At her 2009 Senate confirmation hearing, then-Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton stressed the importance of focusing on the 3 Ds she considered critical to U.S. foreign policy.
But the Obama administration’s stress on diplomacy, development and defense as the basis of U.S. foreign policy has been a sore point with some democracy advocates, including progressive internationalists, who saw the absence of a fourth ‘d’ as an overreaction to George W. Bush’s freedom agenda.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, the State Department’s outgoing head of policy planning has insisted that the Obama administration has “a strong desire to support those countries where democratization and development go together.” And it is making efforts to refine and improve the democracy and governance criteria that determine the allocation of foreign aid through the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
This week’s release of the eagerly-awaited Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review goes some way to meeting that commitment, with a number of concrete proposals to embed democracy and governance in the agenda.
Democracy and governance are highlighted as one of several areas of U.S. comparative advantage, and the review proposes establishing an Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights with responsibility for cultivating “the political space necessary for democracy to flourish”, and a position of Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies.
The review stresses the need to engage non-state actors, from civil society to the private sector, and proposes a new Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance to be launched within USAID.
The report’s focus on enhancing the impact, efficiency, and effectiveness of development assistance is understandable, he notes. But if the administration really wants “to ensure that international engagement delivers,” it can’t avoid the “d” word.
“In achieving higher impact in development programs, greater focus must be placed on institutional reform of countries, rather than just humanitarian assistance,” he writes in The Huffington Post.
Democratization has been a signal factor in the success stories detailed in a new analysis from Steven Radelet, Secretary Clinton’s principal advisor on development.
In 17 sub-Saharan states, a new generation of leaders has reduced poverty and created jobs using variations on a recipe of economic reform, new technologies and greater public participation.
“In tracking the development of these countries,” Sullivan notes, Radelet’s Emerging Africa “shows their transformation from bankrupt, unaccountable dictatorships mired in permanent economic crises and poverty to democracies with peace, economic prosperity, tangible poverty reduction, and improved governance.”
The relationship between democracy and development remains complex and contested, as is evident from the recent debate in the Journal of Democracy. But while development practitioners remain reluctant to highlight democratic considerations, there has been a slight shift.
The World Bank now accepts that aid is “less effective in a weak governance environment”, and it includes “voice and accountability” as one of its “governance indicators”. Likewise, one of the declared aims of USAID is “promoting sustainable democracy” and “expanding the global community of democracies.”
Some development agencies, like the US Millennium Challenge Corporation, are trying to tighten the criteria for providing assistance to ensure that aid functions as “a catalyst for deepening democracy by creating incentives for policy reform and engaging democratic actors.”
But observers complain that the development community’s indifference to democratic criteria allows some of the most corrupt and oppressive regimes to exploit foreign aid for partisan ends, perverting and undermining the moral and practical purposes of U.S. engagement.
The administration will have more success in doing so and ensuring the maximum impact of foreign aid, says CIPE’s Sullivan, by integrating democracy and economic growth, and stressing institutional reform and development.
In short, don’t forget the fourth ‘d’.
CIPE is one of the four core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.