Thomas Carothers is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He directs the Democracy and Rule of Law Program and oversees several other Carnegie programs, including Carnegie Europe in Brussels, the Energy and Climate Program, and the D.C.-based Europe Program.
Carothers is a leading authority on international support for democracy, human rights, governance, comparative democratization, and U.S. foreign policy relating to democracy and human rights. He has worked on democracy-assistance projects for many organizations and carried out extensive field research on aid efforts around the world. He also has broad experience relating to human rights, rule of law development, civil society building, and think tank development in transitional and developing countries.
He is the author of six critically acclaimed books and many articles in prominent journals and newspapers. He has worked extensively with the Open Society Foundations (OSF), previously serving as chair of the OSF Global Advisory Board and currently serving as a board member of the Open Society Initiative for Europe. He is a distinguished visiting professor at the Central European University in Budapest and was previously a visiting faculty member at Nuffield College, Oxford University, and Johns Hopkins SAIS.
Prior to joining the Endowment, Carothers practiced international and financial law at Arnold & Porter and served as an attorney adviser in the office of the legal adviser of the U.S. Department of State.
His recent publications include “Democracy Aid at 25: Time to Choose” (Journal of Democracy, January 2015), Closing Space: International Support for Democracy and Human Rights Under Fire (2014), and Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution (with Diane de Gramont, 2013).
Western democratic powers are no longer the dominant external shapers of political transitions around the world.
Democracy aid has arrived not at a crisis, but at a crossroads, defined by two very different possible paths forward.
The wide-reaching consensus around the normative and instrumental value of accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion remains less solid than enthusiasts of these concepts might wish.
Rising democracies are becoming key players in global democracy promotion, but they often struggle to detach the external support they provide from their own transition experiences.
After seeing its reach increase for decades, international support for democracy and human rights now faces a serious challenge.
It is time for U.S. and other Western observers to put aside comparisons based on imagined ideals of opposition quality and behavior and more realistically and thoughtfully attempt to understand Egypt’s new political life and possible political futures.
The overall record of Obama's democracy policy is mixed, combining valuable revitalization with continued troubling shortcomings.
Analysts of the Arab Spring should be cautious when invoking historical analogies to explain recent events in the Middle East and North Africa.
International aid donors have learned important lessons about how to provide effective governance assistance to developing countries, but turning these insights into practice remains a major challenge.
Rising democracies from the developing world have the potential to assist and revitalize international democracy support. Encouraging these countries to do more to support democracy abroad should be a priority, but it will not be easy.
While the wave of political change sweeping through the Arab world is reminiscent of the political upheaval in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989, historical analogies cannot capture the complex and dramatic events occurring or predict how this change will end.
The recent revolution in Tunisia demonstrates that the complete stifling of political opposition does not guarantee longevity for authoritarian regimes.
Over the past twenty years, democracy promoters and development practitioners have become increasingly interconnected and the distinctions between the two communities have become blurred.
USAID—the largest source of U.S. democracy assistance—requires deep-reaching reforms if the Obama administration hopes to adequately address challenges to democracy around the world.
World leaders should avoid overestimating the degree of consensus about what building the rule of law means in practice, reducing the concept down to a procedural minimum, and embracing the idea that the rule of law should precede democracy.
Good news on democratization, though often less visible, has occurred in roughly equal proportion to bad news. By taking on this more balanced perspective, the Obama administration can ensure that unnecessary pessimism does not hinder important U.S. support for democracy around the world.
The Obama administration can find a positive new way forward on democracy promotion by changing how the United States supports democracy abroad rather than what emphasis to place on it relative to other interests.
The divide between the political and developmental approaches to assisting democracy starts from contrasting ideas about both democracy and democratization and leads to very different configurations of assistance programs. Yet this division need not represent a rift in the world of democracy aid. Both have a significant place in U.S. and European efforts in supporting democracy around the world.
Until recently Western assistance programs aimed at strengthening political parties were less present in the Arab world than in almost all other areas of the developing world. As part of the heightened U.S. and European interest in promoting Arab political reform, however, such programs are multiplying in the region.
