United States Department of Defragmentation
Washington, D.C. 20590
June 1, 2006
TO: Secretary Rice
FROM: Thomas O. Melia
SUBJECT: The Democracy Bureaucracy
With his second Inaugural Address, President Bush elevated the longstanding American interest in the spread of democracy into the preeminent goal of U.S. foreign policy. In doing so he has subsumed the Global War on Terror within a larger and more forward-looking doctrine, transforming the shorthand “GWOT” from a Global War on Terror to a more ennobling Global War on Tyranny.
This memo describes the array of American assets in this effort; briefly distills several issues that impede policy implementation; and recommends you establish a “grand bargain” with the Congress, DoD and other Executive branch agencies, as well as with key actors in the non-governmental community to reconfigure the “democracy bureaucracy” to better translate the President’s vision into reality.
As this policy is the President’s strategic response to 9/11, its success or failure will be his principal legacy in foreign affairs. It is already clear that shortcomings will be attributed by critics to a failure in conception, not implementation. But implementation is not a simple matter.
First there is the political problem of the Iraq war. Congressional Democrats have largely abandoned their historic posture as the party of human rights and democracy in order to distance themselves from the conflation of the Iraq intervention with the global democracy effort. Even some Republicans on the Hill are now drifting away. The Administration must act to ensure that its freedom agenda is not a casualty of the Iraq war.
Second, we all know that America cannot actually make other countries democratic; we can only encourage and empower our natural allies and penalize and constrain those working against democracy. The principal impediments to the expansion of democratic freedom in the world reside in other countries—in determined dictators or feckless oppositions, disillusioned publics and entrenched corruption—and so do the possibilities for positive change. Although we may be influential at key moments in some places, the United States is rarely determinative—though it still matters who we help and how.
Third and most important, democracy policy implementation suffers from a diffuse and fractured organizational setup that results in too little strategic thinking and too much micromanagement. As a government, we now spend more than $2 billion annually on “democracy promotion”—four times the money spent by the previous administration—but we do not spend as effectively as we should.
But while more coherent strategic thinking is needed about the U.S. approach, it probably does not matter that no one person or office is in charge. The character of democracy promotion is such that a single command-and-control center is not a good idea. Pluralism in the promotion of pluralism is a better, if messier, approach than trying to establish a “central committee for the promotion of democratic diversity”, a notion redolent of Soviet-era double-speak. Moreover, experience shows that coordination works reasonably well in critical situations, even without the force majeur of an iron hand in the U.S. government.
A pluralist approach makes sense, too, because we don’t have an agreed “general theory” of democratization. Some believe that democratization is a process akin to economic and social development that evolves over long horizons; others that it is a political engineering process more amenable to “quick-burst” interventions such as a successful election or the drafting of a constitution. The difference matters a great deal, as it would impact strategies, budgets and timelines. If democratization requires a broadly societal effort, it requires action, education and/or assistance that touches much of a country’s population; but if it is a more narrowly political problem, it may require only the replacement of a relative handful of people in power. (Iraq, for instance, we now know, is not one of the latter.) Most places need both approaches.
The democracy bureaucracy is not large, but it is highly dispersed. It consists of several thousand men and women working in an array of government agencies, multinational bodies and private organizations. The key resource is those people who have acquired real expertise working in difficult environments abroad, empowering counterparts to promote democratic development in their own countries. These “moving parts” consist of non-governmental organizations and U.S. agencies. In the first category, there are:
- The grant-making National Endowment for Democracy and its affiliated “family” of program-implementing institutes (the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, the Solidarity Center of the AFL-CIO, and the Center for International Private Enterprise of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce). They each interlock with global networks of democratic political figures, NGO leaders, and religious, business and labor leaders;
- Other non-profit organizations (such as Freedom House, the Carter Center, Internews, and several regional projects of the American Bar Association) that work mainly as grantees of the government;
- Non-profit and for-profit enterprises operating mainly as government contractors in democracy promotion (including the Academy for Educational Development, Research Triangle Institute, Management Systems International, Chemonics, Development Associates, Development Alternatives, Democracy International and Planning and Learning Technologies (PaL-Tech), along with professional groups, such as the National Conference of State Legislatures, the International City Managers Association, and various university centers).
