Deferring Democracy: Promoting Openness in Authoritarian Regimes

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The democratic surge in the past twenty years has led many Americans to assume that all societies are, or should be, making progress toward becoming practicing democracies. Many in the United States approach countries such as China, Iran, and Vietnam with impatience and bewilderment. These seemingly intransigent holdouts are the subject of intense policy debates, not in the least because they also play important roles in U.S. security and economic policy. This book takes a fresh look at the prospects for political change in these countries and argues that immediate opportunities exist to advance political liberalization, with the possibility that democratization will follow in the mid to long term. But to encourage these trends, the United States must de-emphasize short-term human rights and democracy strategies to focus on more subtle attitudinal and institutional changes in both state and society, and develop new policy measures to enlarge political space.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A promising book.... This long essay is concise enough that policy practitioners will read it- in addition to think tank and university policy analysts." —Mark P. Lagon, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Perspectives on Political Science, 10/1/2001

"This is a well-written and well-argued book. Dalpino's arguments are concise, clear, and convincing.... One can only hope that the right policy makers read the book." —Mehran Kamrava, California State University, Northridge, Democratization, 1/1/2001

"An important book with a persuasive argument for a fundamental policy change in the West's and especially America's relations with authoritarian regimes." —Dietrich Orlow, Boston University, Peace & Change

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815717010
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 104
  • Product dimensions: 6.03 (w) x 9.01 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Meet the Author

Catharin E. Dalpino is a fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies program at the Brookings Institution. She is a former deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


The peaceful democratic transitions in Eastern and Central Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s were tailor-made for American sentiments. When the linchpin of Soviet domination was removed, postcommunist leaders in the region reflexively pledged their support for the principles of democracy and free markets. In contrast to the more gradual, sometimes indiscernible, movement toward democracy in other regions, the transitions in Eastern Europe had a decisive ring, punctuated by such dramatic moments as the fall of the Berlin Wall. And in the subsequent transformation of the geopolitical map—the "velvet divorce" of Czechoslovakia, the reunification of Germany, and the initial separation of the Yugoslav states—the automatic assumption was that any new state would also be democratic.

    It is understandable that the West, and the United States in particular, would respond to this astonishing chain of events with euphoria and an unequivocal sense of triumph. Zero-sum struggles, as many perceived the ideological competition of the cold war to be, serve up more complete victories. Equally important, the return of the Eastern European states to genuine, rather than nominal, self-rule brought the cold war to a full-circle conclusion. In the battle that began over the capture of Eastern European populations by the Soviet Union and the imposition of communism upon them, cold war liberation theology appeared to have worked.

    Mitigating factors are noted but often obscured. The liberation of Eastern Europe was launched by the SovietUnionitself, when President Mikhail Gorbachev revoked the Brezhnev doctrine of hard-line (as opposed to reform) communism for the Eastern bloc. Nor did the sudden collapse of communism instantly produce its democratic opposite. In the southern tier of Eastern Europe, particularly the former Yugoslavia, new electoral democracies were shattered by ethnic conflict, often engineered by nationalist demagogues who had come to power through popular elections. Even the northern tier countries, some of which had democratic experience before communism, were forced to confront lingering authoritarian practices beneath the surface of their new democracies. One irony of the postcommunist period was the 1995 electoral defeat of Poland's president Lech Walesa, possibly the most renowned dissident of the 1980s, by the leader of a former communist faction. But these qualifications notwithstanding, the seeming swiftness of the Eastern European transitions created a paradigm of democratic revolution for many in the U.S. foreign policy community and a prescription for democracy promotion in countries still under repressive rule.

    Against this backdrop, several key countries have defied the democratic contagion, commonly known as the Third Wave, that has seemed to sweep through the former Soviet block and parts of Asia and Africa in the past twenty years. As a result, political practices in these countries often draw an unusual degree of scrutiny and criticism in the U.S. policy community. Although negative views of these states persist, some are in the midst of reform efforts that are reshaping relations between state and society and that carry the possibility, but by no means the guarantee, of future democratization. These experiments are largely uncharted territory. Most of these societies have no democratic experience in living memory; at best, they may have had brief episodes of relative openness.

