Academic journal article Global Governance

Situating the UN Democracy Fund

Academic journal article Global Governance

Situating the UN Democracy Fund

Article excerpt

THE UN DEMOCRACY FUND (UNDEF) IS A RELATIVELY NEW BODY ESTABlished to contribute to building democracy around the world. It is the only UN body with the word "Democracy" in its title, and one of only two entities singled out by name by President Barack Obama in his 2010 UN General Assembly speech as deserving of increased support. (1) As a fund, its purpose is to invest in democratization processes and thus to encourage progress toward the ideals of democracy. In the first five years of UNDEF's assistance, some thirty-eight states have contributed around $110 million. The two leading contributors to UNDEF are the United States and India. The idea of creating UNDEF emerged from discussions between these two countries. Other major contributors are Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Qatar, Spain, and Sweden, as well as a wide range of nontraditional donors from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. By 2010, UNDEF had held four rounds of funding and launched 335 projects. (2)

To determine how and in whom to invest these funds, UNDEF must situate itself in several ways. First, it needs to understand the theoretical context in which it works and determine where it fits into this wider picture. Second, UNDEF needs to find its place within the UN family so as to complement the work of other members of the organization, not duplicate it. Finally, it needs to understand the market in which it is operating. Because UNDEF is a voluntary fund and contributions to UNDEF are eligible as official development assistance (ODA), it is within the ODA processes that UNDEF must situate itself. In this article, I examine each of these issues before arriving at a solution. Much of the information that I draw on is available at the UNDEF website, www.un.org/democracyfund/.

Debating Democracy: Beware of Adjectives

The oft-repeated social science expression that "we are all footnotes to Plato" is as true of democratic theory as other fields. Plato's preference for the philosopher king over the vulgar opinions of the masses is mirrored today in the debate between the Beijing and Washington models of governance. It is beyond the scope of this essay to encapsulate two and one-half millennia of debate or to proclaim new Platonic footnotes. Nor is it necessary to deal with the definition of democracy or "power to the people" that has formed the basis of so much impressive scholarly work. (3) But it is necessary initially to deal with the question of models of democracy because those involved in promoting democracy require a vision of the ideal they are working toward.

Beware of adjectives. This is the lesson we should draw from an instructive paper by David Collier and Steven Levitsky who found 550 adjectives used in the literature to describe democracy. (4) Some adjectives undermine the noun they are describing such as Sukarno's "guided democracy" or Singapore's "disciplined democracy." Many of these adjectives have been bundled together in the concept of "facade democracy" where essential elements of suffrage, contestation, or civil liberties are missing. (5) But other adjectives are necessary for reasons of taxonomy and analysis purposes to harness the meaning of this powerful and broad term. In this essay, I will draw on the three adjectives that are considered essential to the construction of modern national democracies.

Liberal Democracy

Larry Diamond defines the term liberal in liberal democracy to mean "a political system in which individual and group liberties are well protected and in which there exist autonomous spheres of civil society and private life, insulated from the state." (6) A society "where liberties are well protected" is essential to the success and quality of democracy. Yet there is a tension within Diamond's definition. While he sees individuals and civil society leading a private life independent of the state, the protection of the liberties on which that autonomous private life rests is dependent on the state. …

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