Democracy Promotion: Cornerstone of U.S. Foreign Policy?

The Bush Administration has viewed democracy promotion as key element in its foreign policy agenda and an instrument for combatting terrorism. Given unsettled events related to elections in Pakistan and Kenya, and a recent landslide election in Taiwan for a party advocating closer ties with Mainland China, democracy promotion objectives will continue to be of interest in the American presidential campaigns and in the second session of the 110th Congress.

Arguably, the lack of a clear definition of democracy and a comprehensive understanding of its basic elements may have hampered the formulation of democracy promotion policy and effective prioritizing of democracy promotion activities over the years. Also, the lack of definition may have complicated coordination of democracy programs and the assessment of U.S. government activities and funding. Further, without a consensus on democracy definition and goals, what criteria will determine when, if ever, a country has attained an acceptable level of democratic reform and no longer needs American assistance?

Both the U.S. executive and legislative branches of government support democracy promotion in other countries. The Bush Administration has implemented both bilateral and multilateral programs to promote democracy, such as the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), and requested about $1.5 billion for democracy promotion out of a total foreign affairs budget request of $36.2 billion in FY2008. Also, the Administration identified “governing justly and democratically” as a key objective of its foreign aid policies.

Congress appropriates funds, authorizes programs, and is responsible for oversight. In 2007, Congress considered, among other democracy promotion bills, the ADVANCE Democracy Act of 2007 (H.R. 982). It contains provisions to promote democracy overseas, calls for specific State Department actions and reports, aims to strengthen the “Community of Democracies,” and authorizes funding for democracy assistance for FY2008 and FY2009. Congress is currently carrying out its own program through the House Democracy Assistance Commission (HDAC), which was established in 2005. The Commission provides expert advice to fledgling legislatures. To date, 12 countries have received assistance from the Commission.

The issue among Members of Congress, presidential hopefuls, and in the wider policy community is not whether democracy promotion is worthwhile in general, but rather when, where, and how it is to be applied to get the desired results and the most for the taxpayer’s dollar. In addition, coordination of democracy promotion activities is lacking among developed countries and within the U.S. government. The 110th Congress may scrutinize U.S. democracy promotion in Iraq and elsewhere. Whether or not “victory in Iraq” includes establishing an independent democratic Iraqi government will be important in evaluating the human and financial costs and benefits of U.S. involvement in Iraq and could affect other U.S. democracy promotion agendas. This report will be updated as warranted.

Democracy Promotion: Cornerstone of U.S. Foreign Policy?

January 29, 2008 (RL34296)



The Bush Administration has viewed democracy promotion as key element in its foreign policy agenda and an instrument for combatting terrorism. Given unsettled events related to elections in Pakistan and Kenya, and a recent landslide election in Taiwan for a party advocating closer ties with Mainland China, democracy promotion objectives will continue to be of interest in the American presidential campaigns and in the second session of the 110th Congress.

Arguably, the lack of a clear definition of democracy and a comprehensive understanding of its basic elements may have hampered the formulation of democracy promotion policy and effective prioritizing of democracy promotion activities over the years. Also, the lack of definition may have complicated coordination of democracy programs and the assessment of U.S. government activities and funding. Further, without a consensus on democracy definition and goals, what criteria will determine when, if ever, a country has attained an acceptable level of democratic reform and no longer needs American assistance?

Both the U.S. executive and legislative branches of government support democracy promotion in other countries. The Bush Administration has implemented both bilateral and multilateral programs to promote democracy, such as the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), and requested about $1.5 billion for democracy promotion out of a total foreign affairs budget request of $36.2 billion in FY2008. Also, the Administration identified "governing justly and democratically" as a key objective of its foreign aid policies.

Congress appropriates funds, authorizes programs, and is responsible for oversight. In 2007, Congress considered, among other democracy promotion bills, the ADVANCE Democracy Act of 2007 (H.R. 982). It contains provisions to promote democracy overseas, calls for specific State Department actions and reports, aims to strengthen the "Community of Democracies," and authorizes funding for democracy assistance for FY2008 and FY2009. Congress is currently carrying out its own program through the House Democracy Assistance Commission (HDAC), which was established in 2005. The Commission provides expert advice to fledgling legislatures. To date, 12 countries have received assistance from the Commission.

The issue among Members of Congress, presidential hopefuls, and in the wider policy community is not whether democracy promotion is worthwhile in general, but rather when, where, and how it is to be applied to get the desired results and the most for the taxpayer's dollar. In addition, coordination of democracy promotion activities is lacking among developed countries and within the U.S. government. The 110th Congress may scrutinize U.S. democracy promotion in Iraq and elsewhere. Whether or not "victory in Iraq" includes establishing an independent democratic Iraqi government will be important in evaluating the human and financial costs and benefits of U.S. involvement in Iraq and could affect other U.S. democracy promotion agendas. This report will be updated as warranted.

Democracy Promotion: Cornerstone of U.S. Foreign Policy?


Democracy promotion has been a long-standing element of U.S. foreign policy. In recent years, however, it has become a primary component. Under the George W. Bush Administration, efforts to spread freedom to Iraq and around the world have been viewed as a tool to end tyranny and fight terrorism, as the way to promote stability in troubled regions, and as a mechanism to increase prosperity in poor countries.

The democracy promotion ideal continues to be under close scrutiny, particularly with recent unsettled election events in Kenya and Pakistan, and with a landslide victory in Taiwan for the opposition party that supports closer ties with Mainland China. While some observers believe that spreading democracy is a key foreign policy priority, others argue that democracy promotion is but one of a number of U.S. strategic objectives and not necessarily the overriding one. The issue among Members of Congress, presidential hopefuls, and in the wider foreign policy community may not be whether democracy promotion is worthwhile, but rather when, where, and how to apply it effectively.

This report provides background information on democracy promotion policy and activities, discusses the difficulties involved in such efforts, and presents perspectives on the benefits and costs of such efforts. It also provides information on congressional efforts to assist other parliaments in democratizing countries. This report will be updated as warranted.

Background on the Current Debate

Since World War I, when the United States fought "to make the world safe for democracy," administrations have been interested, to varying degrees, in promoting democracy around the world. Recent Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton viewed democracy promotion as an important component of their foreign policy efforts.

More broadly, the current Bush Administration has viewed democracy promotion as an instrument for promoting peace and combatting terrorism. He identified it as a central focus to the "war on terrorism" and national security in his second inauguration address on January 20, 2005:

Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security.... So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

Also in January 2005, Dr. Condoleezza Rice before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee listed three top priorities for her administration's diplomacy:

First, we will unite the community of democracies in building an international system that is based on shared values and the rule of law. Second, we will strengthen the community of democracies to fight the threats to our common security and alleviate the hopelessness that feeds terror. And third, we will spread freedom and democracy throughout the globe. That is the mission that President Bush has set for America in the world and is the great mission of American diplomacy today.1

One of President George W. Bush's stated reasons for starting the war in Iraq was to bring democracy to that country: "[We] are committed to a strategic goal of a free Iraq that is democratic, that can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself."2

The Bush Administration continued to stress democracy promotion as a key element in its foreign policy when Secretary of State Rice announced her transformational diplomacy plan in January 2006. The Secretary's objective of transformational diplomacy is to "work with our many partners around the world to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system."3 This goal was restated in the State Department's October 2006 briefing on the Secretary's foreign assistance reform.

Increasingly, others are voicing opinions about spreading democracy as a key component of U.S. foreign policy. In a recent survey, Americans weighed in on U.S. democracy promotion efforts. In the 2007 poll, American voters reacted to various strategies to fight terrorism. Options included "make America energy independent; use diplomacy to bring our allies into the struggle; use military force to defeat terrorists and the states that harbor them; provide economic assistance to poor countries to prevent them from becoming terrorist havens; and promote freedom and democracy in the Islamic world." The least-supported option among respondents was "to promote freedom and democracy in the Islamic world." The same poll asked participants to agree or disagree with the following statement: "The U.S. cannot impose democracy by force on another country." Eighty-three percent agreed with the statement and 15% disagreed.4

Similar sentiments have been expressed by people in Arab countries. In 2007, Dr. James J. Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, testified before Congress that recent years of polling among Arab populations indicates that "even [Arabs] who value freedom and democracy did not want our [U.S.] assistance in promoting democracy in their country."5

Lawmakers and presidential candidates will likely address their views on democracy promotion as they debate U.S. foreign policy issues in the coming months. Some candidates may feel compelled to reject democracy promotion entirely, in reaction to the policy of a controversial President who elevated it to a high level of importance in his foreign policy. However, a more important question to be answered may be how to determine when, where, and how democracy promotion should be applied to be most effective.

Defining Democracy

Dating back to about 500 B.C.E., democracies existed in both Greece and Italy. The term democracy comes from the Greek words demos, the people, and craits, to rule. Today, democracy is an abstract term that is difficult to define and can have different meanings, depending on the speaker and context. In the most common understanding, democracy generally refers to a political system with certain minimum elements: effective participation by the people (either directly or through representation) under a constitution, respect for human rights, and political equality before the law for both minorities and the majority.