    This study examines U.S. policy in those countries that are opening windows to political and social reform (often as a consequence of attempts at economic reform) but are still ranked among the most repressive in the world by Western standards. It focuses on states in which power rests in the hands of a collective authority or ideologically determined group, however much that ideology may have waned. Some are postrevolutionary societies, such as China, Vietnam, and Iran, whose current experiments in openness can be attributed both to the successes and the failures of their revolutions. Their regimes are distinct from those produced by strict personal rule, such as that of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, or Suharto in Indonesia. Because these regimes have been more successful than personalistic ones in institutionalizing rule, their control has endured beyond the first generation. Indeed, some of these states have undergone significant (if unheralded) transitions from one-man to corporatist rule and from totalitarianism to authoritarianism. Nevertheless, incumbents are determined to manage change in a manner that maintains continuity and a central role for the regime. These societies are in the process of gradual political liberalization but have not attempted a formal democratic transition. In that respect, they are different from many semiauthoritarian countries in which a democratic transition has stalled or failed.

    Present U.S. policy to promote political change in these countries does not recognize nor does it reinforce these positive trends and ultimately does not serve U.S. interests. By advocating—indeed, often insisting upon—immediate democratization and the guarantee of human rights in societies where political change is a complex and volatile process, the United States is often viewed as ideologically self-serving and overly simplistic, even reckless, by reformers and hard-liners alike in these countries. At the least, these strident and unrealistic policies can raise nationalist hackles (and anti-Americanism) in the broader population of the target country and marginalize U.S. influence on domestic processes. At worst, they can exacerbate the instability that is inherent in political and social change by upsetting delicate internal dynamics.

    This study proposes a policy to promote openness in these countries that builds upon existing trends of liberalization and that need not wait until a democratic transition is in sight. The underlying thesis of this policy is that the best way to promote liberalization in these countries and build a more solid foundation for an eventual transition to democracy is to defer a democracy promotion effort for the near term. Whether or not liberalization becomes a stepping stone to democratization, a successful policy will produce a net gain for political pluralism and the protection of rights.

    An effective policy to promote liberalization requires an understanding of the differences between the processes of liberalization and democratization, terms that are broadly and loosely applied in the academic and policy communities. For the purpose of this study, liberalization is defined as a loosening of control by an authoritarian regime without the intention to move immediately toward a democratic transition. Authoritarian leaders most often relax or modify their own rules in an attempt to preserve the core of their power because their legitimacy or their performance has come under widespread domestic criticism. Whatever freedoms this may bring, the underlying goal of the regime is to strengthen public support for its rule.

    In the course of liberalization, some individual and group rights may be extended, and these improvements may even be codified in the legal system. However, dramatic institutional reform that guarantees the widespread protection of citizens' rights and enshrines popular selection and control over leaders must usually await democratization. In this regard, democratization can be viewed in terms of institutional transformation, among other functions. Liberalization is best conceived as a process of transforming relationships—among members of the regime, between the regime and state, the state and society, the people and their rulers, and even among everyday citizens—that stops short of comprehensive institutional reform. Because it emanates from the regime itself, liberalization can be unannounced and halting, while democratization is a more deliberate and public process, requiring the involvement of a wider range of political and social actors.

    Democratization is usually preceded by liberalization, but democracy cannot be taken as the assured outcome of a liberal experiment. History has shown that such experiments are just as likely to produce systems suspended in "soft authoritarianism" for decades, or cause a return to previous levels of repression. The uncertain nature of the liberalization process discourages the notion of a brisk and seamless sequence with a political democracy as the immediate goal.

    In light of these risks, in many of the countries in this study a policy to promote liberalization rather than democratization is arguably the better path at this time. Realistically, the hold maintained by these regimes often makes liberalization the only viable option. Moreover, the gradual nature and incremental pace of liberalization offers the possibility of combining some degree of stability with political change. Although "stability" is viewed by some as shorthand for maintaining the status quo, in volatile societies with social or ethnic cleavages that pose a risk of serious disruption, or in postrevolutionary societies with living memory of widespread political violence, it may be a requisite element of any process of political change.

