Setting an Action Agenda: Plenary Session V

The workshop's final plenary session allowed participants to discuss specific policy choices in light of the working groups and earlier plenaries. The session resulted in consensus on a number of issues and identified several key issues for further study.

A fundamental distinction emerged among three types of A.I.D. intervention: economic, political, and technical. Several participants gave examples of how specific programs often fit into more than one category, for example, a rural banking program that fostered democratic, participatory values as it increased economic prosperity.

Participants disagreed over the need for an entirely new democratization initiative within A.I.D. One concern was that a new initiative would simply lead to the repackaging of existing programs under a new label, “democracy.” Others expressed concern that a new initiative might stress visible short-term results over the potentially more important long-term consequences of sustained programs. Basic education and building community banking were mentioned as examples of specific programs with significant implications for promoting democratic values whose effects on democracy were gradual and thus unlikely to yield immediate measurable results. In general, participants agreed that promoting democracy requires a sustained effort over a considerable period of time, with no more than modest hope for early indications of success or failure.

Others cited a number of potential positive features for a new democratic initiative. Participants suggested that such an initiative makes sense for purely pragmatic reasons given the current realities of funding in Washington. Others cited the potential benefits of synthesizing experience from a variety of regions and programs, trying to generalize from many concrete cases, and sharing this information widely among A.I.D. bureaus. Finally, a participant noted that even though A.I.D. should have modest expectations about its ability to promote democracy throughout the world, much more could be gained than lost from setting initially ambitious goals.



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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop Setting an Action Agenda: Plenary Session V The workshop's final plenary session allowed participants to discuss specific policy choices in light of the working groups and earlier plenaries. The session resulted in consensus on a number of issues and identified several key issues for further study. A fundamental distinction emerged among three types of A.I.D. intervention: economic, political, and technical. Several participants gave examples of how specific programs often fit into more than one category, for example, a rural banking program that fostered democratic, participatory values as it increased economic prosperity. Participants disagreed over the need for an entirely new democratization initiative within A.I.D. One concern was that a new initiative would simply lead to the repackaging of existing programs under a new label, “democracy.” Others expressed concern that a new initiative might stress visible short-term results over the potentially more important long-term consequences of sustained programs. Basic education and building community banking were mentioned as examples of specific programs with significant implications for promoting democratic values whose effects on democracy were gradual and thus unlikely to yield immediate measurable results. In general, participants agreed that promoting democracy requires a sustained effort over a considerable period of time, with no more than modest hope for early indications of success or failure. Others cited a number of potential positive features for a new democratic initiative. Participants suggested that such an initiative makes sense for purely pragmatic reasons given the current realities of funding in Washington. Others cited the potential benefits of synthesizing experience from a variety of regions and programs, trying to generalize from many concrete cases, and sharing this information widely among A.I.D. bureaus. Finally, a participant noted that even though A.I.D. should have modest expectations about its ability to promote democracy throughout the world, much more could be gained than lost from setting initially ambitious goals.

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop One participant identified five operational challenges for A.I.D. that emerged from the workshop: Civil/military relations--how can A.I.D. deal effectively with historical tendencies in some regions for democratic governments to be overthrown by the military? The absence of civic culture/democratic values--what role might various kinds of education programs play in addressing this problem? Deep ethnic, religious, or tribal cleavages in a society--how can cross-cutting identifications and coalitions be built? Weak democratic institutions in countries new to democracy--how can accountability be improved? Lack of competition, whether a lack of competing political parties, an independent media, or independent think tanks--how can such productive competition be encouraged? The discussion frequently touched on the issue of how explicitly A.I.D. should promote specific values and institutions. The distinction among political, economic, and technical intervention was essential here. Some argued that the best strategy was to foster policy making on empirical or technical grounds rather than promoting specific values or outcomes. Such technical advice is less likely to be offensive or controversial, and thus may be helpful in building coalitions. Many potential members of coalitions will accept technical advice but reject advice that obviously tries to promote specific values. Some questioned whether “purely technical” advice truly existed, however. Another participant cited the generally poor record of explicit political reform efforts. As an example, he cited failed attempts to use Latin American universities as tools of democratic institutional reform in the early 1960s. Another participant expressed skepticism that A.I.D. could accurately assess the consequences of most attempts to achieve specific political outcomes. Moreover, since uncertainty is a key element of democracy and transitions, how could outsiders reasonably be held accountable for outcomes? The difficulty of trying to engineer democracy cross-culturally surfaced frequently as a counterargument to promoting basic democratic principles. Some of the session's most heated exchanges revolved around this basic tension. One participant argued that, even with the best intentions, intervention to promote democracy could violate freedom of choice. Participants strongly agreed with Verba's caution that, at minimum, A.I.D. initiatives should seek to “do no harm.” A basic framework of “stages” in development of democracy underscored the discussion in much of the workshop. Someone observed that policy choices would largely depend on identifying at least roughly where

