I am delighted to participate in this colloquium on the role and future of political foundations. I can remember that when the National Endowment for Democracy was just getting underway, our friends at the Konrad Adenaeur Stiftung organized a seminar in Washington to help us think through the tasks ahead. It's therefore especially gratifying to be here with our friends from Konrad Adenaeur, as well as the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and to join with our French colleagues who are considering the establishment of political foundations in this country.
It was just a few weeks ago that we had the opportunity to welcome in Washington Senator Jacques Oudin [who has been tasked by Prime Minister Juppe with preparing a report and draft law on political foundations] and Thierry Besancon. Somehow we were able to compress a short course on the Endowment into the day-and-a-half they had available. And now Thierry has given me all of 10 minutes to answer a series of questions he has posed concerning our philosophy, procedures, program selection criteria and content, our relationship to the U.S. Government and to the diplomatic network, the impact of our programs and our influence in the U.S., and not least our "legitimacy."
It was on this last point that I was a bit confused. Was he interested in the legitimacy of our work in the context of international law, an issue we addressed in our founding Statement of Principles and Objectives? International legitimacy, after all, is hardly a marginal issue for an organization devoted to assisting the process of democratic change in other countries. Or perhaps he was interested in our legitimacy with foreign partners, not a trivial matter considering the sensitivities of some countries (Arab countries, for example, or our neighbor Mexico) about "intervention" from the United States.
But no, when I asked for a clarification, he told me he had in mind our legitimacy with our own public. "How," he asked, "after the Cold War and with budgets being cut, do you convince the media and general public that this expense is useful, that it's a good investment?" Now this, I thought, was a challenging question, one that we have had to face throughout our existence, and especially in the current period for the reasons he suggests.
It may be my nature, but I'd like to answer this question by posing some others: Why are we meeting today to discuss the establishment of political foundations in France? Why are there people here from other Western democracies -- Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States -- to join in this discussion? Indeed, why have other democracies such as Canada, Sweden and the Netherlands also established such foundations? Would we have been having such a discussion ten years ago?
I think the obvious answer to this last question is no. The subject of political foundations has become an issue today because the world has changed. We're all trying to adjust to a new world reality, and the establishment of political foundations seems to be a practical step to take.
For one thing, we're all still trying to absorb the changes unleashed by what Samuel Huntington has called "the third wave" of democratization. Political assistance is needed to help consolidate the new democracies, especially in Central and Eastern Europe: hence, political foundations.
But there is an even more fundamental factor. We are all familiar with the characteristics of this new world: globalization, the global village, instant communications and rising political consciousness -- what the British philosopher Isaiah Berlin has called the "hunger for recognition" among peoples that are awakening and insisting on the right to participate, "to count for something among the cultures of the world." These peoples want to succeed in a more competitive, rapidly changing international environment. But here they face a conflict. Some realize that to succeed, they must modernize, politically as well as economically. They must move forward. But there are others who oppose this course because of the effect modernization will have on their traditional culture and community. So this is a difficult process, made all the more so by poverty, population pressures, and a clash of cultures.
We must find a way to address this problem, if only because the consequences of failure are dangerous for the peoples involved and for the whole world. Failure will lead to growing resentment against the affluent countries, to greater flows of refugees, and perhaps even to terrorism. But the traditional methods of response available to the democracies -- diplomacy, economic and humanitarian assistance, military force -- are not sufficient. They won't work. These tools can be used to adjust to problems, to put out fires, or to play the game of balance of power between states. But the principal source of conflict in the modern world derives not from interstate rivalries but from internal problems of states -- from ethnic hatred, social breakdown, and national or religious extremism.
How, then, can we help other countries make the transition to modernity, to successful, participatory systems within the context of their own individual histories, cultures and traditions? I suggest that political foundations are one means to address this new reality. It offers a way to assist political development within other countries. It gives us a way to relate directly to people, to work with them -- cooperatively -- towards the establishment of stable political institutions; institutions that are flexible and open enough to accommodate the rising political pressures and clamor for participation in the modern world.
This suggests a broad strategic priority for the advanced democracies, which constitute only a small portion of humanity. It is to help the other nations, which constitute the majority, make the transition from one era to another. It is to help transform a zone of conflict and chaos, over time, into a zone of peace and stability. This is obviously a very long-term goal which will be achieved incrementally at best. But it is a worthy goal that is best pursued cooperatively through a combined effort of the world's democracies.
As the democracies establish political foundations to pursue this work, it is inevitable that these new institutions will reflect the unique political culture of each country. When President Reagan called for the establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy, he had in mind the model of the German stiftungen. Today there are other models, including our own foundation and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.
