The Bureaucratic Politics of Democracy Promotion: The Russian Democratization Project

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At the outset of the Clinton Administration, relations with Russia and assisting its transition to a market democracy sat at the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda. Analysis of democracy promotion in Russia in the 1990s reveals three distinct levels of activity. First, through legislation and public statements, the U.S. foreign policy elite set the goals to assist the new independent states of the former Soviet Union in developing the rule of law with an independent judiciary, market economy, plural representative political institutions including free and fair elections, and civil society with independent media. Second, accomplishing these goals fell to the key foreign affairs agencies--the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Information Agency--to translate them into actionable democracy promotion programs. Finally, through federal acquisition regulations and institutional procedures, those agencies conducted competitions and awarded grants to U.S. non-governmental organizations to design and implement programs in country to build market democracies in the former Soviet space. Analysis of this three-tiered process suggested that democracy promotion programs in the 1990s were designed and implemented in isolation from one another.

By the end of the decade, Russia clearly had not made the progress in economic and political reform, which U.S. officials initially expected. Russia's internal dynamics, over which the U.S. had no control, hindered external assistance efforts. Because building democracy is such a complex and long-term internal process, external actors could not create democracy where the ground was not fertile. In order for democratic institutions to take root, the Russian population needed to be open to democratic values like transparency, accountability, tolerance, and political participation. Democracy programs needed to be customized, taking into account the relationships among political and economic institutions, rule of law, and civil society on the ground. Targeting elements of a market democracy individually created gaps and relegated some important programs, particularly targeting the rule of law, to lower priorities. Greater attention to connecting people through educational exchanges and sharing information through Internet access would have helped prepare the ground for democracy.