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  • Trends in Democracy AssistanceWhat has the United States Been Doing?
  • Dinorah Azpuru (bio), Steven E. Finkel (bio), Aníbal Pérez-Liñán (bio), and Mitchell A. Seligson (bio)

Since the end of the Cold War, democracy assistance has become an explicit and increasingly large component of many bilateral and multilateral aid programs. This is in sharp contrast to the Cold War period itself, when democracy assistance was either absent entirely from donors' portfolios or was simply the byproduct of other programs. The recent expansion of democracy assistance, along with the U.S.-led military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, has spurred a spirited debate on the ethics and efficacy of democracy-promotion activities. Yet too little is known about the overall trends in U.S. democracy assistance since the end of the Cold War. This essay fills that gap, and in so doing places Iraq within the broader context of what the United States has done in the realm of democracy assistance worldwide since 1990.

Democracy assistance is now among the top categories to which the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) directs funds, the only larger ones being health and what USAID calls agriculture and economic growth. In 1990, by contrast, as the Cold War was nearing its end, democracy assistance was near the bottom, ahead only of funding for humanitarian concerns. In brief, what began as a largely regional effort in Latin America in the late 1980s has now become a worldwide endeavor—one that has expanded in magnitude and diversity, and that has branched out into areas, such as governance, that in the early 1990s received only scant attention. [End Page 150]

In the post–Cold War era, U.S. foreign-policy discourse has consistently underscored the importance of aid designed to foster democracy and economic development. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both have emphasized that supporting the growth of democracy in the world is an essential task. President Clinton in his 1994 State of the Union address called the promotion of democracy and human rights the "third pillar" of his foreign-policy agenda,1 and President Bush has time and again highlighted the prominence that democracy building around the world takes among his foreign-policy goals.

Before beginning, it is vital to make a conceptual distinction between democracy promotion and democracy assistance, as this essay focuses exclusively on the latter. Democracy promotion refers to an array of measures aimed at establishing, strengthening, or defending democracy in a given country. Such measures may range from diplomatic pressure to conditionality on development aid to economic sanctions, and even to military intervention. Democracy assistance is a form of democracy promotion. It provides funds or direct assistance to governments, institutions, or civil society actors that are working either to strengthen an emerging democracy or to foster conditions that could lead to democracy's rise where a nondemocratic regime holds power. This analysis examines democracy assistance only—what Thomas Carothers has called "the quiet side" of U.S. democracy promotion.2

Until now, the absence of comprehensive and systematic data on the magnitude and distribution of U.S. democracy assistance—where, on what, and in which quantities these funds have been spent—has prevented analysts from identifying patterns of assistance and has frustrated rigorous empirical research into democracy aid's impact. Earlier studies rest on data regarding foreign assistance that fail to distinguish democracy assistance from other types of development aid. Our use here of a newly assembled dataset showing all U.S. foreign-assistance through USAID over a sixteen-year period (1990 through 2005) allows us to clarify some of those questions and to identify patterns in the data. Our major aim is to describe where U.S. democracy assistance went during those years and in what amounts, using the most comprehensive multiyear data currently available, so as to provide a solid point of departure for future studies.3

This analysis will clear up at least some of the confusion and ambiguities that currently muddy the topic of U.S. democracy aid. The database we use tracks USAID democracy-assistance funds from 1990 to 2005 and comprises 44,958 records that capture the composition of...