Our own institution has assumed a distinctly American form: consensual, pluralistic, global in scope, idealistic and pragmatic at the same time and, above all, able to represent and appeal to the idea of democracy which is the American national creed. The NED is bipartisan, with an independent Board representing liberals and conservatives, leaders of labor and business, and different racial and ethnic groups. It funds the work of four core institutes associated with our two major parties, the labor movement and the business community. It also maintains a robust discretionary program of small grants to nongovernmental groups in some 80 countries.
It funds programs that promote institutional pluralism (such as civic groups, business associations and trade unions), democratic governance (including the conduct of fair elections and the development of political party systems, the rule of law and democratic policy institutes), and democratic education, culture and free communications media. Many of the programs, especially those carried out by the four core institutes, involve training, but a substantial part of NED resources, particularly the discretionary programs, goes for direct material help to democratic activist groups.
The program is global, in keeping with the American belief that peoples throughout the world are capable of self-government, as well as with the composition of the American population, which is drawn from the entire world. It includes programs with our neighbors in Latin America, in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, in Asia (especially China), in Africa, and in the Middle East where we try to help those seeking the reconciliation of Islam and democracy.
When we got underway a dozen years ago, we faced considerable skepticism in the U.S. Some on the Right thought we would just support social democrats, while some on the Left thought we were only interested in anti-communism. To them all, we had to prove that our sole interest was the promotion of democracy, and that we would pursue that goal in a consistent manner -- in Chile and Nicaragua, in Poland and South Africa, in China and the Philippines. To those who feared that we would meddle in others' elections, we had to prove that our only purpose was to support the establishment of a democratic process, not to influence its result. In response to suspicions that we were somehow tied to the CIA, we established a policy of complete openness and transparency in everything we did.
These were only some of the premonitions that we had to dispel. We also had to demonstrate that we were not an instrument of cultural imperialism, marketing programs made in Washington, but would in all cases be responsive to the needs and priorities of our local partners. Our party institutes (the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute), responding to the charge that they would be mere junket-sponsoring "boondoggles" on behalf of their respective parties, had to demonstrate their capacity for serious political work on behalf of democracy -- which they quickly did. And of course there were charges of unaccountability, to which our response was the implementation of more financial control procedures than anyone here could imagine.
Today, democracy-promotion has become an important priority for our government. This has made it incumbent upon us to demonstrate the continuing relevance of the NED as an independent, cost-effective, efficient, non-bureaucratic means to deliver vitally-needed aid to activists at the cutting- edge of democratic change. The Endowment has become a focal point for the international democracy movement, and with the development of our International Forum for Democratic Studies, also a center for the scholarly study of democracy and a meeting point for academics and practitioners. Above all, the NED has become a symbol of the enduring American commitment to democracy in the world.
All of us face a challenge which can be expressed in the form of an apparent paradox. We have to show that our work can promote the national interest, but only if it is not tied directly to government policies. The argument is compelling if not self-evident: The advance of democracy is in our national interest (because it promotes peace, stability and good will), yet democracy can only be advanced by respecting the aspirations of those we seek to help. We are, after all, trying to influence developments in other societies. That's a delicate process. If our goal is to support democracy, we cannot have other agendas. Otherwise our efforts might be met with cynicism and even provoke a backlash. In a word, we can best serve our own higher interest by supporting others' legitimate aspirations for freedom and democracy.
This leads to a second apparent paradox. Political foundations deserve public funding because they serve a public purpose. Yet they can only be effective if they are independent of government. Government priorities are inevitably tied to short-term policy considerations, while political foundations must develop long-term relationships with private partners. It should certainly be possible to develop appropriate means of consultation with government, but government needs to respect the independence of the foundations. As democratic governments themselves get more involved in democracy- promotion programs, such consultation becomes more important. We have found that government programs often build upon initiatives started with our grants, often using much greater resources than we have available. This suggests a relationship of complementarily between the programs of governments and political foundations. It also highlights the need for the foundations to be innovative and bold, to take risks. The foundations must demonstrate to their publics and legislatures that they can do what governments can't and shouldn't do, that they serve a necessary function that can be performed only by independent entities.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize the importance of modesty in setting goals. Democracy is a long-term process. It can't be imposed from without or exported. It must develop from within, according to the circumstances and capabilities of the peoples involved. We can help this process. We should help it, for moral reasons and also because it is our interest to do so. You will have to find your own way into this new area of work, and if you do, we look forward to working with you.