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop a particular country was located on various measures of democratization. This in turn led to the suggestion that A.I.D. might be best advised to concentrate on countries somewhere in the middle, neglecting both countries far from democracy and well-established democracies that might nonetheless benefit from assistance in maintaining their success. One participant suggested choosing 10 or 12 such countries on which to concentrate A.I.D.'s efforts. Some participants proposed adopting a “triage” strategy. Other participants challenged the idea of ranking countries by their stage of democratic development. One basic objection was that A.I.D. probably lacks the analytical sophistication to identify stages correctly. Another objection was that a “triage” strategy violates the Agency's original mandate to help the neediest. One participant urged A.I.D. to commit itself to strategies that would enable it to work with countries no matter where they were in the democratization process. Some participants noted that outside attempts to define specific political models provoke extraordinary sensitivity and emotional responses in many areas of the world. With the partial exception of Eastern Europe, one participant commented, few places have asked for U.S. help in building democracy. Someone commented that, looking over past A.I.D. efforts, initiatives for democracy that did not come out of, or at least respond to, genuine interests fared poorly. Another participant argued that, in his experience in the Middle East and North Africa, any association with the United States has ultimately compromised and even harmed the groups involved. He cautioned strongly against attempts at “social engineering” and the cultural imperialism it implies. Another participant urged A.I.D. to pay special attention to the alternative democratic models available around the world, and not simply to export familiar forms. He admitted that supporting democratic models unlike the American experience would not be easy, but he urged A.I.D. to support local think tanks as one way to facilitate the development of alternative democratic models. He spoke of fostering a new round of “de Tocquevilles,” who would share models of democracy from different regions. Discussion of this broad issue resulted in limited consensus that A.I.D. should focus more on process and less on outcome, and trust that the end result would be positive. There was much discussion and considerable agreement on identifying moting democracy is fundamentally different from supporting economic development because democracy is a moral issue. Hence, he said, it is important to make explicit exactly what we will not tolerate, to define the a set of fundamental democratic principles. A participant argued that promoral basis behind what we mean by “support for democracy. ” Unless such fundamental values are explicitly identified, he feared that old programs would simply be relabeled as “promoting democracy. ” One participant then proposed six fundamental democratic values he thought had emerged from

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop the workshop: respect for human rights; protection of minority rights; consultation of the public (responsible governance); an independent and protected judiciary; guaranteed rights for the opposition; and limits on the power of the central government. Another participant suggested that A.I.D. should be seeking the emergence of societies that are fair, just, efficient in their use of resources, and compassionate without regard for questions of efficiency. A number of opinions emerged on how such fundamental principles ought to be applied to A.I.D.'s work. There was general agreement that positive reinforcement was generally preferable to negative reinforcement, such as reducing or cutting off aid, but a number of options exist. A.I.D. could use fundamental principles as a test, conditioning aid on evidence of movement toward democracy. A.I.D. projects could incorporate these principles in projects that explicitly attempt to promote democratic values. Another approach would be to establish a fund to which countries could have access if they showed evidence of meeting a list of democratic requirements. In this way, there would be no penalty except opportunities foregone if a country chose not to avail itself of the fund. A participant suggested that certain kinds of goals could be more easily promoted by reductions in aid than others. She argued that it was reasonable to believe that respect for human rights could be influenced by lowering aid in response to violations. Establishing competitive political institutions seemed more difficult to promote by “negative conditionality.” Indicators of success were also harder to establish. She argued that the goal of broader popular participation, not necessarily in politics, was completely inappropriate for negative conditionality. She also urged that A.I.D. examine two broad distinctions when selecting goals and appropriate instruments. First, the Agency should determine how open or resistant a given country is to advice and “well-intentioned ” intervention from a U.S. government agency. Second, A.I.D. should take into consideration the degree to which a given country is undergoing simultaneous economic upheavals and political change. The importance of taking into account economic upheaval occurring alongside political democratization was emphasized throughout the workshop. The area of clearest agreement to emerge was that A.I.D. support for intermediary organizations and civil society should continue and should play a major role in A.I.D. efforts to promote democratization. A participant suggested that A.I.D. closely examine its past successes with

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THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY: Proceedings of a Workshop NGOs, including those in the private sector, and survey possibilities for NGO coalitions. Such coalitions might occur along programmatic lines (e.g., NGOs in a given country concerned with health issues) or in a country-to-country alliance of NGOs concerned with a specific issue. The weight of the evidence presented at the workshop suggested that supporting intermediary organizations as fundamental components of a healthy civil society would be as, if not more, important for successful democratization than support for the formal institutions and mechanisms of government. NGOs, even seemingly apolitical ones, help to build the “infrastructure” for democracy by increasing citizen participation and promoting an active associational life.