Posts Tagged ‘Democracy support’


Public Diplomacies and the Pathologies of Liberal Statecraft

March 29, 2017

Judy Dempsey at Carnegie Europe has offered some suggestions about what the EU can do in response to the cycles of protest and repression in Belarus and Russia, she calls for a public diplomacy response: broadcasting, internet freedom, student exchanges and preparing for the day after Putin and Lukashenko by supporting opposition movements.

Seems reasonable but it also seems to reflect the basic patterns of Western statecraft over the past 25 years: make some tactical responses and wait for history to do its job.  The problem is that is precisely what has produced situations like Syria or Libya.  It’s like the plan of the underpants gnomes: phase 1: steal underpants  phase 3: huge profits while  phase 2 is a blank.

It also reflects an older realist critique of liberal statecraft and its displacement of politics. Reinhart Koselleck makes the point that enlightenment political thought shifted the moral and political burden of revolution onto History ie revolutionaries don’t kill people, History does.  Max Weber’s demand for an ‘ethic of responsibility’ is for politicians to deal with the consequences of their choices and not to retreat behind empty formulae or abstract categories.

In confronting the situations in Russian and Belarus the position is effectively we support regime change and we’ll take some steps that possibly push things in a regime change direction but we don’t want to take responsibility for this. What we don’t want to do is to think through possible consequences, for instance Russia deciding to ‘help’ in Belarus, or to recognize that not all values are consistent with each other and that choices need to be made about which should be prioritized.  It is this refusal to recognize, let alone fill, the space between the present and History that creates the impasse of Western statecraft.


(Not) The Freedom House Guide to Policy Advocacy

March 2, 2015

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the place of civil society in public diplomacy and International Relations. One of the things that is interesting is the way that the use of the term gets narrowed down to mean ‘liberal, cosmopolitan, pro-Western elites’ and forgets that the religious extremists protesting outside the embassy or the guy sitting in his mother’s basement and inciting nationalist hatred on the internet are part of civil society too. The result is that civil society in the first sense is less popular and less influential than it appears when you put it in the context of civil society as a whole.  This has been a recurring problem in public diplomacy programmes over the last decade.

This was the frame of mind that I encountered a new article in The National Interest Power to the People: Taking Diplomacy to the Streets, written by Mark Lagon (the president of Freedom House) and Sarah Grebowski it demands ‘societal diplomacy’ that is a

” more nimble, realistic foreign-policy strategy requires diplomacy with civil society. At best, it will contribute constructively to political change brought about by domestic actors, serving more liberal rule and U.S. interests.”

I read it with some scepticism but then I realized that it offered a practically perfect guide to how to write a policy advocacy piece – so here’s what I learned.

1. DO make it clear that you policy is completely new and has nothing to do with any policy that has ever been tried before. This is much easier than having to explain the difference from public diplomacy, democracy support, human rights work or any other sort of contemporary diplomatic practice. This has the added advantage of ensuring that you don’t have to respond to any criticisms of these previous policies and strategies.

2. DON’T hide any of the massive advantages your new policy has

“can catalyze change at a minute fraction of the cost the United States pays to maintain its military dominance. It also aligns with U.S. values, since aiding civil society is a way for the United States to bolster universal human rights and cultivate democratic aspirations….restore America’s reputation as a force for good. Above all, it can serve a dynamic understanding of U.S. interests by anticipating and, where possible, influencing shifts in countries’ leadership…gain flexibility in responding to unpredictable outcomes…the United States can position itself on the “right side of history,”….societal diplomacy would have positive ramifications for the United States’ legitimacy as a global leader”….”the United States can chip away at the false idea that its goal is to spread democracy by force—and the well-founded suspicion that its support for democratization is self-servingly selective in practice.”

3. DO ignore or minimize any downside to your new policy (this particularly applies if you choose the People’s Republic of China and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as priority targets) but don’t completely ignore them as they can be easily overcome – if the Saudi government is unhappy: “the United States should exercise leverage over the regime”

4. DO assume that the targets of your new policy won’t expel your diplomats or act in a way that can damage US interests.

5. DON’T waste space on practicalities like the kind of resources needed to execute this strate

Keep those rules in mind and policy innovation will be no problem!


EU Aid to Egypt ‘well intentioned but ineffective’

June 21, 2013

Adding to my occasional series of posts on democracy support

The European Court of Auditors has just issued a report on the EU’s efforts to support reform in Egypt in the period since 2007 (press release), the bottom line is that programme (involving €1Bn) has been ‘ineffective’.  This programme had two main strands providing budget support to selected bits of the Egyptian state and grants to civil society organizations.

Reading between the lines the Egyptians have been taking the money and not worrying too much about the EU agenda of transparency, anti-corruption and human rights while obstructing grants to CSOs.  While there are some differences between the Mubarak, military government and current periods the continuities are more obvious.  In return the European Commission and the European External Action Service have failed to insist on conditionality and to use their leverage against the Egyptians.  My reading is that in dealing with multiple programmes applying conditionality is just too difficult, further I suspect that a calculation was at work that continuing the dialogue was more important than applying pressure.