The lack of a clear definition of democracy and a comprehensive understanding of its basic elements may have created multiple problems for U.S. policy making, according to some. Arguably, the lack of clear definition has hampered the formulation of democracy promotion policy and effective prioritizing of democracy promotion activities over the years. Also the lack of definition can complicate coordination of democracy programs and the assessment of U.S. government activities and funding. Further, without a consensus on the definition of democracy, what criteria will determine when a country has attained an acceptable level of democratic reform and no longer needs American assistance?

According to Richard Haass, former State Department official and current President of the Council on Foreign Relations, democracy is more than elections; it is a diffusion of power where no group within a society is excluded from full participation in political life. Democracy requires checks and balances within the government, among various levels of government (national, state and local), and between government and society. Elements such as independent media, unions, political parties, schools, and democratic rights for women provide checks on government power over society. Individual rights such as freedom of speech and worship need to be protected. Furthermore, a democratic government must face the check of electable opposition and leaders must hand over power peacefully.6

One scholar, Laurence Whitehead, discusses the various academic attempts to define democracy, pointing out that the definition has varied over time, and among cultures (with even subtle differences in British and American understandings of key elements of democracy), and arguing that the "outer boundaries" of the concept of democracy are "to a significant ... extent malleable and negotiable.... "7 "Democracy has some indispensable components, without which the concept would be vacuous, but these indispensable elements are skeletal and can in any case be arranged in various possible configurations," Whitehead posits.8 He argues that democracy requires the minimal procedural conditions (safeguarding free and fair elections, freedom of speech and association, and the integrity of elective office) as described by other scholars.9 Yet, he cautions, these minimal procedures only establish "contingently and for the present period ... a rather coherent and broad-based exposition of the predominant view." He notes that the meaning of democracy "is likely to remain contested, and even to some extent unstable, as current processes of democratization unfold."10 "Democratization," he thus writes, "is best understood as a complex, long-term, dynamic, and open-ended process. It consists of progress towards a more rule-based, more consensual and more participatory type of politics. Like 'democracy' it necessarily involves a combination of fact and value, and so contains internal tensions."11

Lack of a generally accepted view of democracy is evident in multilateral organizations, such as Freedom House and the Community of Democracies, dedicated to the cause of good governance. Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization (NGO) founded in the 1940s, supports freedom worldwide, rating countries' level of freedom rather than defining or measuring democracy. Freedom House rates countries as free, partly free, or not free via numerical assessments of a country's political rights and civil liberties.

Political rights enable people to participate freely in the political process, including the right to vote freely for distinct alternatives in legitimate elections, compete for public office, join political parties and organizations, and elect representatives who have a decisive impact on public policies and are accountable to the electorate. Civil liberties allow for the freedoms of expression and belief, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy without interference from the state.12

Freedom House states that it is not enough that a country has elections to be considered free; it must have a competitive multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage for all citizens, regularly contested elections with secret ballots, and public access to major political parties. According to the Freedom House mission statement, "Freedom is possible only in democratic political systems in which the governments are accountable to their own people, the rule of law prevails; and freedoms of expression, association, belief and respect for the rights of minorities and women are guaranteed."13

The Community of Democracies consists of over 100 nations that first met in 2000 to form a coalition of countries that are committed to promoting and strengthening democracies worldwide. This organization does not define democracy, but does provide criteria for participation in the Community. (See Appendix A for its stated criteria.)

Congress has demonstrated its concern for the lack of a consistent definition for democracy. The Senate Foreign Operations Appropriation Committee Report for FY2006 (S.Rept. 109-96/H.R. 3057) stated, "The Committee remains concerned that the State Department and USAID do not share a common definition of a democracy program. For the purposes of this Act, 'a democracy program' means technical assistance and other support to strengthen the capacity of democratic political parties, governments, non-governmental institutions, and/or citizens, in order to support the development of democratic states, institutions and practices that are responsive and accountable to citizens."14

The following year, the Senate Appropriations Committee Report for FY2007 (S.Rept. 109-277/H.R. 5522) asserted, "to ensure a common understanding of democracy programs among United States Government agencies, the Committee defines in the act 'the promotion of democracy' to include programs that support good governance, human rights, independent media, and the rule of law, and otherwise strengthen the capacity of democratic political parties, NGOs, and citizens to support the development of democratic states, institutions and practices that are responsible and accountable to citizens."15

Democracies: Real or in Name Only

Further complicating defining democracy are the various designations for differing types of systems that call themselves democracies. While numerous (and at times overlapping) labels exist, typical references among the various terms for limited democracies include electoral democracies, liberal democracies, pseudo-democracies, and semi-authoritarian governments. Adding confusion to the debate on democracy promotion is whether recipients of democracy promotion assistance attain what is judged to be a complete or incomplete democratic transition.

Electoral democracy, according to Larry Diamond, is a civilian, constitutional system in which the legislative and chief executive offices are filled through regular competitive multiparty elections with universal suffrage.16 Electoral process is a minimum requirement for a government to be referred to as a democracy. Most experts agree, however, that elections are not enough.

Liberal democracy has all of what an electoral democracy has plus a constitution that directs government institutions, rule of law, and civil liberties equally to all citizens, including the state and its agents. It also has an independent judiciary that protects liberties. Freedom House uses this set of requirements to describe its category of "free."

Pseudo-democracies, non-democracies, and illiberal democracies are categories of governments that are minimally democratic. They are marginally different from authoritarian regimes as they contain some aspects of electoral democracies such as the existence of multiple parties, but hold little real competition for power among those political parties. Pseudo-democracies include "'hegemonic party systems' in which a relatively institutionalized ruling party makes extensive use of coercion, patronage, media control, and other features to deny formally legal opposition parties a fair and authentic chance to compete for power."17 Non-democracies include semi-authoritarian and authoritarian regimes. These types of governments may have a certain level of freedom or may even appear to hold elections. Conversely, however, they may be totalitarian regimes—rigidly closed governments. Illiberal democracies have free and fair elections but do not provide civil liberties and political rights to the masses. Some critics and democracy experts argue that past democracy promotion efforts were focused too heavily on free elections, ignoring some of the necessary underpinnings of democracy, such as tolerance for minority views, rule of law, and freedom of the press.

Why Promote Democracy?

When U.S. administrations have encouraged democratic reform, they have claimed that benefits for the country, its neighbors, the United States, and the world will result. Many experts believe that extending democracy can reduce terrorism while encouraging global political stability and economic prosperity. In its 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, the George W. Bush Administration cites democracy promotion as a long-term solution for winning the War on Terror.18 In contrast, others claim that, in some instances, promoting democracy can be a destabilizing factor in a country, as well as its region, and have documented a backlash to democracy promotion, including restrictions on freedom in some countries where democracy promotion has taken place.19 The benefits and costs of democracy promotion may vary, depending on the circumstances in which the programs are carried out. For example, costs could be starkly different if democracy is militarily imposed on a country as opposed to the country itself taking the initiative.

On the other hand, some scholars believe that democracy promotion can succeed even in seemingly inhospitable environments. While Whitehead points out the difficulties of achieving democracy, he also notes the widespread aspirations for democracy. Comparative evidence, he states, "is clear that in a surprisingly wide range of countries and regions ... both elite and popular opinion can be energized" by the democracy promotion programs of the established powers of the post-war international system. "The desire to participate can generate democratizing aspirations that extend beyond the boundaries of any single nation, and that may drive cumulative long-term change even in the face of intervening disappointments and distortions."20 "Durable democracies," he concludes, "can be regarded as regimes that have slowly evolved under pressure from their citizens, and that have therefore been adapted both to the structural realities and to the social expectations of the societies in which they have become established."21

Assessment of Perceived Benefits

A common rationale offered by proponents of democracy promotion, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is that democracies do not go to war with one another. This is sometimes referred to as the democratic peace theory. Experts point to European countries, the United States, Canada, and Mexico as present-day examples. According to President Clinton's National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement: "Democracies create free markets that offer economic opportunity, make for more reliable trading partners, and are far less likely to wage war on one another."22

Some have refined this democracy peace theory by distinguishing between mature democracies and those in transition, suggesting that mature democracies do not fight wars with each other, but that countries transitioning toward democracy are more prone to being attacked (because of weak governmental institutions) or being aggressive toward others. States that made transitions from an autocracy toward early stages of democracy and were involved in hostilities soon after include France in the mid-1800s under Napoleon III, Prussia/Germany under Bismarck (1870-1890), Chile shortly before the War of the Pacific in 1879, Serbia's multiparty constitutional monarchy before the Balkan Wars of the late 20th Century, and Pakistan's military-guided pseudo-democracy before its wars with India in 1965 and 1971.23