The principal USG actors the present administration inherited include:
- USAID, wherein “democracy and governance” emerged in the 1990s as a key pillar of development strategies, allocating about $1.3 billion to the effort in the current fiscal year. Its major internal actors include the Office for Democracy and Governance and the Office of Transition Initiatives.
- The State Department, which analyzes and reports on political developments worldwide and in some cases uses advocacy or other diplomatic activity to affect political outcomes. In addition to its embassies and political officers worldwide, previous administrations created three democracy promotion centers in the Department: the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Affairs (DRL), which has become a more significant grant-making, policymaking and diplomatic actor in recent years; the Special Coordinator for Assistance to Europe and Eurasia, who plays a key role managing spending on democracy efforts, inter alia; and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, responsible for exchanges and scholarships that can be integrated into strategies to affect political development.
- International broadcasting such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Martí, conveying accurate news to peoples cut off by their own governments from the world around them.
- Programs managed by the Department of Justice (in law enforcement and administration of justice) and the Department of Labor (in worker rights issues).
- Defense Department functions, including the work of civil affairs units in the Armed Forces, the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program and the relationships built around the provision of military hardware and training.
- The U.S. Intelligence Community, though the extent of its analytical and operational roles, and the degree to which it undermines or supports democracy promotion, is unclear to most other actors even inside the government.
The Congress also plays a significant role overall in democracy promotion activities in two ways. First, Speaker Hastert has recently revived a modest program to work directly with counterpart legislatures in emerging democracies. Second, it is becoming more generous in appropriating money to these efforts, and also more active in establishing earmarks for specific projects, organizations and countries. While earmarks constrain Executive branch flexibility, it turns out that in the democracy promotion arena earmarks have, exactly half the time, enabled the U.S. government to maintain funding for critical programs and to reverse bureaucratic decisions that would have harmed the overall foreign policy interest of the United States by terminating partnerships and pressure in countries at a crossroads.
Aside from these three sets of key actors—non-governmental, Executive branch and Congress—the United States also works with inter-governmental bodies committed to upholding democratic standards among their members. The most substantial are two in which the United States is a member state, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The United Nations is also an important institutional resource, with the revamped UN Human Rights Council and an Electoral Assistance Unit attached to the office of the Under Secretary General for Political Affairs.
The USG also cooperates frequently on democracy promotion issues with the European Union, the Council of Europe and the Commonwealth. And at least two dozen major donor countries and multilateral development agencies have emulated the U.S. assistance model by making democracy promotion a theme of their aid programs.
In addition to bilateral diplomatic initiatives, Secretary Albright launched the Community of Democracies (COD) in June 2000 to advance international cooperation on the basis of shared political values, and it may yet prove to be valuable. It led in 2004 to a formal democracy caucus in the UN General Assembly and creation of a UN Democracy Fund to finance certain “political” activities outside the purview of the other UN agencies.
While most NGOs rely on public funding, a few do not. The most significant is the Open Society Institute (OSI), a private network of 31 fairly autonomous, country-specific foundations financed by the American philanthropist George Soros. Over the past 15 years, Soros has spent about $500 million a year on OSI programs, an amount that equaled or exceeded USG investment in comparable activities until about four years ago. There is a great need to interest other wealthy donors in the pursuit of these goals so that alternatives to U.S. government financing exist.