    In comparison to democratization, the signs of liberalization are more difficult to detect from the outside, and the processes of liberalization are less responsive to external intervention. Political liberalization can be an official policy; more often, it begins as the regime's tacit no-objection to openness created in other areas of reform. Either way, it is a high-risk undertaking. In the early stages of liberalization, progress is usually dependent upon maintaining the incumbent's sense of security. Political rules are in flux and are difficult to discern. When tacit boundaries are violated, the regime's actions can be swift and brutal, as was the case in Burma in 1988, when widespread prodemocracy demonstrations were suppressed, or in China in 1989, when the Tiananmen Square movement to urge reform of the regime was brought to a violent end. The result can be a net loss of personal and political freedom for a number of years. For opposite reasons, the uncertainty of the liberalization process creates nervousness among authoritarian rulers and would-be democrats alike. In this instance, these two groups are often, in the words of a Chinese proverb, "sleeping in the same bed but dreaming different dreams."

    Beyond the tenacity of their rulers, the authoritarian countries considered in this study have characteristics that call for an approach to political development different from that of the recent wave of democratic transitions. The remaining Leninist systems (all of which are in Asia, with the exception of Cuba) are rooted as much (or more) in authoritarian tradition and nationalism as in communist doctrine, making sudden collapse less likely than in the Soviet bloc. Another set of nations, primarily in the Middle East, have Muslim-majority populations facing strong Islamic fundamentalist pressure. Abrupt political change in these countries, even movement toward democracy, could either cause an authoritarian backlash from regime conservatives or create an opening to an Islamic fundamentalist order.

    U.S. policy tends to ignore immediate opportunities for promoting beneficial changes in these societies and, as a result, pushes our own goals farther from our grasp. In policy toward the remaining Leninist states, particularly China, this can be attributed in part to lingering cold war views that press for rapid democratization—even an authoritarian collapse in the Eastern European mode—and rely upon outdated cold war practices. A different dynamic applies to U.S. Middle East policy, which is largely influenced by security concerns—over access to oil, the Arab-Israeli peace process, and the nature and intentions of political Islam—that temper enthusiasm for political change in the policy community. Democracy promotion has nevertheless filtered into U.S. assistance programs for the region, as evidenced by the inauguration in 1997 of the Middle East Democracy Fund, which allocates money for small projects administered by the State Department.

    With both the Asian Leninist regimes and the Middle Eastern states, appropriate strategies are lacking because democracy promotion is perceived as negating broader bilateral and regional policy goals and because conditions in these countries do not meet the criteria for impending democratization. This study advocates a policy to promote openness in these systems while deferring pressure to democratize, a policy more consonant with other U.S. policy goals and likely to be more effective in encouraging political change.

    In pursuit of such policy, this study looks first at reforms of state and society in a sample of liberalizing countries of particular concern to the United States. On the basis of reforming trends in these countries, an alternative model for U.S. policy is proposed, with recommendations for change in paradigms and practices. At present, the most significant target of opportunity is China, because of its current trends, its present and potential role in the international community, and its near-normal relations with the United States. In comparison to Vietnam and Laos (and particularly to the still-Stalinist North Korea), China is by far the most liberalizing of the Asian Leninist states, despite the regime's continued crackdown on groups that are perceived to threaten the ruling order. These presently range from a small would-be political opposition, the China Democracy Party, to the much larger and apparently apolitical Falun Gong.

    Key liberalizing regimes in the Middle East, the most important of which is Iran, are also considered. In comparison to several other Middle Eastern states, Iran has a high degree of political openness, all the more significant because it has evolved under an Islamic regime. However, U.S. relations with Iran are dramatically less developed than U.S.-China relations, leaving the United States with fewer openings to encourage political reform. Signs of liberalization are also emerging in some traditional monarchies of the Middle East, albeit at a slower and more cautious pace.

    At any given point, the recommendations in this study may be immediately useful in only a few countries. They apply in full to China at the present time but would be difficult for the United States to implement in Iran. Some recommendations presently pertain to the Leninist states of Southeast Asia but are likely to have little effect on draconian totalitarian states such as North Korea. They may form the basis for policy to promote liberalization in Burma when the beginning of an attitudinal shift or a widening spectrum is seen within the military regime. In the Gulf States under traditional rule, these policy prescriptions best apply to Kuwait, which has continued the liberalization experiment it began after the Gulf War. They are likely to have some use but not the fullest possible impact at this time on more entrenched traditional regimes, such as that of Saudi Arabia.