The George W. Bush Administration asserts that democracy promotion is a long-term antidote to terrorism. The Administration's Strategy for Winning the War on Terror asserts that inequality in political participation and access to wealth resources in a country, lack of freedom of speech, and poor education all breed volatility. By promoting basic human rights, freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, association and press, and by maintaining order within their borders and providing an independent justice system, effective democracies can defeat terrorism in the long run, according to the Bush White House.24

Another reason given to encourage democracies (although debated by some experts) is the belief that democracies promote economic prosperity. From this perspective, as the rule of law leads to a more stable society and as equal economic opportunity for all helps to spur economic activity, economic growth, particularly of per capita income, is likely to follow. In addition, a democracy under this scenario may be more likely to be viewed by other countries as a good trading partner and by outside investors as a more stable environment for investment, according to some experts. Moreover, countries that have developed as stable democracies are viewed as being more likely to honor treaties, according to some experts.25

Potential Downsides

According to some critics, pushing democracy promotion as a primary objective of U.S. national security and foreign policy has reduced support, and generated a skepticism around the world, for democracy promotion activities. According to one study:

"[T]he rhetorical conflation by the Bush Administration and its allies of the war in Iraq and democracy promotion has muddied the meaning of the democracy project, diminishing support for it at home and abroad.... Some of those opposed to the invasion of Iraq, Americans and others, appear to have been alienated from democracy promotion more generally and this is to be regretted."26

While most U.S. democracy promotion does not involve the military, the high military and opportunity cost of some activities currently associated with democracy promotion is criticized by many observers, especially when democracy is imposed by outsiders rather than initiated by local citizens.27 Democracy promotion expenditures compete with domestic spending priorities. Critics note that using the various tools to promote democracy abroad—foreign aid, military intervention, diplomacy, and public diplomacy—can be very expensive and may provide little assurance that real long-term gains will be made. They add that it involves a high probability of sustaining costly long-term nation-building programs down the road. At some point, Americans could view the opportunity cost of spending these funds overseas rather than on domestic programs or other pressing global concerns, such as infectious disease and extreme poverty, as being too great.

Another concern about democracy promotion is that it can have a destabilizing effect on an entire region. A 2005 Harvard Study concluded that "[Our] research shows that incomplete democratic transitions—those that get stalled before reaching the stage of full democracy—increase the chance of involvement in international war in countries where governmental institutions are weak at the outset of the transition."28 At times, the region can become unstable because the transitioning country initiates cross-border attacks, or may be the victim of these attacks, particularly if it has weak democratic institutions or a weak military.29

While many democracy promotion proponents assert that democracies "don't war with each other," a critic on the democracy peace theory, Joanne Gowa of Princeton, contends that this theory has more to do with the alignment of interests and the bipolar balance in the world after World War II than democracy/peace characteristics that many today claim exist. She says that democratic peace is a Cold War phenomenon; that is, the available data show that democratic peace is limited to the years between 1946 and 1980.30 She additionally points out that there are nondemocracies that do not war with each other and may be able to constrain their leaders from embarking on military actions abroad about as effectively as democracies.31

Some view democracy programs as inappropriately interfering in the domestic politics of foreign countries, often producing a backlash (sometimes citing Russia) against the organizations—both foreign and domestic—that carry them out. In recent years, the United States has invested effort and money in democracy promotion in Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. The recent backlash against democratic reform in Russia, the elections of anti-American governments in the Palestinian Territories, and the rise to elected office of Hezbollah in Lebanon have caused some to question the value of U.S. democracy promotion investments. U.S. government and NGO assistance for civil society strengthening also can lead to human rights repercussions, triggering some governments to react by clamping down on NGO activities and on the local citizens.

Nevertheless, a 2006 USAID-commissioned study concluded that U.S. democracy and governance assistance does have a positive effect on democracy growth worldwide.32

Determinants of Success

A perfect democracy where all citizens have equal say in their government and where the government is responsive equally to each of its citizens does not exist. Just as democracies can evolve and grow more democratic, so too can they devolve and become abusive, corrupt, unresponsive and unaccountable to their population. Moreover, populations can become disinterested in working to maintain a democracy. At what point can a country be declared a successful democracy?

Achieving Success: Means, Measures, and Challenges

A small number of successful transitions to democracy that began in the 1980s and that have endured provide promise and hope for the success of ongoing and future efforts. For example, four transitions—Chile, the Philippines, Poland, and South Africa—are often cited as full successes,33 the first two of which were transitions from authoritarian regimes, the third from a communist regime, and the last from a racial apartheid. Other successful cases are sometimes characterized as democracies still tainted by their state corporativist legacies, for instance Taiwan and South Korea.34 These and other, perhaps less long-standing, examples—for instance, Mozambique and Mali—illustrate the variety of circumstances from which democracy can emerge. In addition, several transitions from conflict have been recently viewed by some experts as demonstrating a fair degree of success (i.e., Algeria, Bosnia, El Salvador, Liberia, Serbia, and Sierra Leone), although interpretations differ depending on the factors emphasized.

Despite the successes, democratization has proved to be a highly uncertain venture. One recent study showed that only 23% of transitions from authoritarian governments over the three decades from 1972 to 2003 resulted in democratic governments, while the great majority (77%) resulted in another authoritarian regime.35 Often, as in the cases listed above as demonstrating some success, transitions are incomplete and subject to backsliding under adverse political and economic strains. Indeed, there are several countries where backsliding has been notable, including Russia and countries in Central Asia. December 2007 post-election violence in Kenya also demonstrates backsliding. There is some evidence that democratization across the globe has slowed or stagnated over the past decade, and that many countries "in transition" are now resisting international democratization efforts.36

The United States provides democracy assistance to many countries in a variety of circumstances and with mixed degrees of success. Analysts categorize country circumstances and affects of assistance in different ways. Generally, analysts have viewed U.S. democracy aid as facilitating transitions either from authoritarian or communist rule, as in Latin America and Central Europe, or from conflict, as in Bosnia and African nations such as Sierra Leone and Liberia.37 The range of U.S. democracy promotion activities and programs also varies greatly, from assistance for elections to aid in developing institutions and to funding of civil society groups. (These types of assistance are discussed below.) Thus far, there is little agreement among experts and practitioners on the circumstances in which democracy promotion success may be achieved; the appropriate emphasis, sequencing, and mix of programs to achieve it; and the time frame necessary for an enduring democracy to take hold.

Beyond the lack of consensus on what programs work best in certain circumstances, the countries themselves have obstacles preventing their success in attaining a democratic government. Many interests and emotions come into play during such political transitions. Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace warns of some fundamental impediments: "The truth that politics involves harshly competing interests, bitter power struggles, and fundamentally conflicting values—not to mention greed, stupidity, and hatred—is downplayed until it asserts itself, unwanted, at some later stage."38 Generally, post-conflict situations are considered more difficult and the success rate is considered lower, although even where transitions have been seen as relatively smooth and successful, as in Central Europe, recent events suggest that democratic change in post-authoritarian circumstances can be difficult. Backsliding in some countries, such as Kenya, increases the difficulty of determining not only when success has been achieved, but consolidating lessons learned to refine the means of achieving success.

Means: Elections, Institutions, and Civil Society

The view that democracy would be achieved if political leaders could be persuaded to govern democratically, or when reasonably free and fair elections are held, has given way to a range of other conditions that must be met for a country to be considered a sustainable democracy. The idea that elections are a sufficient measure of success was discarded as analysts realized that this measure "ignores the degree to which multiparty elections (even if they are competitive and uncertain in outcome) may exclude significant portions of the population from contesting for power or advancing and defending their interests, or may leave significant arenas of decision making beyond the control of elected officials."39 Subsequently, two other means to establish a democracy have become recognized as essential, although opinion is divided as to which is the more important.

