Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Democracy Bureaucracy

Event Title: The Democracy Bureaucracy
Sponsors: Society for International Development
Location: The Kennedy Auditorium, Johns Hopkins, 1740 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Date: October 30, 2006
Time: 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
Approximate number of Attendees: 60
Intern Attending: Ashley Smith

Featured Speakers: Frances Fukuyama, Director, SAIS International Development Program, Johns Hopkins; Philip Levy, Member of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff, State Department; Thomas Melia, Executive Director, Freedom House; Anne Richard, Vice President, Government Relations and Advocacy, International Rescue Committee

Thomas Melia has written a national interest mock memo to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice entitled, the Democracy Bureaucracy. In it, Melia argues that the United States should discontinue its use of a top-down, centralized approach to development work. He feels that the bureaucracy inhibits rather than promotes the aims of development projects and therefore advocates “pluralism in the promotion of pluralism.”

As Fukuyama pointed out, democracy promotion has always been a facet of U.S. foreign policy, but never before has it served as the driving force. Melia points out that one of the strengths of promoting democracy-building as opposed to other forms of development work, is that there is no central strategy for which to do so. With no specific blueprint to follow, there is opportunity to implement many different methods under the supervision of many different organizations. Involving groups as varied as international military educators, broadcast agencies, and human rights groups, creates mass involvement with no one person controlling any of the organizations.

NGO’s have less opportunity to go abroad when the U.S. funding of democracy-building goes mostly to government-sponsored projects. Therefore, some important components are lost in the bureaucratic maze, including communications and relationships that a closer presence allows. Another reason a decentralized approach is beneficial is that it gives the U.S. a wider number of people to work with, leaving the U.S. less vulnerable to isolation from the global community.

The speakers all agreed that the U.S. is suffering a loss of civil society activism in the areas of support for democracy promotion and development work in general. Fukuyama pointed out that, since the Middle East came into the picture, democracy promotion is no longer just a promotion of universal values. Melia referred to a poll showing Europeans in favor of democracy promotion 71-24 percent and Americans opposed 48-45 percent. This is in large part due to the loss of Democratic Party support for development work. All speakers emphasized the importance of the U.S. working to reverse this trend. There was also agreement that the U.S. government’s current reforms of the development system are commendable and a positive step forward regardless of NGO involvement.

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