towards the international community that does not supposedly aid Ukraine or provides insufficient assistance in the latter’s struggle against Russia’s aggression is widespread in Ukrainian public opinion. On the one hand, such an attitude by the opinion leaders is aimed mainly at inciting the Western partners to provide stronger support. On the other hand, excessive criticism may also result in undesirable solutions. First, such protest activity lays foundation for the Russian propaganda on the territory of Ukraine. Such propagandist messages could be simplified to the following: “We have warned you that nobody is waiting for you on the West. The Russians are your real partners.” 

Several partners of the National Endowment of Democracy were among the poll respondents.



Uncivil societies

russia_civilsociety_HRWThe ongoing crackdown on civil society groups “is about weakening NGOs, not making them more transparent or effective,” The Economist notes:

It is being undertaken by leaders who, if they accept democracy at all, want it to amount to nothing more than a tame vote every few years. Foreign donations are an easy target for autocrats whose worst nightmare is a flourishing civil society. NGOs’ activities in the “colour” revolutions a decade ago in the former Soviet Union and, more recently, the Arab spring, have sharpened autocrats’ hostility to them.

It is hardly surprising that leaders like Mr Putin want to curb those who seek to promote democracy, but these laws reach far beyond free speech and human rights. NGOs also suffer if they criticise poor public services, stand up for reviled minorities or disclose facts that the powerful want to hide. Mr Orban has targeted a group that publicises discrimination against Roma and another that runs a hotline for battered women. Among those Mr Putin has dubbed foreign agents are a group of women seeking information about Russian servicemen injured and killed while covertly deployed in Ukraine.

“Persuading autocrats who have decided that NGOs pose an existential threat to ease up will be a struggle. But donor countries can help stem the illiberal tide,” The Economist notes. “Initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership, launched in 2011, which supports governments keen to increase transparency and cut corruption, should help to stop the trend spreading.”