One is the promotion of strong democratic institutions. Diamond argues that the political institutionalization—the establishment of "capable, complex, coherent and responsive" formal institutions of democracy is the "single most important and urgent factor in the consolidation of democracy.... "40 "If it is a liberal democracy that we have in mind, then the political system must also provide for a rule of law, and rigorously protect the right of individuals and groups to speak, publish, assemble, demonstrate, lobby, and organize." He lists a full range of institutions (i.e, "political parties, legislatures, judicial systems, local government, and the bureaucratic structures of the state more generally").41 Carothers points to "troubled political parties" as an "ubiquitous institutional deficiency" in "the global landscape of attempted democratization," examines their problems, and suggests new approaches to political party assistance.42

Democracy assistance efforts may well face a wide range of impediments to the establishment of viable institutions, however. According to Carothers, those promoting transitions may often encounter "entrenched concentrations of political power ... deeply rooted habits of patronage and corruption ... mutually hostile socioeconomic or ethnic groups ..." (i.e., the underlying interests and power relationships that are most often resistant to change).43 He suggests that democracy assistance programs will be more effective by "building the underlying interests and power relationships into [them]," but warns that effective programs "require much deeper knowledge about the recipient society than most aid providers have or want to take the trouble to acquire."44

The other means to promoting democracy is the creation of a vibrant civil society, which many argue is the sine qua non for a functioning democracy. Karatnycky views "an active and dynamic civil society" as "the crucial agent in ensuring a durable, democratic outcome.... [T]he evidence from dozens of post-conflict and post-authoritarian transitions shows that the best way for advanced democracies to increase the chances for successful support of democratic openings is by maximizing the resources devoted to the development of civic nonviolent forces."45 In a study published in 2002, he cited East Timor as a "case of international intervention where it appears that things are going right" with major credit because of the international community's "major investment ... for independent civil life, which bodes well for the future." Reinforcing his judgment on the importance of civil society is his view that "civic empowerment appears to be more significant in determining democratic outcomes than whether or not a society suffered wrenching violence." Although some experts, such as Carothers and Diamond, believe that political institutionalization is more critical, Diamond points to civil society as promoting not only a transition to democracy, but also its "deepening" and consolidation once democracy is established.46 While in Diamond's view, civil society does not play the central role initially, "the more active, pluralistic, resourceful, institutionalized, and internally democratic civil society is ... the more likely democracy will be to emerge and endure."47

A lack of funding is often viewed as the most significant obstacle for the creation of civil society non-governmental organizations in developing and even middle-income countries. Many of these countries, including the upper-middle-income countries such as Chile and Argentina where international donors are likely to withdraw support, are "weak in the social capital and public-spiritedness which enable civil society organizations to raise substantial funds from the private sectors of their own countries," according to Diamond.48 Without help from abroad, the only recourse for such organizations is to turn to the state for funding, which creates its own problems.

The importance of any one of these three means to democracy is a subjective judgment, as analysts' opinions can differ and may well vary by type and even over time. In a comparative study, Karatnycky views two countries torn by conflict in the 1980s (i.e., Nicaragua and El Salvador) as two success stories, which are "now relatively stable democracies with competitive multiparty systems."49 Although he attributes success to strengthening of democratic civil society in Nicaragua and to centrist and reform movements in El Salvador that helped build "vibrant civic sectors," Karatnycky also judges another factor as important (i.e., that both countries had multiparty electoral structures during the periods of conflict that were conducive to the use of elections as vehicles for eventual national reconciliation).50

Continuing Challenges

Democracy promotion is a highly uncertain art. In an era of constrained resources, the policy and budgetary implications of identifying the most appropriate modes and settings for democracy assistance, and the means to success, can be profound. Even basic concepts are far from settled.

Many analysts, for instance, view transitions from conflict as a much greater challenge than the transition from authoritarian regimes. While transitions from authoritarian and communist regimes involve creating an entirely new political order, and in communist regimes in particular a new economic order, post-conflict transitions involve overcoming bitterly divided societies and economic devastation. Many analysts suggest that post-conflict settings have special needs, especially because ethnic loyalties and divisions may complicate the implementation of peace settlements. For instance, "the danger of holding elections too early in a peace process, the need to blend them with broader negotiations setting the political rules, and the importance of avoiding winner-take-all scenarios" are important considerations in post-conflict transitions, according to Carothers, who argues that democracy promotion should be supplemented by other efforts. "Aid providers are also focusing on reconciliation as an essential element of democratization in such situations, an element that should be supported by aid efforts that consciously combine democracy and conflict resolution methodologies."51 Some analysts suggest that success and difficulties in democracy promotion in post-conflict settings can vary by the nature of the conflict, however. "Success in such settings tends to be found in situations where the conflict is based on politics rather than on ethnic or religious differences," according Karatnycky, who cites El Salvador and Nicaragua as two successes of the former sort.52

In addition to the widespread view of ethnic differences as an impediment to democracy building, most analysts believe that democracy is more likely to succeed in areas with previous experience in and cultures adapted to democracy. "It is clear that countries with no history of democracy, with desperate economic conditions and powerful internal divisions are having a much harder time making democracy work than countries with some pluralistic traditions, a growing economy, and a cohesive social and cultural makeup," according to Carothers. "Democracy promoters are just beginning to relate democracy aid to the full range of factors bearing on democracy beyond the political institutions and immediate problems of political life" including economic conditions, educational levels, historical traditions, and social and cultural divisions.53 Democracy promoters are gaining "an appreciation of the varied political paths, each requiring different approaches for democracy aid."54

Other analysts, however, discount ethnic differences and cultural factors as a special impediment to democracy promotion. A 2003 RAND study on nation-building concluded that "it is the level of effort the United States and the international community put into the democratic transitions of Germany, Japan, Bosnia, and Kosovo that led to relative success versus Somalia, Haiti, and Afghanistan, not the latter's levels of Western culture, economic development, or cultural homogeneity."55 "Nation-building ... is a time- and resource-consuming effort," the authors contend. "The United States and its allies have put 25 times more money and 50 times more troops, on a per capita basis, into postconflict Kosovo than into postconflict Afghanistan. This higher level of input accounts in significant measure for the higher level of output measured in the development of democratic institutions and economic growth."56 The RAND analysts argue that democracy promotion efforts may succeed in spite of specific difficulties: "The spread of democracy in Latin America, Asia, and parts of Africa suggests that this form of government is not unique to Western culture or to advanced industrial economies: Democracy can, indeed, take root in circumstances where neither exists."57

Differences in expectations and opinion regarding the circumstances and causes of success may reflect the time frame, as well as factors examined. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a prime example of the many lenses through which a transition can be viewed and the factors that come into play in bringing about success. For instance, in a study published in 2002, Karatnycky views democracy promotion in Bosnia, an ethnically divided country, as unpromising, and faulted the 1995 Dayton Accord that ended the civil conflict there as freezing the country "in an ethno-political deadlock."58 On the other hand, the RAND study, published a year later, views Bosnia as achieving "a number of important successes," including helping to "ensure a united, multiethnic Bosnia."59 It cites this outcome as evidence for its conclusion that ethnic divisions and a lack of democratic antecedents and democratic culture are not necessarily impediments to a transition to democracy.60 In addition to the level of international effort that the study pointed to, Bosnia's geographic "neighborhood" may contribute to its relative success. Some analysts have cited the prospect and requirements of European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership as encouraging democratization in the Balkans and Central Europe,61 and some believe that Bosnia's proximity to, and the prospect of membership in, the European Union is an important incentive to democratization there.

Difficulties of Defining and Measuring the Success of Democracy Projects and Efforts

Actual measurement of the effect of democracy promotion projects on democratization is, in the words of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), "an overwhelming, if not impossible, task."62 In a March 2006 report to Congress, the NED pointed out that success could have many definitions, ranging from "whether the democratization of a country was the result of efforts made by a particular action or set of actions to whether a single action moved forward one building block within a much larger democratization effort."63 NED notes that it does not believe "that democratic progress can be quantified in any meaningful way,"64 and even if it were possible to reliably assess outcomes quantitatively, the cost would be prohibitive. Even qualitative measures can be misleading, according to the NED report, if they do not take into account a wide variety of criteria on a case-by-case basis. Among other factors, even qualitative assessments must take into account whether a case is high-risk, whether sponsored groups operate under limiting or deteriorating conditions, and whether projects are sponsored as "long-term investments" in countries where democratization is not expected to occur for many years.

Measuring the effects of democracy efforts as a whole, however necessary, can be even more problematic. In an appendix to the 2006 NED report to Congress, Stanford University's Michael McFaul points to the need for a comprehensive assessment of the global results of democracy promotion and suggests a detailed project design for such a study. The lack of such an assessment, as well as a lack of derivative materials for practitioners, is, in his judgment, an important policy problem:

Currently, there is a scarcity of literature to inform and guide the decisions of senior policymakers.... Every day, literally tens of thousands of people in the democracy promotion business go to work without training manuals or blueprints in hand. Even published case studies of previous successes are hard to find in the public domain, which means that democracy assistance efforts are often reinventing the wheel or making it up as they go along, as was on vivid display in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Even basic educational materials for students seeking to specialize in democracy promotion do not exist.65

U.S. Government Activities to Promote Democracy

For years, the U.S. government has supported numerous bilateral and multilateral activities that promote democracy around the world. Both the executive and congressional branches of government are involved.

Executive Branch Activities

The Bush Administration has been heavily invested in promoting democracy to other countries. A theme in Secretary Rice's Transformational Diplomacy, announced in January 2006, is her plan to reform U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance activities with a key objective of promoting democracy in other countries.66

Bilateral Programs

Specific executive branch bilateral government activities that support democracy reform include providing aid to support election procedures and good governance practices, assisting in building the legal system, assisting in military and police training, and teaching the importance of a free press. Public diplomacy programs such as U.S. international broadcasting, exchanges, and international information programs promote democracies overseas by showcasing American democracy and culture. Some exchanges provide foreign participants with training and experience in broadcast or print media techniques. The Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), a foreign assistance program proposed by President Bush in 2002 and authorized by Congress in 2004, was designed to provide foreign aid to countries that make progress toward democratic and economic reform.

