Four characteristics mark the Endowment as a unique venture in private/public cooperation on behalf of the democratic cause through out the world.
First, NED’S program is global in scope: it has reached from the Baltic seacoast (where NED support was crucial in sustaining Solidarity during the hard days of the mid-1980s) to South Africa, from the Philippines to Nicaragua, from Pakistan to Vietnam. And in casting its net widely but carefully, NED has been instrumental in developing an expanding global network of democratic theorists and activists. In a common quest for ordered liberty under law, these theorists and activists share experiences and ideas, pro vide one another with protection from despotic governments, and build bridges of understanding and solidarity.
Second, being non-governmental gives NED a distinct advantage in supporting democrats abroad. Government-sponsored programs in support of democratic transitions and consolidations are important; but they are also bound by the diplomatic, economic, and security considerations that governments must observe when dealing with other governments. NED, on the other hand, works on a people-to-people basis. And in doing so, it gives concrete expression to one of the key insights of the democratic resistance of the 1980s: that transitions to democracy must be built on the sturdy foundation of a vital civil society. The fact that NED works out of and through the American independent sector, rather than as an agency of the U.S. government, also gives it a quick-response capability in crisis situations (and I mean “crisis” in the sense of both danger and opportunity) that is often beyond the capacity of the federal government. Finally, NED’S distance from the government is a source of both credibility and protection for the people with whom it works abroad.
Third, NED’S program reflects a “multi-sectoral” approach to democratic transitions and consolidations. As noted above, the Endowment is a thoroughly ecumenical enterprise: it works with political leaders and educators, business people and trade unionists, women’s civic organizations and religiously based associations, journalists and scholars. NED does not confine its support to any one “sector” of civil society. Rather, it works to strengthen the full range of free pre-political and political institutions that make democratic self-government possible. Thus the work of the four core institutes and the Endowment’s own discretionary grants, taken together, enable NED to respond comprehensively, rather than in a piecemeal fashion, to the complex needs of a particular situation of democratic transition or consolidation.
Fourth, and finally, because “democracy” is NED’S sole mission, it has been able to work effectively across the broad range of authentically democratic political visions in the contemporary world. NED has not forced foreign democrats onto a Procrustean bed labeled “Made in the USA” (much less “Made in the Reagan Administration” or “Made in the Clinton Administration”); there is none of the Ugly American syndrome here. Rather, its single-focus mission and the integrity and consistency with which its board and staff have carried out that mission have given NED tremendous credibility with conservative democrats and liberal democrats alike. No reasonable person can accuse NED of fostering any one “school” of democratic theory or practice. Just as, in NED itself, conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats have worked together for the common cause of ordered liberty, so in its grant-making has the Endowment fostered the growth of democratic organizations and institutions across a wide spectrum of social, political, and economic opinion.
And it has done all this for virtually pennies: some $25-30 million per year in what is now a $1 trillion annual federal budget, which works out to be something like $3 in $100,000.
Not surprisingly, NED has become a model for other countries. Britain and Canada, for ex ample, have established NED-like foundations.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.