    It is not the intention of this study to suggest that those countries that appear to be sitting out the Third Wave of democratization are in any way monolithic. Assembly-line policy has proved to be ineffective with the present democratizing systems, even among those emerging from a common political bloc. Although some broad similarities may be found, easy equations are deceptive, even dangerous, for this new group of liberalizing regimes because of significant differences in political structures and history and because of deeply rooted indigenous forces. For example, it would be inaccurate to equate modernization automatically with democratization in either Iran or China. Many democratic transitions during the 1980s occurred in countries that had reached certain standards of economic development and social mobility. To date, however, both China and Iran have demonstrated some ability to raise the standard of living of their citizens and to allow some access to modern features such as global media without significant impact on their political systems.

    At the same time, it would be incorrect to assume that modernization presents identical attractions and problems in each society. It is generally seen as a positive force in China, while its long-standing equation with Western values makes it a double-edged sword in Iran. Neither do the regimes in this study necessarily pursue reforms with equal vigor. Iran's experiment in political liberalization is presently more extensive than those of the Asian Leninist regimes. However, Beijing and Hanoi are currently more invested in market reform than Teheran.

    Rather, the regimes in this study are bound by a common paradox. They are more entrenched than authoritarian rulers in many other states. Asian Leninist regimes, Islamist governments, and traditional monarchies are inherently more conservative and (by virtue of history, tradition, or revolutionary claim) more embedded in the political and social fabric than many of the regimes that crumbled after the cold war. On the other hand, several of these states are undergoing a process of change more dynamic than that found in seemingly more benign regimes whose liberal reforms have long since stopped.

An Optimistic Paradigm and a Cautionary Tale

For most of the 1990s, Americans favored a model of political change that, in mythology if not in experience, sidesteps the disturbing ambiguities of the liberalization process and obviates the need to deal with questionable ruling elites. The events in Eastern Europe in 1989 had resonance with Americans not only because they seemed to deliver a clear-cut ideological victory, but because they also reinforced a model of "people power" revolution that had been building in the 1980s. The popular version of this model features mass demonstrations or strikes that force the collapse of an authoritarian regime, to be replaced immediately by democratic government. Through this lens, every popular demonstration is a potential democratic uprising, and every attempt to suppress a demonstration is an effort to stem a democratic revolution. The Chinese government's crackdown on demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989 is remembered in some American policy circles more for what might have been than for the actual event.

    The genesis of this paradigm in contemporary American thinking is the example of the Philippines, a close ally of the United States, in 1986. Three days of popular demonstrations in Manila led by the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) not only mobilized popular resistance to Ferdinand Marcos but also caused two key military leaders to break from the regime and provide crucial support to Corazon Aquino. The outcome vindicated a last-minute decision by the Reagan administration to abandon support for Marcos and provided some balance to U.S. cold war policy in the Philippines, in which concern for maintaining security had helped Marcos accumulate authoritarian powers. Public demonstrations in Eastern Europe later in the decade were accorded similar weight, although accounts of that time point to decisions made in Moscow to disengage from the Soviet satellites preceding disturbances on the ground. In reality, the only genuine "people power" revolution in Eastern Europe occurred in Romania, although mass mobilization clearly strengthened the hand of reformers in Poland and Czechoslovakia.

    This paradigm is even less common in the broader spectrum of countries outside Eastern Europe that have begun transitions to democracy in the past twenty years. Apart from the Philippines, only Portugal and Greece (and to a lesser extent Indonesia) have followed the path of "people power" revolution. The great majority of transitions have involved complex negotiations between authoritarian regimes and opposition groups, with substantially longer time frames. Preparing the ground for these negotiations in advance of any tangible signs of democratization often involved years of gradual liberalization, in which the regime debated political reform while civil society was reorganized and reoriented. Even most "collapse" countries underwent some preliminary period of liberalization. In the Philippines, NAMFREL's successful maneuvers were the culmination of a process originating in the mid-1970s, when Marcos began to loosen martial law and civil groups worked to widen political space.

    The assumption of a popular groundswell behind every transition to democracy has encouraged the view of democracy as a universal aspiration. By extension, all populations in authoritarian societies are pressing constantly and restively for democracy, and therefore all authoritarian states are or should be on the verge of democratic transitions. Promoting democracy universally is accordingly a logical policy goal. Despite the difficulties that some new democracies have faced in consolidating their systems, and even the reappearance of authoritarian trends, belief in a democratic trajectory remains strong.