The Department of State is considered to be the lead policy agency for democracy promotion activities; others involved with democracy promotion include the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which usually takes the lead on implementation, as well as the Departments of Defense and Justice, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. In addition, numerous NGOs, including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and The Asia Foundation, are fully involved in democracy promotion abroad. They receive congressionally appropriated funds that are passed to them through the Department of State's budget.

U.S. government funding for democracy programs is primarily within the State Department/Foreign Operations budget. Referred to as the Governing Justly and Democratically strategic objective, this funding is allocated by account and by region. (See Table 1 below.) Governing Justly and Democratically includes four elements:

  • Rule of Law and Human Rights. Funding under this heading supports constitutions, laws and legal systems, justice systems, judicial independence, and human rights.
  • Good Governance. Funding under this supports legislative functions and processes, public sector executive functions, security sector governance, anti-corruption reforms, local governance, and decentralization.
  • Political Competition and Consensus-Building. This category supports elections and political processes, political parties, and consensus-building processes.
  • Civil Society. Funding focuses on media freedom, freedom of information, and civic participation.

In addition to funds for Governing Justly and Democratically, the Department of State budget contains funds that are transferred to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and The Asia Foundation. NED's FY2008 total request is $80 million, of which about $70 million will go for democracy program support. The Asia Foundation's FY2008 total budget request is $10 million, of which about $8.8 million will support democracy promotion. Therefore, the total estimated funding request for democracy promotion activities in FY2008 was over $1.5 billion out of a total foreign affairs budget request of $36.2 billion.

Table 1. Governing Justly and Democratically Programs:
FY2008 Funding Request, by Region

($ U.S. thousands)

















ANE Regional




Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor



Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance




East Asia & Pacific





Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade



Europe and Eurasia




International Narcotics and Law Enforcement



International Organizations



Near East




South and Central Asia






Western Hemisphere
















Notes: DA=Development Assistance, ESF=Economic Support Fund, TI=Transition Initiatives, SEED=Support for Eastern European Democracy, FSA=Freedom Support Act, INCLE=International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, ACI=Andean Counterdrug Initiative, IO&P=International Organizations and Programs

Source: The Department of State, Office of the Director of Foreign Assistance, August 24, 2007.

Multilateral Programs

The U.S. government also contributes to a number of multilateral efforts to promote or monitor democratic reform around the world. Included are the United Nations Development Program, the U.N. Democracy Fund, the Community of Democracies, and Freedom House, as well as the World Bank and the Organization of American States (OAS).

An indication of the level of importance Secretary Rice places on democracy promotion is her announcement to establish the Advisory Commission on Democracy Promotion to "help us think about the issues of democracy promotion, to from time to time give us constructive criticism on what it is that we're doing, as well as constructive suggestions about what more we might do." What the Commission will not do, however, which many foreign policy observers say is needed, is coordinate all the many facets of democracy promotion activities in which the U.S. government is involved. A coordination mechanism, experts say, would contribute to improving the effectiveness and efficiency of ongoing programs and would help to minimize the possibility of democracy promotion programs and U.S. tax dollars working at cross purposes. Furthermore, some observers note, there is a lack of global coordination among developed countries supporting democracy promotion throughout the world. From their perspective, improved communication among developed democracies and letting each specialize in its area of comparative advantage, whether economic, cultural, or geographical, could further democracy promotion effectiveness worldwide while keeping costs down.

Congressional Involvement

Congress also plays a role in democracy promotion. Setting funding levels and providing oversight of Administration democracy promotion programs are typically how Congress influences U.S. democracy promotion programs. The House of Representatives also created the House Democracy Assistance Commission (HDAC) to help other governments' legislative branches evolve. (See below and Appendix B for a history of congressional democracy promotion activities.)

From the 101st Congress through the first session of the 110th Congress, numerous pieces of legislation were introduced and passed to authorize and appropriate funds for democracy promotion in specific countries and regions, and to press governments of non-democratic countries to begin a process of democratization. Significant sums were appropriated for democracy programs through the annual State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations. In FY2006, Congress created the Democracy Fund in the Foreign Operations Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2006 (P.L. 109-102, Title III), which provided $94.1 million for various democracy promotion activities in FY2006 and the same amount for FY2007.67 In addition, Congress passed the Implementation of the 9/11 Commission Act (P.L. 110-53/H.R. 1), which includes Title XXI, Advancing Democratic Values, Subtitle A—Activities to Enhance the Promotion of Democracy.

In the first session of the 110th Congress, several bills involving democracy promotion were introduced. The ADVANCE Democracy Act of 2007 (H.R. 982), introduced on February 12, 2007, by Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA) and others, contains provisions to promote democracy in foreign countries, calls for specific State Department actions and reports with regard to non-democracies, aims to strengthen the "Community of Democracies," and authorizes funding for democracy assistance for FY2008 and FY2009. Other bills introduced in the 110th Congress address democracy in individual countries, including the Ukraine, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Serbia.

Building on a long tradition of supporting the development of democracies and democratic institutions around the world in many ways,68 Congress currently carries out its own program to support legislatures in new democracies. The House Democracy Assistance Commission (HDAC) was created in March 2005, in effect the successor effort to previous congressional legislative assistance programs in the 1990s. HDAC was established to enable Members, officers, and staff of the House of Representatives and congressional support agencies to provide expert advice to fledgling legislatures on subjects such as committee operations, oversight, constituent relations, parliamentary procedures, and the establishment of support services. To date, the HDAC has assisted legislatures of 12 countries throughout the world.69

Considerations for Congress

The democracy promotion rubric encompasses a wide range of policies and activities. As noted in the previous section on measuring success, experts have yet to carry out the type of comprehensive studies that can reliably establish a cause-and-effect relationship between efforts and outcomes. Nevertheless, there is a general sense that some types of situations are harder to influence than others and require considerable debate over the appropriate balance of U.S. interests and risks to the domestic populations in the high cost-high stakes cases. The following provides an overview of perceptions of different types of cases and the debate about the circumstances in which assistance is appropriate.

At the low cost-low risk end of the spectrum are programs whose distinctive feature is that assistance is targeted to countries that have already embarked on democratic transitions independently and with strong domestic popular support, as in Central Europe, the Baltic countries, and some countries of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Such assistance has been requested and embraced by the receiving countries. Most of these countries were committed to democratic reforms, with or without foreign assistance, and might have succeeded without it. It is difficult to document and quantify the value added of U.S. and other assistance programs. However, the general belief in donor and recipient countries, alike, is that democracy promotion activities, largely consisting of training and technical assistance, have had a positive impact at a relatively modest cost. Even where governments have seemingly retreated from their democratic course, as many would argue is the case in Russia today, such programs are seen as worth the investment and possibly having a longer-term positive impact.

Medium cost-medium risk efforts include programs to help bring stability and democracy to postconflict societies in which an intrastate conflict has resulted in a brokered peace agreement. The challenges are often greater and the prospects more uncertain because the populations have only begun a process of reconciliation. Often, new systems are being imposed from outside as part of a peace settlement, without buy-in, necessarily, from all parties. These transitions frequently require international enforcement and monitoring with civilian officials and military forces on the ground, making such efforts much more costly but with the potential for a substantial payoff if they can bring stability to a crisis region, bolster potential failed states, and deny terrorist sanctuaries. The road to success may be significantly longer, and the outcome much less certain, than where democracy was launched from within under relatively stable circumstances. Such efforts have been seen as achieving positive results in countries of the former Yugoslavia, East Timor, and elsewhere.

The debate among policy makers has centered on the high-cost, high-risk, high-stakes cases (i.e., efforts to foster domestically driven transitions from authoritarian regimes and the imposition of regime change through military intervention).

Experts and policy makers are still wrestling with the challenges of whether and how to promote democracy in authoritarian states that are key allies and of strategic importance to the United States. In these cases, applying a principled approach consistent with our rhetoric by pressuring governments to ease repression and instituting real democratic reform could unleash forces far worse than what now exists in these countries, some believe. Often, authoritarian governments that the United States needs and that need the United States, especially in the fight against terrorism, are unwilling to liberalize and warn that to do so would risk bringing extremist forces to the fore. On the other hand, some argue, the failure to oppose regimes viewed as corrupt and ruthless by their own people has been pointed to as one of the major factors impeding U.S. success in the larger battle for "hearts and minds," especially in the Islamic World from which terrorists seek to draw recruits and support.

