Washington’s top development agency needs to focus on building governments, not democracies, in chaotic foreign countries, according to Max Boot and Michael Miklaucic, respectively the Council on Foreign Relations’ Senior Fellow for National Security Studies, and the National Defense University’s Director of Research, Information, and Publications, at the Center for Complex Operations.
Nurturing representative institutions is a legitimate job for the National Endowment for Democracy. But USAID should prioritize effective governance over democratic governance, they write for Foreign Policy:
Even democracy can be a luxury good in the developing world. Yet the USAID program for nation-building is billed as Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance. The most important issue — governance — is put in last place, with most of USAID’s emphasis on supporting elections, political parties, and civil society organizations, rather than nuts-and-bolts governmental functions. Yet the United States can live with undemocratic states as long as they behave responsibly; indeed, states such as Jordan and Singapore are close American allies. Many become democracies in time, as did South Korea, Chile, and Indonesia. And, while perhaps distasteful to some, the United States has a long tendency to look the other way at human-rights violations committed by strategically important countries such as Egypt and Vietnam.
The United States cannot live with ungoverned spaces, however, which inevitably become a breeding ground for and exporter of terrorism, criminal networks, disease, refugees, and other problems, Boot and Miklaucic argue in a new Policy Innovation Memorandum for the Council on Foreign Relations:
Of course there is no guarantee that even a restructured USAID will succeed at nation-building in every instance or even in most instances. This is a notoriously difficult undertaking. The United States, however, has had success in contributing to state-building in such disparate countries as Colombia, East Timor, El Salvador, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, the Philippines, and South Korea, with USAID having played a role in some of those instances. Although there is no way to predict how often USAID will succeed, even a few successes are worth the relatively modest (by government standards) investment. There is simply no good alternative to nation-building if the United States wants to address the problem of failed states while avoiding endless military interventions. And if the U.S. government is to get better at nation-building, a transformed USAID needs to take the lead role.