Thomas Carothers analyzes current challenges to democracy promotion in "Does Democracy Promotion Have a Future?" published in a new book on Democracy and Development, edited by Bernard Berendsen ( KIT Publishers, Amsterdam).
Influential policy experts on both sides of the U.S. political aisle are proposing a “League of Democracies” as a way for the next administration to restore the credibility of U.S. foreign policy priorities and put democracy promotion efforts back on track. However, in a policy brief,Is a League of Democracies a Good Idea?, Thomas Carothers argues that the proposal rests on a false assumption.
I salute the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and congratulate it on this important occasion, taking note of the significant contribution that NED has made to democracy worldwide. I would like to highlight what I believe are some of the main advances and achievements of democracy assistance over the past quarter-century and also to examine the challenging road ahead.
The main U.S. presidential candidates have voiced support for democracy promotion, but not yet outlined plans to put it back on track.
Tony Smith's response to Tom Carothers article, The Democracy Crusade Myth. and Carothers' retort.
The July 2007 issue of Journal of Democracy showcases a debate on Thomas Carothers’ “The ‘Sequencing’ Fallacy” featuring Edward Mansfield, Jack Snyder, Francis Fukuyama, Sheri Berman, and Carothers. Mansfield and Snyder reassert their view that rapid democratization can be a dangerous recipe for civil or interstate violence. Carothers responds by explaining that Mansfield and Snyder mischaracterize his analysis while failing to address his central assertions.
ATTENTION in Washington begins to turn to the likely or desired shape of a post-Bush foreign policy, calls for a return to realism are increasingly heard. A common theme is that the United States should back away from what is often characterized as a reckless Bush crusade to promote democracy around the world. Although it is certainly true that U.S. foreign policy is due for a serious recalibration, the notion that democracy promotion plays a dominant role in Bush policy is a myth.
In the second half of the 1990s, a counterreaction emerged to the heady enthusiasm about democracy promotion that flourished during the peak years of democracy’s “third wave” in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Believing that the global democratic wave had been oversold, several policy experts and scholars produced a series of influential articles articulating a pessimistic, cautionary view.
The U.S. efforts to promote democracy are nefarious to regimes. The U.S. must fight this perception by not selling democracy as solely American concept and being consistent in speaking for political reform in nations that have been less scrutinized for their assistance in fighting terrorism.
The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), part of the Bush’s policy of promoting reform, is falling short and should be relaunched as a private foundation funded by the government. Such a relaunch would permit MEPI to develop greater expertise in the region, use more flexible, effective aid methods, and gain some independence from other U.S. programs and policies that serve conflicting ends.
It is hard not to be tantalized by the notion that with one hard blow in Iraq the United States could unleash a tidal wave of democracy in a region long gripped by intransigent autocracy. But although the United States can certainly oust Saddam Hussein and install a less repressive regime, Iraqi democracy would not be soon forthcoming.
The rapidly growing field of rule-of-law assistance is operating from a disturbingly thin base of knowledge—with respect to the core rationale of the work, how change in the rule of law occurs, and the real effects of the changes that are produced.
The U.S. faces two contradictory imperatives in the war on terror: on the one hand, it tempts the U.S. to put aside its democratic scruples and seek closer ties with autocracies throughout the Middle East and Asia. On the other hand, the U.S. has increasingly come to believe that it is precisely the lack of democracy in many of these countries that helps breed Islamic extremism.
USAID and the State Department operate under two distinct philosophies on how to promote democracy abroad. USAID underwrites technocratic democracy aid programs and sees democratization as a long-term developmental process. In contrast, the State Department focuses on politicians and political events, not on developmental processes, and wants immediate results.
Western aid for civil-society development in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union needs to be evaluated from a past-present-future standpoint. It is also important to place the aid in the context of developments in the region.
Since 1989, the US sponsored a wide array of assistance programs aimed at helping the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union transition to capitalism and democracy. The worrying trend away from market reforms and liberal democracy in a number of countries of the region has fueled debate as to whether the assistance effort has fallen short and, if so, why.