New POMED Policy Brief: Confront or Conform? Rethinking U.S. Democracy Assistance
In POMED’s latest policy brief, “Confront or Conform? Rethinking U.S. Democracy Assistance,” Sarah Bush, an assistant professor of political science at Temple University, writes, “Despite leadership changes in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, the pace of democratic change has slowed and transition-related setbacks abound. Forming a response to these setbacks will be a significant foreign policy challenge for President Obama’s second term, as will be setbacks to democracy in Africa, Asia, and Europe. U.S. policymakers have a number of democracy promotion tools at their disposal to mitigate those risks, including diplomatic pressure, foreign aid conditionality, and economic sanctions and incentives. One of the most frequently employed tools is democracy assistance—foreign aid that is explicitly given to advance democracy abroad—which is provided to more than one hundred countries around the world.”
See below for the highlights of her brief:
- Over the past few decades, there have been two clear shifts in U.S. government-funded democracy assistance programs: they have become less likely to confront autocratic governments and more focused on measurable outputs.
- This “taming” of U.S. democracy assistance has been fueled in part by two realities: an increase in competition for U.S. democracy assistance funds and the increasing professionalization of the industry.
- It is not clear that such tame programs help bring about democratization, and they can instead play into the hands of autocrats seeking a veneer of democracy while consolidating power.
- Democracy assistance programs should evolve considerably to have a more positive impact on genuine democratic development.
- This should include changing how the success of these programs is defined, by involving local actors more directly in the evaluation of projects and by increasing collaborative efforts among various donor institutions to improve the quality of program assessment.