    Some Americans renewed this belief in observance of the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but a more mixed celebration approaches, marking a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The democratic victory that is widely held to have occurred at the cold war's end invariably includes the dissolution of the Soviet Union and attempts by some of the national governments to move toward democracy. The most important of these is clearly Russia. In reality, however, the Russian experience of the 1980s and 1990s runs counter to the tenets of the Berlin Wall paradigm. The "second Russian revolution," as analysts now frame those decades, was distinguished by its lack of major protest movements. Russian dissidents whose names appeared on the lists compiled by concerned American human rights officials in the 1970s and 1980s did not lead the charge for reform, nor did they emerge in prominent positions in the new democratic government. Rather, the push for change came from the "partocracy"—Mikhail Gorbachev, Edward Shevardnadze, and Boris Yeltsin—all of whom had held positions in the inner circle of Brezhnev's ruling structure. Indeed, the public apathy toward reform in the 1980s hampered Gorbachev's efforts, because it weakened his ability to override the resistance of hard-line party officials. Yeltsin's more vocal (if erratic) attempts to generate popular support were enough to maintain an electoral edge but not enough to mobilize widespread public consensus for his reforms.

    But Russia did follow the Berlin Wall model in the swift collapse of old institutions. The ensuing years have revealed the difficulties of a rapid exit from authoritarianism and central planning when foundations had not been laid for more democratic institutions, much less for the legal and administrative infrastructure needed for open markets. Without traction in these areas, Russia lurched from one crisis to another for most of the decade: the attempted coup of 1991, the political violence brought on by warring factions in 1993, and the economic meltdown of 1998. On another track, the sudden collapse of Soviet sovereignty and the need to refashion a Russian national ethic in short order gave rise to the Chechnyan uprising and a severe response from the central government. The collective weight of these problems has helped to usher in a new president, Vladimir Putin, who has vowed to alleviate social misery, hoist the Russian economy, and banish political gloom through a "dictatorship of law," a slogan that inspires both hope and fear in Russia's democratic quarter.

    Power in Russia has yet to be rebalanced between the executive and the legislature; as a result, executive power is still predominant, if more democratically inclined, and vulnerable to one-man rule. Some realists might consider this to be for the better at this time, since the communists remain the largest political party in the Duma, although their influence may well have waned with the 1999 election. Beyond political standoffs, a more insidious trend threatens to overtake the Russian political system. The uncertainties of political and economic reform since the Soviet Union's collapse have given a boost to new economic oligarchies, whose rapid accumulation of power seems impervious to the meager checks and balances presently available. This, in turn, has helped elevate political and economic corruption to near-ruinous levels, a trend exacerbated by the rise of organized criminal groups. This unfortunate trajectory is testimony to the weakness of the Russian legal system and to the lack of a widespread supporting belief in the rule of law.

    There is little the United States can do to help Russian reformers reverse these trends in the short term, although it should clearly continue to promote economic and political reform wherever possible. Nor should Americans give way to total despair over Russia's political future. Administration officials are correct in pointing out that organized repression of individual rights in Russia is gone; despite coup attempts and other upsets, Russia has not abandoned its quest for a democratic order. With several elections behind it, Russia seems to have settled into a democratic form, if the content is often lacking.

    There are, however, lessons to be learned from the Russian example for U.S. policy toward authoritarian states. First is the recognition that, contrary to the popular post-cold war paradigm, reform may at times originate from the attitudes of elites rather than the desperate maneuvers of freedom-deprived masses. A related point is that the public may lag behind, rather than lead, demands for political change. A final and important lesson is that complicated political, economic, and legal systems do not spring up spontaneously; they are doubly difficult to create in the void left by a collapsed system. A more incremental process of change, if not as romantic as the collapse scenario, is likely to be more successful, and it may be shorter in the end. The Russian case suggests that a very rapid democratic transition can turn into a very protracted one.

The Democratic Imperative

If the paradigms driving U.S. policy after the cold war make it difficult to imagine regimes that are not on a democratic fast-track, the policy apparatus makes it difficult to deal with such states. Democracy promotion has been an explicit goal in U.S. policy since the onset of the cold war, but it has changed dramatically in form and focus since that time.

    In the early years of the cold war, a simple bipolar view of regimes as either communist or noncommunist caused political support and economic assistance to be focused on anticommunist allies, actual or potential. However, ideological competition in the newly decolonized Third World proved stronger than originally anticipated. U.S. strategies frequently combined aid with efforts to persuade populations of the advantages of democracy. Communist regimes were naturally targeted for public condemnation. Moral support to populations behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe and the Bamboo Curtain in Asia was considered essential. As a practical matter, however, there was little that could be done directly, other than broadcasts that attempted to counter government propaganda. Despite occasional periods of political thaw, U.S. democracy promotion policy toward the Eastern bloc was essentially symbolic until the late 1980s.

