Newfound modesty about Western interventionism does not just concern development assistance, but also democracy promotion and state-building, argues Ellen Laipson, president emeritus of the Stimson Center.
“In policy discussions, one hears much anguish and dismay about new constitutions written for the wards of the international community without careful consideration of their social, historical and political contexts; the rush to elections that did not help create democratic cultures; and the Western proclivity for metrics that force falsely optimistic assessments of progress for state-building efforts that are generational projects, not easily measurable in annual budget documents,” she writes for the World Politics Review:
This is not to suggest that the West is ready to give up its long-standing commitment to help small countries coming out of conflict or those that are chronically fragile due to geography and natural resource deficits. The U.S. Institute of Peace, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for New American Security….have set out parameters for such engagement in a new report on state fragility. They concede that being a global power does not mean the U.S. can solve everyone’s problems, and they want to set out criteria that capture both the realist and idealist impulses in American policy. Their pithy formula for how America should allocate scarce resources for shoring up fragile states is to keep such interventions “strategic, systemic, sustained and selective.”
A map of where the closing of space for civil society is taking place in the world is not just a map of troubling alerts for global democracy; it is also a guide to where conditions that foster state fragility are being put into place in many countries, argues Thomas Carothers, Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Understanding the closing space problem as being directly linked to the broader policy challenge of addressing state fragility has several major implications for the U.S. policy community, he writes for the Fragility Study Group:
- First, the calculus for closing space policy should not be seen as values versus hard interests, but rather values plus hard interests on one side versus whatever other interests may be on the side of accepting the asphyxiation of civil society. When U.S. policymakers weigh the inevitable trade-offs in their engagements with fragile states, they should treat closing space not just as a setback for democracy and human rights but as an accelerant on fragility and instability, with all the implications that holds.
- Second, U.S. responses to closing space for civil society should not be the sole purview of that part of the interagency process that focuses on democracy and human rights issues. It should also be the concern of those parts of the defense, diplomacy, and development communities that are working together to reduce state fragility. …..
- Third, the next administration has no alternative but to sustain, and indeed elevate, American leadership on this issue. The “Stand with Civil Society” initiative – the umbrella for the administration’s current responses on the closing space issue – is closely identified with Obama himself, given his strong personal role in it. As a result, it may be tempting for the next U.S. president to discontinue or downgrade this initiative, given the general tendency in U.S. foreign policy of incoming presidents not to take up initiatives that are seen as personal enthusiasms of their immediate predecessors. Yet if the closing space issue is understood as being connected to the security concerns associated with state fragility, the need for continuing and in fact broadening the U.S. response to it becomes clear. Mounting an effective policy response to state fragility is not an issue that will be optional for the next U.S. president.
- Fourth, given that the United States has been out ahead of most other Western governments in identifying the seriousness of the closing space problem and formulating a policy response to it, Washington should work actively within the overall community of policy actors engaged on state fragility to highlight the connection between closing space and fragility and incorporate concerns over closing space actions into their broader efforts on combating fragility. This will mean expanding the efforts to insert closing space concerns into multilateral forums and mechanisms beyond those primarily relating to democracy and rights (such as the Community of Democracies and the Open Government Partnership) to others with a broader development remit, such as the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States.