Assessing Democracy Assistance: The Case of Romania

The George Washington Journal of International Law and Economics, January 1, 1996 | Go to article overview

Assessing Democracy Assistance: The Case of Romania


Assessing Democracy Assistance: The Case of Romania, by Thomas Carothers. Washington, D.C.: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1996. Pp. 132. $12.95 (softcover).

In Assessing Democracy Assistance: The Case of Romania, Thomas Carothers provides a comprehensive analysis of the workings and failings of U.S. democracy assistance in Romania. The importance of this work is foreshadowed in the forward by Morton Abromowitz:

Strengthening democratic institutions and processes has become one of the four core priorities of U.S. foreign assistance and a major feature of U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. Some three hundred million plus dollars are being spent annually on democracy promotion programs. However, there has been little real effort to determine what the effects of such assistance actually are, how it is perceived by recipients, or whether the United States is pursuing democracy promotion effectively.

This landmark work fills that gap.

The book is divided into five major sections: Introduction; Politics, Policies and Assistance; Focal Points of the Assistance; Impact and Other Inquiries; and Conclusions.

Carothers begins the Introduction with an explanation of the place of foreign assistance in U.S. foreign policy and the types of assistance used. He explains the priority that the United States and other nations have placed on providing assistance to the former eastern European countries since 1989. The author explains that in the initial period from 1989, U.S. democracy assistance to central and eastern Europe focused on constitutions and elections, which U.S. officials viewed as the most fundamental building blocks of democracy. Over time, however, U.S. assistance began to diversify into the rebuilding of state governmental institutions as well as non-state organizations and civil education organizations. He explains that as a direct result of the popularity of the concept of civil society development, nurturing non-state organizations has taken priority.

Carothers believes that enough time has passed since 1989 to begin to assess the results of U.S. democracy assistance in central and eastern Europe. He points out the lack of comprehensive fieldoriented studies of U.S. democracy assistance and is highly critical of U.S. government efforts in this area. His study, therefore, "attempts to redress this general lack of knowledge about how U.S. democracy assistance, particularly in central and eastern Europe, works in practice." Before embarking, however, Carothers sets out both the methodology and research that inform his writing.

Carothers begins his second chapter, "Policies, and Assistance," with a brief overview of the political history that formed the basis for modern-day Romania. The author starts with a brief description of political and economic life under Nicolae Ceausescu and traces the political development of Romania post-1989 through the elections of 1990 and 1992. He posits that the 1992 national elections were an important juncture in that they gained credibility for the Romanian government in the West but did not mark any significant changes in Romanian domestic evolution. After mapping the state of Romanian political and economic life after 1992, the author describes two widely divergent views of Romania taken by U.S. experts in the field.

Carothers continues his second chapter with an overview of U.S. democracy assistance to Romania. The overview begins with a look at the three-level institutional framework through which the United States has provided assistance since 1989, as well as exceptions to that framework. The author then turns to describe the types of assistance provided by the U.S. government and the parallel efforts of private U.S. foundations. The next sections of the chapter explore the relationship between democracy assistance and policy as part of a general analysis of U.S. policy toward Romania since 1989. …

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