    A more nuanced approach developed toward dictatorship from the right. By the late 1950s, the authoritarian excesses of some anticommunist allies had become an embarrassment for the United States, domestically as well as abroad. A more calibrated view of the political spectrum was emerging, one that acknowledged that anticommunism did not always yield democracy. This realization often sent American policymakers on a quixotic search for a "third force" in developing countries—democratically minded leaders with popular support who were strong enough to fend off insurgencies from the left and coup attempts from the right. Finding few such leaders, by the 1980s the United States had settled upon a two-pronged approach to promoting democracy among its allies: diplomatic pressure urging regimes to curb the most egregious abuses, and political assistance programs to strengthen democratic institutions, primarily in Latin America.

    During the last decade of the cold war, American democracy promotion aimed at the Eastern bloc became slightly more dimensional as well. Reform efforts in Eastern Europe created the minimum of political space needed for the emergence of civil society organizations. These groups, the most prominent of which was the Solidarity labor movement in Poland, sought openly to challenge the state. The phenomenon of these organizations was twofold: they were able to function as surrogate political oppositions, and they were able to establish links with civil society groups in the West. Overt U.S. assistance in this effort was managed primarily through private American organizations, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, using public funds. The political character of this assistance and the practice of supporting a nascent but defiant civil society while maintaining pressure on the government had strong appeal for many anticommunist warriors.

    Although modest democracy initiatives were launched sporadically in a number of regions, the United States did not have a global strategy apart from anticommunism to promote democracy during the cold war era. In the post-cold war environment, however, a universal approach seemed natural to many Americans because of the range of new democratic transitions and the growing tendency to view economic, social, and political issues in transnational terms. By the 1970s, with the rise of multinational corporations and economic cartels, the concept of an increasingly interdependent world economy had entered popular consciousness. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, with authoritarian regimes appearing to fall in domino fashion, the notion of a worldwide political demonstration effect was taking hold. In the official policy community this translated into bureaucratic reforms made within foreign affairs agencies. Governments, and bureaucracies in particular, tend to act as bellwethers; by 1993 high-ranking positions to oversee global affairs (some specifically tagged for democracy) had been created in the National Security Council, the Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development, and the intelligence agencies. The position of assistant secretary of defense for democracy and peacekeeping was also proposed by the administration but ultimately was not approved by Congress.

    The full impact of this shift was most readily seen in official assistance programs. A universal approach not only reconfigured democracy assistance within the U.S. government but altered the very definition of foreign aid. In the early 1990s, funding for democracy promotion increased dramatically. Statistics on democracy assistance had not been maintained under a discrete category until then, but unofficial inventories estimate that such assistance seldom exceeded $100 million per year before 1989. By 1991 assistance under a broad definition of democracy promotion had climbed to $682 million and by 1993 to $900 million. By that time, major assistance packages for support of democracy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union had been legislated, and initiatives were quickly assembled for several other regions. A global approach also required that common denominators for successful programs be established, which were quickly translated into common indicators for progress in democratization itself.

    These indicators tend to adopt concrete measurements, similar to those employed for economic development and infrastructure projects, with an emphasis on quantifiable outputs: the percentage of voters who turn out on election day, the number of judges trained, the volume of bills considered by new democratic legislatures. Progress is assumed when the numbers go up. However, these instruments are seldom useful for gauging the will to reform, in either ruling circles or civil society groups, and so they measure half the progress at best. Moreover, they are designed to assess positive political change but are weak in detecting the warning signs that could send democratization into reverse or in tracking a process that is seldom linear.

    Beyond altering the size and shape of democracy assistance programs, post-cold war policy has injected democratization into the criteria for aid allocation. Under the "sustainable development" formula of the U.S. Agency for International Development, a country's eligibility for assistance is judged according to a basket of conditions, one of which is the recipient government's progress toward democratization or its intention to democratize (often measured by movement toward a transitional election). Although the interpretation of an acceptable threshold of democratization often varies from one country to another, this approach to assistance reverses the cold war dynamic: rather than offering aid to induce movement toward democracy, assistance new assumes that movement.

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