To all of these moving parts, the Bush Administration has added more, though apparently without re-thinking the organizational superstructure as a whole. These include:
- The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to disburse foreign aid as a reward for achievements in political and economic reform efforts;
- The State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI);
- The Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA), adopted by the G-8 in June 2004;
- Three new Middle East broadcasting programs (Radio Sawa and the television station Al-Hurrah for the Arabic-speaking world, and Radio Farda, a newly reorganized Persian-language radio station);
- A Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization in the State Department, whose mandate includes start-up efforts to foster democratic governance; and
- A new Deputy National Security Advisor for global democracy promotion;
In addition to all this, Madame Secretary, you have affected the “democracy bureaucracy” by:
- creating a second deputy secretary of state to be Director of Foreign Assistance, so for the first time one official will oversee both USAID and State spending;
- modifying one under secretary’s job title from “global affairs” to “democracy and global affairs” and charging her with the long neglected task of developing democracy-promotion strategies for a short list of critical countries;
- appointing an advisory council of eminent experts in the field to provide oversight and validation to the effort;
- adding an additional deputy assistant secretary slot in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Affairs (DRL);
- appointing a senior career diplomat and intelligence analyst as assistant secretary for DRL, presumably to raise the status of a bureau long regarded by career professionals as marginal or “political”; and
- re-casting the mission of the entire Foreign Service to be devoted henceforth to “transformational diplomacy”, which you have made clear means promoting democracy.
It is too early to assess the impact of all these innovations. Some may aggravate the dispersal of decision-making and spending authority in democracy promotion. It is not clear, for example, whether the substantial enlargement of operational and grant-making activity in DRL or MEPI is better than having new money disbursed by pre-existing mechanisms at USAID or the NED. True, USAID tends to work mainly through its bilateral field missions, and the NED lacks sufficient resources for long-term programs, but these problems could have been addressed without creating new mechanisms which increasingly resemble one another. Moreover, the proliferation of agencies and bureaus managing funding relationships with essentially the same small circle of NGOs and contractors is likely to raise transactional costs, not lower them. (It is inauspicious that the new inter-agency effort to coordinate better the proliferating number of grants within State and USAID has been labeled the Joint Assistance Management System, or “JAMS.”)
Even if we agree that intellectual diversity and organizational decentralization are appropriate, we can still do a lot better than we’re doing now. A Senate Appropriations Committee report last summer noted angrily that State and USAID cannot even agree on a common definition of a democracy-promotion program. We have to do a better job of integrating DoD into U.S. diplomacy (especially the IMET program, whose $86.7 million budget exceeds that of the entire NED and all the programs DRL manages), and we need to do it without a debilitating turf war or simply subsuming current programs into the larger and better organized bureaucracy within the Pentagon. While the newly elevated deputy national security advisor for “global democracy strategy” may make a dent in this problem, it may require that you be the one to succeed Secretary Rumsfeld at the Pentagon when his time is up, if better coordination of the President’s signature initiative is to occur.
While we need not resolve all theoretical issues having to do with democracy promotion, we have to get a better grip on the importance of follow-through in our efforts. There have been too many times when U.S. attention and resources alight on a country about to have a transforming election only to vanish once the election is over—especially, ironically enough, if it is has turned out the right way, as in Indonesia, Nigeria, Ukraine, Serbia and Georgia in recent years. Despite the soaring rhetoric of the President’s second Inaugural address, the U.S. has yet to demonstrate to our democratic friends abroad that we are truly “in it for the long haul”, and that our commitment to supporting democratization is indeed the “work of generations.”
We would be better off if all democracy bureaucracy players concentrate on what they do best. You can encourage such choices in several ways that would make a difference.
Government, for instance, cannot do certain things well; it lacks the dynamism of American society in its myriad manifestations. Efforts to promote democracy need not be controlled by the U.S. government to be in the national interest. Part of what we want to convey in many countries, after all, is that the state ought not control all aspects of society. Government needs to organize itself as an opportunity multiplier, as a platform from which private initiatives can be launched, not as a puppeteer of those efforts.
Here are a number of specific recommendations to enhance the operational clarity and effectiveness of the “democracy bureaucracy.” To be accepted by the affected parties, this package would need to be implemented altogether.
First, USAID should focus on programs with a developmental dimension, and to do so mainly with the contracting community. This would include material assistance to parliaments, judiciaries and election commissions, for instance, or relatively apolitical NGO support.
