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When and why is civil society support “made-in-America”? Delegation to non-state actors in American democracy promotion

Abstract

One of the United States’ main strategies of democracy promotion involves supporting civil society abroad. According to original data, most of the money spent by the United States on that task supports American NGOs working abroad rather than local NGOs in transitioning and non-democratic countries. Yet there are also significant variations across countries in donor officials’ reliance on American NGOs. Why do American donor officials fund American NGOs as a strategy of aiding democracy abroad more in some cases than in others? This paper argues that donor officials find it easier to observe American NGOs than other NGOs and that American NGOs are more likely to share donor officials’ preferences. Donor officials are therefore more likely to pursue a strategy of “made-in-America” democracy support in countries that are salient for U.S. foreign policy. Evidence from a new data set of democracy assistance programs supports the argument. The findings have implications for the study of American foreign policy, foreign aid effectiveness, and NGOs in world politics.

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Notes

  1. NGOs are one of many forms of non-state actors in global governance. I follow Murdie (2014, 20–23) in defining NGOs as organizations that “are not states or controlled by states,” hold a “stated not-for-profit status,” and “are not formed for the expressed purpose of aiding one political candidate or cohesive set of political candidates.” Although some scholars prefer the term “private voluntary organization” (e.g., McClery 2001), I use the term “NGO” to be consistent with the literature on civil society support (e.g., Carothers and Ottaway 2000) and as well as the donor organization I study.

  2. According to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is the largest donor in American democracy assistance, obligated $261 million to aid civil society in 2011. The NED obligated $135 million to NGOs that year.

  3. See also McFaul (2010, 198).

  4. In addition, 66 % of the respondents indicated that the majority of their organizations’ annual budget came from these donors. The author acknowledges Joel Barkan’s assistance with accessing data from the surveys he conducted for the World Movement for Democracy in 2009 and 2010. See Barkan (2012).

  5. It is important to note that other research takes more a dismal view of the effects of NGO competition. Cooley and Ron (2002, 16) argue, for example, that competition for aid contracts can cause NGOs to focus more on securing funding than on “ethics, program efficacy, and self-criticism.” In other words, although competitive bidding may result in more information about program activities, it does not necessarily lead to more effective programs.

  6. NGOs funded by the NED occasionally further delegate to other NGOs. Anecdotally, privileged NGOs are more likely to re-delegate than non-privileged NGOs, which may make them even more likely to engage in agency slack. As such, testing Hypothesis 2 explores these further delegation dynamics.

  7. Non-American, non-local NGOs implement less than 5 % of projects. A more nuanced coding scheme that accounted for staff nationality would be desirable but is impossible owing to lack of data.

  8. This principle can be used to identify privileged NGOs for other donors and other types of foreign assistance. For example, USAID introduced an explicit policy in 1995 whereby three NGOs—IRI, NDI, and IFES—became members of the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) and therefore received priority funding in a variety of countries to implement programs related to elections and political processes.

  9. 2010 and 2011 are the only overlapping years for which these data are available.

  10. I take the natural log of the number of briefing mentions to account for skewness. As is customary, I added one first to eliminate zeroes.

  11. I summarize those additional findings here. First, formal alliances in the previous year (Gibler 2009) are not related to Proportion American. Since few countries have formal alliances with the United States in my dataset—and important strategic partners such as Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia are not formal allies—I do not find the lack of a significant relationship surprising. In other words, formal alliance does not seem to be a very good proxy for salience, as it does not count some important partners as well as important non-partners. Second, economic interdependence—measured using the natural log of the combined imports and exports from the United States (lagged) (Barbieri et al. 2009; Barbieri and Keshk 2012)—is positively and significantly related to the outcome variable. This relationship is more expected, since economically interdependent countries are likely to be relatively important in terms of U.S. foreign policy.

  12. I use these scores because donor officials use them but consider another measure of democracy (Polity) below.

  13. Note that Democrats controlled Congress throughout the study’s time period.

  14. Since matching requires a dichotomous treatment variable, I consider countries Salient if they received at least 30 briefing mentions, although the findings are robust to other cut-offs. The supplementary file shows that I obtain similar results while using the dichotomous measure of Salient with the unmatched sample. Another strategy would be to use a selection model. It is not possible, however, to identify factors that should affect whether the NED sends aid but not how it channels aid.

  15. First, I added a variable that equals one if the country’s official language is English and zero otherwise. Second, I included the total number of NED projects that country–year. Third, I added the natural log of the country’s GDP per capita, which also measures local NGOs’ capacity. Fourth, I added a variable that equals one if the country experienced civil war since 2000 and zero otherwise (Gleditsch et al. 2002; Themnér and Wallensteen 2014).

  16. This analysis is pertinent because the presence of local NGOs within countries could influence donor officials’ likelihood of funding American NGOs. Unfortunately, I am aware of no dataset that records the number of domestic NGOs in countries over time. For example, the Yearbook of International Organizations records information about international NGOs only—not domestic NGOs. Looking at legal restrictions against foreign funding of local NGOs therefore offers some insight into the availability of local NGOs as potential funding recipients.

  17. First, I added the natural log of the total disaster-affected population in the country in the previous year, drawing on data from EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database (Guha-Sapir et al. 2015). Next, I added a dichotomous variable that equals one if the country experienced a civil war in the previous year and zero otherwise, drawing on data from the UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Dataset (Gleditsch et al. 2002; Themnér and Wallensteen 2014). I do not control for whether the country experienced an interstate war in the previous year because no countries in my sample experienced such a conflict according to the UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Dataset.

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Acknowledgments

I thank Rob Brown, Simone Dietrich, Jennifer Dixon, Andrea Everett, Erin Graham, Jessica Green, Jennifer Hadden, Andrew Little, Aila Matanock, Tsveta Petrova, Mark Pollack, Hillel Soifer, Sarah Stroup, Dustin Tingley, Felicity Vabulas, Yael Zeira, three anonymous reviewers, and participants at a workshop at the University of Pennsylvania for feedback on earlier versions of this article. I also thank Charlotte Myer for her excellent research assistance.

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Bush, S.S. When and why is civil society support “made-in-America”? Delegation to non-state actors in American democracy promotion. Rev Int Organ 11, 361–385 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-015-9234-8

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Keywords

  • Non-governmental organizations
  • Democracy promotion
  • Civil society
  • Delegation
  • American foreign policy