The imposition of democracy through military intervention, with the ultimate goal of imposing a new democratic system, is, if possible, even more problematic. Regime change through military force has worked in some cases, such as Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989, where the goal was to restore a pre-existing constitutional order. In more recent military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq to oust existing despotic regimes, the goal of building democracy initially was secondary, but later became primary. The difficulties of establishing democracy in those cases is reminiscent of other cases of military intervention by the United States and other countries, such as Somalia, Lebanon, and Vietnam, where questions were raised as to whether the cultural or institutional basis for democracy exists, and whether such conditions could be fostered through intervention.70 While some doubt that even limited democracy is possible in such cases, others argue that U.S. interests in promoting democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, as models for Middle Eastern development, is so high that the United States would be making a serious error if it did not try.

Even if democracy becomes clearly defined, can administrations investing in democracy promotion ever rest assured that a country transitioning toward democratic reform will not backslide? According to a leading democracy expert, "Democracy can deteriorate at any point in its development; its quality and stability can never be taken for granted."71 Some question if—once the United States has been involved in democracy promotion in a particular country—it can ever withdraw. And others wonder how many countries can the U.S. government push toward democracy before the American taxpayer says "enough." By clearly identifying, targeting, and coordinating assistance to countries that have the greatest potential for succeeding to become democracies,72 the U.S. taxpayers stand the best chance of benefitting from a foreign policy that includes funding democracy reform overseas.

Appendix A. Requirements for the Community of Democracies73

While the Community of Democracies does not define what a democracy is, it has established a list of requirements that countries must meet to become members. To become a member of the Community of Democracies, governments must have the following characteristics:

  • Free, fair and periodic elections, by universal and equal suffrage, conducted by secret ballot.
  • The freedom to form democratic political parties that can participate in elections.
  • A guarantee that everyone can exercise his or her right to take part in the government of his or her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
  • The rule of law.
  • The obligation of an elected government to protect and defend the constitution, refraining from extra-constitutional actions and to relinquish power when its legal mandate ends.
  • Ensuring equality before the law and equal protection under the law, including equal access to the law.
  • Separation of powers, separation of the judiciary, legislative and executive independence of the judiciary from the political or any other power and ensuring that the military remains accountable to democratically elected civilian government.
  • The respect of human rights, fundamental freedoms and the inherent dignity of the human being, notably.
  • Freedom of thought, conscience, religion, belief, peaceful assembly and association, freedom of speech, of opinion and of expression, including to exchange and receive ideas and information through any media, regardless of frontiers: free, independent and pluralistic media.
  • The right of every person to be free from arbitrary arrest or detention from torture or any other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • The right to a fair trial, including to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and to be sentenced proportionally to the crime, free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment.
  • The right to full and non-discriminatory participation, regardless of gender, race, colour, language, religion or belief, in the political, economical and cultural life.
  • The promotion of gender equality.
  • The rights of children, elderly, and persons with disabilities.
  • The rights of national, ethnic, and religious or linguistic minorities, including the right to freely express, preserve, and develop their identity.
  • The right of individuals to shape their own destiny free from any illegitimate constraint.

Governments are to defend and to protect all of these rights and to provide the appropriate legislation for this purpose. The observance of international law, as well as of internationally accepted democratic principles and values, and respect for universally accepted labour standards, is required.

Appendix B. Background on Congressional Democracy Promotion Activities


Congressional interest in U.S. policies aimed at protecting, strengthening, or reestablishing democracy in other parts of the world has a long history. After World War II, Congress was at first skeptical about further aid to Europe but eventually supported Administration policies to help war-torn western Europe and Japan on a bipartisan basis. The Marshall Plan and other economic aid programs were endorsed in the belief that U.S. security and prosperity would be furthered by the emergence of stable and prosperous democracies in Western Europe and Japan.74 During the Cold War, this approach was not always followed. Authoritarian regimes were supported by both Congress and the executive branch, for example, during certain periods in Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Turkey, as a perceived bulwark against the expansion of communism.

At the same time, Congress took a strong interest in U.S. policies aimed at fostering liberalization and advancing individual freedom and loosening Moscow's control in Soviet-dominated communist countries. Through the 1950s and 1960s, much of this support was rhetorical, as containment of Soviet power within its existing sphere of influence remained the dominant U.S. strategy.75 However by the "detente" period of the 1970s, Congress saw real opportunities for fostering liberalization in Eastern Europe. Following the conclusion of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and the signing of the CSCE Final Act in 1975, Congress established a Commission (the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe or "Helsinki" Commission) in 1976, as a joint congressional-executive body to oversee U.S. efforts to implement provisions that would help to ease government repression and enhance human rights in the Soviet sphere.76 Today, the renamed Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has a core mission to support democratic development in all 56 member states, including the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Members of Congress are directly engaged in that effort through their participation in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, established in 1991.77 The CSCE continues to function as a largely congressional organization to support and monitor the activities of the OSCE.78

With the fall of communism in central and eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991, Members of Congress took a strong interest in the evolution of the region. They supported and promoted U.S. government democracy assistance programs through the authorization, appropriations, and oversight process, first in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, and then in the Baltic states and other countries of central and eastern Europe. Major legislation supporting democratic assistance to the region included the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act of 1989 (P.L. 101-179) and the FREEDOM Support Act (FSA) of 1991 (P.L. 102-511), the latter directed at the newly independent countries of the former Soviet Union. A portion of the assistance provided under these acts has gone to the strengthening of democratic institutions.

As the democratic tide spread to other parts of the world from the early 1990s on, congressional interest in democracy promotion also became more universal.

In some instances, Congress has supported democracy-focused conditionality in international agreements, measures granting trade benefits to foreign countries, and admission to certain multilateral organizations. So called "democracy clauses" have been included in a number of treaties and international agreements. The use of democracy clauses, while not widespread, has generated growing interest in recent years with the expansion of the number of democracies in the world. Some of the most effective regional security and trade organizations include democracy criteria among their explicit or implicit membership requirements. The most far-reaching democracy clauses are contained in provisions of North Atlantic, European, and Inter-American organizations. Enforcement mechanisms vary. Few explicitly require expulsion of a country that abandons democracy. A "Community of Democracies" Ministerial Conference of 107 nations in Warsaw, Poland, June 2000, had on its discussion agenda the topic of incorporating democracy clauses in charter documents for multinational organizations and assessing the value of enforcement mechanisms against member states where democracy is overthrown.79

NATO was established in 1949 with strong congressional backing as a security alliance of countries with "shared values." Beyond this statement of principles, no specific criteria for membership were spelled out, and not all members were democracies throughout the history of the organization. However, in the NATO enlargement process and the NATO Partnership for Peace established in the 1990s, commitment to democracy became an explicit criterion for participation, with the approval of Congress. When the first new countries were formally accepted as full members in 1999 (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia), it was on the basis that they were recognized as full-fledged democracies. The European Union (EU) requires implicitly that member countries be democracies. Given the level of political and economic integration, the EU probably could not function if member countries did not have a real convergence of political systems. Democracy criteria are more clearly spelled out in the requirements for accession of new members.80 The EU also has stressed principles of democracy in its agreements with other countries and regions, thereby using its significant economic leverage to strengthen democracy and human rights in other countries.81 One factor widely credited for the relatively smooth and successful democratic transitions of the countries of central and eastern Europe is that the associations they sought to ensure their future security and prosperity, namely NATO and EU membership, were attainable only with the consolidation of democratic institutions and processes. With this benefit in mind, many Members of Congress are pressing for further NATO enlargement and urging the EU to accept other new members. Similar bills introduced in the House and Senate, H.R. 987 and S. 494, the "NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2007," seek admittance of new NATO members.

Relations with Other Parliaments

Congress has a history of relations with other democratic parliaments. Members of Congress have attached importance to maintaining a legislative dimension to U.S. relations with key neighbors, allies, and organizations. The U.S. Congress has long been involved in multilateral parliamentary groups that hold regular exchanges and meetings. Current groups in which Congress participates include the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Transatlantic Dialogue (the U.S. Congress-European Assembly inter-parliamentary group). Formal and regular bilateral parliamentary exchanges have long been held between the U.S. Congress and the Parliaments of Canada, Mexico, and Britain. Other congressional groups have been formed to focus on relations with other individual legislatures, including Germany, Japan, South Korea, China, and the Baltic States. Inter-parliamentary meetings have given Members an opportunity to establish contacts with their counterparts, to compare best practices, and to address specific issues of concern to the Congress and constituents, including human rights in particular. The United States was a founding member of the worldwide organization of parliaments, the Interparliamentary Union (IPU), although it withdrew from the organization in 1999, after not having participated in meetings since 1994.82

Over the years, Congress has taken a particular interest and on occasion become directly involved in democracy programs to strengthen legislatures in new democracies. After the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the democratic transitions that began in Poland and Hungary, many Members of the House and Senate traveled to Central Europe to see developments firsthand. Several Members came back with a sense that the U.S. Congress should do something, as a body, to show solidarity with and to help strengthen democratic parliaments in the region.83

In 1990, Congress took the unprecedented step of establishing its own program to assist new democracies develop strong legislatures. The first congressional initiative to help the new democratic parliaments of central and eastern Europe was directed to Poland by the U.S. Senate. Senate Concurrent Resolution 74 (101st Congress, 1989) established a congressional "Gift of Democracy" to Poland. The program provided computers, library materials, and training from the U.S. Senate to the Polish Senate, with the help of the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Library of Congress, and other support agencies. The second such initiative was launched by the House of Representatives. In April 1990, House Speaker Thomas Foley appointed a bipartisan Task Force of Members of Congress to provide support for the new democratic parliaments of central and eastern Europe on the initiative of Representative Martin Frost (D-Texas). He appointed Representative Frost as Chairperson; Representative Gerald B. Solomon (R-NY) became the ranking minority member. The House Special Task Force on the Development of Parliamentary Institutions in Eastern Europe initially focused its efforts on Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. In 1991, the Task Force began a program of assistance to the Bulgarian National Assembly. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were added to the program in 1992. Albania was included in 1993, as were the Czech Republic and Slovakia, after the Czechoslovak split, and Romania. With the backing of congressional leadership and the Joint Committee on the Library, the Congressional Research Service undertook additional programs of cooperation with the Russian and Ukrainian legislatures.