The full report also contains a spectacularly defensive paragraph by paragraph rebuttal by the Commission and the EEAS.  Technically the report is into the management of the programmes and the response is concerned with showing that the Commission and EEAS did a good job ‘in the given circumstances’ which included ‘continuous resistance from the Egyptian side’ on some issues.  Where the Auditors point out aspects of a programme have been ineffective the response is that as the programme still has some time to run there’s still room for progress to be made even though there’s no sign of it. I particularly enjoyed the phrase that occurs at several points ‘this file has been closely monitored’.  The best though is the abbreviation of budget support to BS hence ‘future BS operations’.

In the end the report and the rebuttal are operating within a relatively narrow bureaucratic discourse and  I’m left with a bigger set of questions about these programmes.  Essentially the EU is attempting to generate change in a foreign country that doesn’t want to (or can’t) change; was there any realistic prospect for success? If this type of programme is unlikely to succeed are there alternatives? Is it possible to effectively use complex, multifaceted, technical programmes, executed through mediating organizations as an effective tool of influence – this doesn’t just apply to the EU but to large parts of contemporary statecraft.


The National Endowment for Democracy and US Public Diplomacy: Part 1

May 15, 2013

Before I went to ISA I promised that I would write about the National Endowment for Democracy as a mittler – that is an organization that mediates between a government and foreign publics.  As I argued in the original post mittlers blur the boundaries between state and non-state.  In this sense there’s nothing that unusual about that in the domestic sphere states often work through a variety of intermediate bodies.  These organizations create a problem for scholars of PD because it’s often difficult to figure out what they are and what they do without a great deal of investigation.

Let’s look at the NED.  In the second part of this post I want to raise the question of how the politics of the NED fit into the history of American public diplomacy but let’s start with a general overview.

According to its website it’s a “private, non-profit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world”

The NED is a grant giving organization rather than an operator but as well as responding to applications for grants It funds four core partners (more mediating organizations):  the International Republican Institute  and the National Democratic Institute – organizations associated with the American political parties and inspired by a German model, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, and the Center for International Private Enterprise.

In addition in lists three ‘initiatives’ on its website, the International Forum for Democratic Studies, the World Movement for Democracy: ‘a global network of democrats including activists, practitioners, academics, policy makers, and funders, who have come together to cooperate in the promotion of democracy’, the Journal of Democracy and the Center for International Media Assistance.

I suspect that unless you are specifically paying attention to NED and democracy support work you’ve either never heard of some these organizations or have no idea that they are connected to the NED and its congressional funding.   (I didn’t)

Each of these activities has its own partners so that mapping the network of the NED will take you into some interesting places.

Is this a public diplomacy organization?  It would say that it isn’t but;

1. It’s created by legislation that requires it to promote democracy in a manner “consistent… with the broad concerns of United States national interests.”

2. It’s funded with US tax payer money appropriated by congress.  To ensure funding it has to be able to demonstrate that it’s pointing in the same direction as US foreign policy.

3. Its board is composed of paid up members of the US foreign policy and political establishment:  In any country you can take people out of the MFA or the local equivalent of the White House and put them on the board of an independent organization like this and they will still check that the grants that they are making are consistent with 1.

In thinking about mittlers we need to consider where the money comes from, where the formal locus of control is but also what the real dynamics of these networks are – both historical studies of state-private networks and recent work suggest that the you can’t just follow the money you need to look at the motivations and practices of the people involved.



The Challenge of Civil Society and Democracy Assistance

March 18, 2013

Democracy assistance programmes are often run by aid agencies and hence tend to get ignored  in discussions of public diplomacy but if you follow Nick Cull in embracing a minimal definition of public diplomacy as engagement with foreign publics in pursuit of foreign policy objectives  it certainly ticks the box (Cull 2008: xv).   Democracy assistance in sometimes thought of as having top down and bottom up elements; the former focuses on working with state institutions the latter  with civil society actors.   The latter activity raises a set interesting issues given  that public diplomacy theory and practice has embraced working with civil society actors (for instance in the Danish programme discussed in my last post.

There are a couple of interesting recent papers looking at the record of democracy assistance in the Eastern European space that raise some difficult issues.  Firstly, there’s a Chatham House briefing paper on Civil Society and Democracy in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine by Orysia Lutsevych and secondly, a paper on lessons of the assistance programmes to Slovakia and the Czech Republic for the Arab countries by Lucia Najšlová.

The Lutsevych paper argues that western support has created an ‘NGOcracy’ of elite organizations that have little connection to citizens or to the broader society; they conduct little media outreach, they don’t have members and don’t generate income from business actors but do know how to get grants from foreign donors.  While the author sees some hope for an oppositional civil society, from evidence of citizen activism and the impact of social media, her policy prescriptions seem inadequate given the scale of the problem – for instance donors should seek to support a broader range of actors and should include public outreach as performance target.  In reading this dissection the problems seem quite familiar – at the end of the ‘90s Thomas Carothers (1999) was pointing to similar issues with civil society programmes.

The occasion for Najšlová’s paper is the possible lessons from the Czech and Slovak experience for Arab countries but the situation in MENA is hardly mentioned; what we do get is a useful list of lessons for donors:

  1. It’s important to communicate the goals of programmes to host country governments and publics not just those directly involved in order to minimize nationalist backlashes.
  2. Donor support needs to be long term.
  3. Donors need to be willing to provide core funding for key organizations not just project funding.
  4. Donor should have a look at what has already been done and what organizations are already doing instead of insisting on new initiatives.
  5. Reform of public education systems should be a priority from the beginning.  In the long term this will reach a lot more people than any number of NGO training sessions.
  6. The biggest single factor in the transitions was the opportunities offered by membership of the EU.
  7. Assistance programmes need to be aligned with overall foreign donor foreign policy.

It’s the last two of these that leap out.  Despite Slovakia’s flirtation with authoritarian nationalism the opportunities offered by EU membership and the relative clarity of western policies overcame any resistance to the reforms demanded.  In Lutsevych’s cases (and even more in the MENA) this policy clarity is lacking.   Not only is EU membership not on the table but for significant forces in these countries Russian and Islamic models are countervailing draws.  The point is that political context matters.

The Danish-Arab Partnership Programme Strategic Framework Document for 2013-16 has a cover note with items for discussion by the Council for Development Policy

Item 1 is

To date, the large majority of Arab DAPP partners have come from liberal, secular, urban middle class backgrounds. Yet, looking across the region, faith-based organizations and political actors have significant popular support and could hold important reform potentials. It is therefore a challenge for the DAPP to increase outreach to, and potentially also partnerships with faith-based actors who acknowledge fundamental democratic principles. Many Danish DAPP partners express a wish to further address this challenge, yet find it hard to build relations beyond ‘the usual suspects’ in practice. How does the DAPP address this challenge by ensuring a broad and inclusive outreach in the MENA region?

On the basis of the two papers here this is going to be a tough problem to solve

Lutsevych, O. (2013) How to Finish a Revolution: Civil Society and Democracy in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. London: Chatham House.

Najslova, L. (2013) Foreign Democracy Assistance in the Czech and Slovak Transitions: What Lessons for the Arab World. Giza, Madrid, Den Haag: AFA, FRIDE, HIVOS.

Carothers, T. (1999) Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Cull, N. (2008) The Cold War and the United States Information Agency : American propaganda and public diplomacy, 1945-1989. Cambridge ;;New York: Cambridge University Press.


Fake Rocks and Democracy Support in Russia

January 19, 2012

Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff  has admitted that Russia’s espionarge allegations in the 2006 Fake Rock Affair were true.  Details are here.

What readers of this blog may find particularly interesting are the comments by Tony Brenton, the British Ambassador at the time, speaking on The Radio 4 Today programme this morning. He makes the point that one of the embassy officials implicated in the incident was also responsible for support for Russian NGOs including human rights organizations and the result was that the Putin Regime used this as pretext to attack foreign supported organizations.

I suspect NGO liaison looks like an ideal cover for an intelligence officer but it also means that if your intelligence activities are compromised so are all your contacts.

I’ve commented before that dealing with undesirable foreign PD is a neglected topic – could be an interesting paper there.


The Obama Administration and Democracy Diplomacy

January 16, 2012

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have just issued a report by Thomas Carothers, Democracy Policy Under Obama: Revitalization or Retreat that looks at the place of democracy promotion in recent US foreign policy.  The basic thrust is that while the Obama Administration came to office inclined to deemphasize democracy under the force of events they have take on a greater prominence

As popular uprisings spread across the Arab world in 2011, the administration faced its most important and high-profile democracy challenge. While the advance of political change in the Arab world could be a watershed moment for the region, it also threatens to jeopardize various American economic and security interests. The U.S. policy response has been correspondingly mixed, combining support for democratization where it appears to be occurring with a willingness to continue close ties with seemingly stable authoritarian governments.

The Obama team’s overall engagement on democracy support is multifaceted and significant, and is rooted in a set of guiding principles that have helped revitalize the U.S. profile on the topic. At the same time, the administration downplays democracy and human rights in a number of nondemocratic countries for the sake of other interests. This inconsistency represents a familiar pattern rather than a change in U.S. policy.  The difference is that today, in response to growing multipolarity, the United States has moved away from any single, overarching foreign policy narrative rooted in the idea of remaking the world in the image of the United States.

The democracy agenda creates a need for traditional diplomacy – high level interventions in support of democracy – but also a range of public engagement activities that involve aid  agencies and civil society actors.  This is an area where the distinctions between diplomacy, public diplomacy and development become extremely blurred.