Second, the State Department should focus on state actors with whom it has a natural affinity, and on the public and private diplomacy that helps in-country actors to be effective advocates for democracy. Along with USAID, it should get out of the business altogether of managing assistance to political parties abroad (once adequate funding is shifted to the Endowment, which was created largely to handle precisely this). Instead of training our diplomats to be grants managers, they should learn how to corral their military brethren into cooperative ventures, and to work with NGOs as partners instead of as hired help. Diplomats should concentrate on aid and trade deals, visits by senior administration and congressional officials, and political analysis.
Third, DoD should concentrate on the democratic development component of military interactions with counterparts, and it should be obliged to coordinate, in Washington and in-country settings alike, with the State Department and other agencies.
Fourth, the NED’s budget should be quintupled. Its model has been proved effective, and it manages its “family” of related NGOs in a uniquely efficient way. The best money available in the democracy promotion business (other than the miniscule amounts of private contributions to NGOs) is the fungible allocation provided to the NED’s “core grantees.” Despite the modest funds involved ($6.5 million each last year), this money can be moved quickly from one project to another, across borders and functions, as needs and opportunities present themselves. The core grantees use it much more efficiently and strategically than much larger sums that come in country- or project-specific transactions with AID Missions. Adequate funding for the Endowment, to be shared with its core grantees, and importantly, with the other major NGOs in this business, would clarify the distinction between the kinds of work and partners appropriate for the NED and the USG.
Fifth, we must empower a larger number of the best-performing NGOs to pursue global strategies. The ten major NGOs with a proven track record in the democracy promotion community should be provided with approximately $25 million in each of the next five years and permitted to decide how to use it (consistent with the usual fiduciary responsibilities for the management of public funds, of course). They would have to agree to eschew their pursuit of earmarks on the Hill, but would have the resources and flexibility to respond globally in the creative ways of which they are uniquely capable. Freed of micro-management burdens, overzealous bureaucrats and the shifting priorities of diplomats, they could maximize the substantive content of their information exchanges with diplomats, development professionals, members of Congress and others. Making at least some funding available on a multi-year basis would also permit these groups to maintain longer-term relationships with key partners (not abandoning them after an election, for example) and allies in the international community, and to remain engaged in slow-moving environments at a modest level of activity until greater opportunities present themselves.
Sixth, the President, and the political side of the White House, should appeal to the Americans who have benefited most from his domestic fiscal policies to make a reciprocal contribution to the global mission to which he has staked his reputation and the nation’s future security. Tax-deductible contributions to the major NGOs should be solicited from all those Rangers and Pioneers and other supporters who helped George W. Bush become President. During the two remaining years of his Administration, a trust fund of several hundred million—even a billion—dollars could be amassed to ensure that the American endeavor of democracy promotion does not depend on a single occupant of the Oval Office. If, as the President has so powerfully said, the survival of liberty in our land can only be secured by strengthening democracy in other lands, then this ought to become a truly national mission, and not just another government program. Who better to spearhead this effort than the most prolific fundraiser in the history of American democracy?
* * *
These recommendations compose a kind of strategic bargain between major grantees, contractors and government agencies involved in the democracy promotion enterprise. In return for a lower overall level of spending for most NGOs in the longer run, they would have greater flexibility that would enable and oblige each to use public funds for maximum impact. They would also have access to private funds that are seen as separate and distinct from direct U.S. government control. They would have an incentive to think more carefully about where they spend money; they would be empowered to develop their program personalities more fully; and they would be more genuine partners with the USG. Transaction costs for the government and for the NGOs alike would drop sharply.
The State Department’s DRL Bureau and USAID’s Democracy Office, both relieved of the hassles of grants management, would be empowered to become genuine centers of intellectual and diplomatic leadership within the U.S. government, coordinating but not controlling outside actors. We do not need a single body for democracy promotion, but we do need a brain (or two) that can help to ensure that policy incorporates past experience to meet future challenges.
CC: NSA Hadley, EOP