U.S. Foreign Assistance to Developing Legislatures

At the time of these congressional initiatives, there were few U.S. foreign aid programs directed at developing legislative infrastructures. Congress initiated its parliamentary development efforts in Eastern Europe without any preconceived notion of what was needed. The intent was to offer practical assistance, without trying to impose American or other models or suggesting specific solutions to given problems. The objective was to provide comparative information on how the United States and other countries have approached legislative tasks and solved particular problems. It was understood that West European parliamentary models were more relevant to many of the new democracies than was the American congressional model, particularly with regard to structures and procedures. The Task Force established a legislature-to-legislature program, on a non-partisan basis. The programs provided technical assistance to strengthening parliamentary infrastructure, especially the research and information services, streamlining work with modern automation and office systems, and providing training to Members of Parliament and staff. The programs aimed to help improve the efficiency of the legislatures, enhance the professionalism of Members and staff, and increase transparency and accountability. These programs, conceived from the start as short-term jump starts for nascent democratic parliaments, were completed by the end of 1996. By that time, legislative strengthening programs had become a major focus and priority of other USAID-funded projects building on the Frost Task Force program.

The U.S. House of Representatives program was judged by outside observers, including aid evaluators and recipients of the aid in the assisted parliaments, to have played a unique and important role in helping to strengthen the legislatures of new democracies. Perhaps most importantly, the program provided the direct involvement of Members of Congress with MPs that was seen as giving recognition and a boost to the new legislatures at a critical time. In the recipient parliaments and among the public in those countries, there was awareness and appreciation that the U.S. Congress was the first legislature to immediately reach out with a gesture of support and practical help to the new parliaments. The programs were seen as bringing considerable good will toward the United States.

The House Democracy Assistance Commission

After a hiatus of many years, Members of the 109th Congress launched a new initiative to directly help strengthen legislative institutions in other new democracies. The House Democracy Assistance Commission (HDAC) was created by the House of Representatives on March 14, 2005 (H.Res. 135, 109th Congress). Representative David Dreier (R-CA) was named Chairman, and Representative David Price (D-NC) was named the ranking Member. When House Speaker Dennis Hastert announced the formation of the Commission, he stated, "For many of our global neighbors, democracy is still a new concept.... It is my hope that this initiative will help the United States generate constructive dialogue where communication is needed most. With this commission, we're sending them the expertise of the premier democratic body in the world, the United States House of Representatives." Accepting the appointment, Chairman Dreier said that

the importance of promoting democracy worldwide is at an all-time high. But we know that the real work of democracy begins only after the election. Central to success of any democracy is a functional, strong, independent legislature which can act as a check on the executive branch. Through this Commission, the House will be able to advise its counterparts in subjects like committee operations, oversight, constituent relations, parliamentary procedure, and the establishment of services like the CRS and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). This effort will be good for America as well, spreading goodwill in countries where it is sorely needed.

When the 2006 elections brought Democrats into the majority, legislation (H.Res. 24) was introduced to reauthorize the Commission in January 2007, with Representative David Price as Chairman and Representative David Dreier as ranking Member. In all, 20 Members (11 Democrats and 9 Republicans) were appointed to serve on the Commission in the 110th Congress.

The Commission's stated mission is to strengthen democratic institutions by assisting parliaments in emerging democracies. The focus of the Commission's work is to provide technical expertise to enhance accountability, transparency, legislative independence, and government oversight in partner parliaments. Specifically, HDAC aims to (1) work with the parliaments of selected countries that have established or are developing democratic parliaments that would benefit from assistance; (2) enable Members, officers, and staff of the House of Representatives and congressional support agencies to provide expert advice to members and staff of the parliaments of such countries, including visits to the House and support agencies to observe their operations firsthand; and (3) make recommendations to the Administrator of the USAID regarding the provision of needed material assistance to such parliaments to improve the efficiency and transparency of their work.84

The Commission selects partner countries based on their democratic transitions, their interest in a program of cooperation with the U.S. House of Representatives, with attention to geographic diversity and, over time, including countries from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Western Hemisphere. To date, the Commission has selected 12 countries in which to conduct programs: Afghanistan, Colombia, East Timor, Georgia, Haiti, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Macedonia, Mongolia, and Ukraine. Iraq is also a candidate country. HDAC transfers funds to USAID to manage the programs, according to USAID officials.


Francis Miko (retired), Specialist in Foreign Policy, contributed to this report.



The Secretary of State's nomination hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, January 18, 2005.


President Bush meets with Senior U.S. Defense Officials on Iraq, December 13, 2006.


Remarks by Secretary of State Rice at the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, January 18, 2006.


Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, Report to Third Way, Results of National Security Poll, February 7, 2006. Between January 30, 2007, and February 4, 2007, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates conducted 807 nationwide telephone interviews of likely 2008 presidential election voters.


Testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight and the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, May 3, 2007.


"Towards Greater Democracy in the Muslim World," Richard N. Haass, then-Director, Policy Planning Staff, U.S. Department of State, Remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C., December 4, 2002.


Laurence Whitehead, Democratization: Theory and Experience, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 14.


Ibid., p. 20.


These minimal procedural conditions are outlined by Philippe C. Schmitter and Terry Lynn Karl in an article entitled "What Democracy is ... and is Not," in The Global Resurgence of Democracy, by Larry Diamond and Marc F. Partner, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, p. 45. Schmitter and Karl add two conditions to the seven minimum conditions for democracy suggested earlier by Robert Dahl, Dilemmas of Pluralist Democracy, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982, p. 11. As cited by Whitehead, these nine conditions are "1. Control of government decisions about policy is constitutionally vested in public officials. 2. Elected officials are chosen in frequent and fairly conducted elections in which coercion is comparatively uncommon. 3. Practically all adults have the right to vote in the election of officials. 4. Practically all adults have the right to run for elective offices in the government. 5. Citizens have a right to express themselves without the danger of severe punishment on political matters broadly defined. 6. Citizens have a right to seek out alternative sources of information. Moreover, alternative sources of information exist and are protected by law. 7. Citizens also have the right to form relatively independent associations or organizations, including independent political parties and interest groups. 8. Popularly elected officials must be able to exercise their constitutional power without being subjected to over-riding (albeit informal) opposition from unelected officials. 9. The polity must be self-governing; it must be able to act independently of constraints imposed by some other overarching political system." Ibid., pp. 10-11. Although Whitehead pins his definition of democracy on these procedural conditions later in his book, he indicates in his immediate discussion of them that they are "at once too precise and too incomplete" to constitute the entire definition. Ibid., p. 11.


Ibid., p. 26.


Ibid., p. 27.


Freedom House Website, methodology page, at


Freedom House website, at


Senate Appropriations Committee, S.Rept. 109-96/ H.R. 3057—Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations, FY2006, June 30, 2005.


Senate Appropriations Committee, S.Rept. 109-277/H.R. 5522—Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations, FY2007, July 10, 2006.


Larry Diamond, Developing Democracy, Toward Consolidation, (hereafter referred to as Developing Democracy) Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, p. 10.


Diamond, Developing Democracy, p. 15.


White House Release of updated strategy, National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, September 5, 2006, at


National Endowment for Democracy, The Backlash against Democracy Assistance, June 8, 2006.


Ibid., p. 267.


Ibid., p. 268.


President William J. Clinton, The National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, 1996, p. 2.


Edward D. Mansfield and Jack Snyder, Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go To War (hereafter referred to as Electing to Fight), MIT Press, 2005, p. 70.



See, for example, Diamond, Developing Democracy, p. 7; Adam Prseworski, Michael E. Alvarez, Jose Antonio Cheibub, and Fernando Limongi, Democracy and Development, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 270-271; Tony Smith, America Democracy Promotion Abroad and the War in Iraq, presented at the Kyoto American Summer Seminar, Kyoto, Japan, July 2003. Conversely, see Aparna Mathur, Foreign Investors Prefer Predictability to Democracy, American Enterprise Institute, May 29, 2007, at


Thomas O. Melia, The Democracy Bureaucracy, The Infrastructure of American Democracy Promotion, The Princeton Project on National Security, September 2005, p. 1.


President Clinton, in his National Security Strategy for Engagement and Enlargement, said, "Democracy and economic prosperity can take root in a struggling society only through local solutions carried out by the society itself." 1996, p. ii.


Edward D. Mansfield and Jack Snyder, Electing to Fight, p. 4.


Ibid., pp. 33-34.


Joanne Gowa, Ballots and Bullets, Princeton University Press, 1999, p. 113.


Ibid., p. 111.


USAID, Vanderbilt University and the Association Liaison Office, "Final Report: Effects of U.S. Foreign Assistance on Democracy Building: Results of a Cross-National Quantitative Study," January 12, 2006, p. 83. The study determined that for every additional $10 million dollars invested in democracy assistance, the country is predicted to gain one quarter of a point on Freedom House democracy index.


Thomas Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve (hereafter referred to as Aiding Democracy Abroad), Washington, D.C., Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999, p. 104.


Diamond, Developing Democracy, p. 250.


Axel Hadenius and Jan Teorell, "Pathways from Authoritarianism," The Journal of Democracy, vol. 18, no. 8, January 2007. The authors conclude that certain types of authoritarian regimes—those with limited multi-party participation—are more likely to democratize than others (i.e., monarchies, pure military regimes, pure one-party states, and multi-party states with one dominant party).


Arch Puddington, Freedom in the World 2007: Freedom Stagnation Amid Pushback Against Democracy, p. 10, accessible through the Freedom House website: This article found a "pushback against democracy" to be a "major obstacle to the spread of freedom in 2006." It cites the number of electoral democracies in 2006 as 123, or 64% of 193 countries and the same number as in 2005. In contrast, an article by another author cited the rapid rise, both in number and as a proportion of all independent states, of electoral democracies during the 15 years from 1987-2002. Electoral democracies grew from 69 in 1987 (41% of all 167 states) to 121 (63% of all 192 states) in 2002. Adrian Karatnycky, Making Democratization Work: Overcoming the Challenges of Political Transitions (hereafter referred to as Making Democratization Work), Harvard International Review, vol. 24, no. 2, Summer 2002, p. 50.


Similarly, one expert perceives two types of democratic transitions: those that occur "in the context of violent conflict and those that come about peacefully." Karatnycky, Making Democratization Work, p. 51. Another expert views categories transitions by status: (1) countries moving forward in democratic transitions, (2) countries in which transitions are stagnating or moving backwards, and (3) countries that have not achieved a significant democratic opening or breakthrough. Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad, p. 304.


Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad, p. 102.


Diamond, Developing Democracy, p. 9. For Diamond's explanation of the 13 ways in which a vibrant civil society promotes democratic development and consolidation, see pp. 239-250.


Diamond, Developing Democracy, p. 259.




Thomas Carothers, Confronting the Weakest Link: Aiding Political Parties in New Democracies, Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2006. p. vii.


Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad, pp. 106-107.


Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad, pp. 107-108.


Karatnycky, Making Democratization Work, p. 54.


Diamond, Developing Democracy, p. 233.


Diamond, Developing Democracy, p. 260.


Diamond, Developing Democracy, p. 256.


Karatnycky, Making Democratization Work, p. 52.


Karatnycky, Making Democratization Work, p. 53.


Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad, p. 111.


Karatnycky, Making Democratization Work, p. 52.


Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad, p. 114.


Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad, p. 113.


James Dobbins, John G. McGinn, Keith Crane, Seth G. Jones, Rollie Lal, Andrew Tarhmell, Rachel Swanger, and Anga Timilsina, America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq (hereafter referred to as America's Role), Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2003, p. xix.






Karatnycky, Making Democratization Work, p. 53-54. The specific provisions he referred to granted the "High Representative" (the top international official charged with carrying out the Dayton Accord provisions) the right to remove Bosnian public officials "if they are deemed to be obstructing the peace process—a right exercised frequently and often to the detriment of democratic procedure and the sovereignty of citizens" and to "impose laws and regulations on the country when local officials are unable to agree on important matters, a frequent outcome given the unworkable system of ethnic checks and balances that emerged from the Dayton Accords." He judged that the "international community's inability to extract itself from Bosnia points to the deficiencies of overly intrusive international micro management of post-conflict transitions."


Dobbins, America's Role, p. 95. This study also notes in the same paragraph, however, that Bosnia "continues to be held together by the presence of a steadily decreasing number of U.S. and international troops and civilians."


Dobbins, America's Role, p. xix.


Marian L. Tupy, The Rise of Populist Parties in Central Europe: Big Government, Corruption, and the Threat to Liberalism, CATO Institute Center for Global Liberty & Prosperity, November 8, 2006, p. 7. Tupy believes, however, that the achievement of EU membership has facilitated a relapse to populism in Central European countries.


National Endowment for Democracy, Evaluating Democracy Promotion Programs: A Report to Congress from the National Endowment for Democracy (hereafter referred to as Evaluating Democracy Promotion Programs), submitted to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in response to a reporting requirement contained in the conference report (Conf. Rept. 109-272) accompanying H.R. 2862, the Science, State, Justice, Commerce Appropriations Act for FY2006, March 2006, p. 5.






National Endowment for Democracy, Evaluating Democracy Promotion Programs, p. 18. Dr. McFaul is the Director of Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law.


For more detail on Transformational Diplomacy, see CRS Report RL34141, Diplomacy for the 21st Century: Transformational Diplomacy, by [author name scrubbed] and [author name scrubbed].


Money in this fund is spread across the numerous programs included in the Foreign Operations budget and is included in Table 1 funds.


See Appendix A for a syntheses of these activities since World War II.


For more detail on this program, see Appendix A.


See CRS Report RL30184, Military Interventions by U.S. Forces from Vietnam to Bosnia: Background, Outcomes, and "Lessons Learned" for Kosovo, by [author name scrubbed] (pdf).


Larry Diamond, Developing Democracy, p. 273.


Countries that have a stable government, a competitive multiparty system, an active civil society, sound financial and legal institutions, well-established infrastructure, and independent media, among other criteria.



For information on the Marshall Plan, post-World War II U.S. assistance, and the congressional role, see CRS Report 97-62, The Marshall Plan: Design, Accomplishments, and Relevance to the Present, by [author name scrubbed] (pdf).


For a synopsis of the strategy of containment, the controversy surrounding it, and sources for further reading, see


P.L. 94-304, 90 Stat. 661 (22 U.S.C. 3001-3009), June 3, 1976, established the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor compliance with or violation of the articles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, with particular regard to human rights; see


For information on the activities of the Assembly, see the official website at


The Commission has always been primarily a congressional body with executive branch members playing a secondary role.



At its 1993 meeting, the EU's European Council set out very explicit conditions for new states to become EU members. These became known as the "Copenhagen Criteria." The first condition is that the country has achieved "stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities." Each year, the European Commission prepares a report on progress toward accession by candidate countries, providing a strong incentive to eager candidates to stay on a democratic course.


A number of other bilateral and multilateral agreements make reference to democratic principles, beginning with the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Senate approved U.S. mutual defense agreements with countries such as Japan (1960), Spain (1988), Greece (1990), and Turkey (1980) make democratic principles a foundation of their relations, as do a number of bilateral economic and scientific agreements. The Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) affirms as a basis the effective exercise of representative democracy; see


The IPU was established in 1889 as an association of individual parliamentarians and the world's first permanent multilateral political forum. The United States was one of the original participants in IPU activities begun in 1889 and formally joined in 1935 when the House and Senate enacted statutory authority for U.S. participation in the IPU (49 Stat. 425). Congressional participation in the IPU gradually diminished. In July 1997, Congress (through the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate) notified the IPU that, given the diminished congressional participation, the U.S. Congress could no longer justify the annual U.S. contribution of almost $1 million or 15% of the IPU annual budget and had decided to reduce its membership status and proposed to make an annual donation of $500,000 to support the aims of the organization. The IPU Executive Committee did not accept the offer so, in 1998, Congress passed legislation to end U.S. participation on October 1, 1999 (ultimately attached to P.L. 105-277, Sec. 2503). It would presumably require new legislation to restore U.S. membership.


In 1989, the world was surprised by the sudden collapse of the communist regimes throughout central and eastern Europe and the equally sudden dissolution of the Soviet empire, two years later. While the process of transition toward a multiparty system and market economy had already started in Poland and Hungary, there had been no indication of how fast or how far this process would go. While the pace and direction of change varied, the overwhelming consensus in central and eastern Europe favored establishment or restoration of parliamentary democracy and integration with the western countries of the Euro-Atlantic region.


See HDAC website: