Two recent publications tackle the issue of state fragility and policy choices for the US in addressing vulnerable countries and communities. An inaugural paper directed at the incoming administration, is a result of a joint project by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Center for a New American Security, and the United States Institute of Peace. It is aptly titled “U.S. Leadership and the Challenge of State Fragility,” and is co-authored by William J. Burns, Michele A. Flournoy, and Nancy E. Lindborg, all veterans of the US government, respectively at the State Department, Department of Defense, and USAID. Additional Policy Briefs are already being published “to discuss the implications of fragility on existing U.S. tools, strategic interests, and challenges.”
The second is a series of blogs being published by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which deals with “supporting democratic resilience to violent conflict.” Both efforts seek to focus conceptual and policy-making energy on lessons learned since our involvement in Afghanistan and how the US can avoid the pitfalls of what had been called “nation-building” and other efforts to promote democracy and governance in emerging political societies.
‘State Fragility’ poses four criteria for making policy choices: clearly articulating US priorities; allocating limited expertise and resources; and building on international support and and local capabilities for building resilience. What is of particular interest is the assumption that those countries that are managing their affairs are less of a priority in this series because the failures of fragile states have a higher probability of destabilizing the country and surrounding nations.
In the MENA region, this means that more effective state actors such as Morocco will have to continue to expend high levels of energy and resources to combat extremist forces that seek to undermine its security, stability, and prosperity. Others working to implement a comprehensive CVE strategy, such as Tunisia, or those with a go-it-alone approach based on local sensibilities, i.e. Algeria, will have to rely primarily on its own capacity to continue the fight against radicals.
Protecting Democratic Gains
In this context, the NDI series aims directly at what we know will enable the path to democracy for those countries already committed to that mission. Although the pace of democratization may be too snail-like for some observers, there can be no doubt that the trend toward greater political accountability and local decision-making is becoming more prevalent in countries not in conflict in the MENA region.
Why is this critical? As the NDI paper points out, “A key goal of democratization is peaceful politics. Political battles may be inevitable, but in stable democracies they are not waged by armed groups, but through institutions such as elections, parliaments, the media, and civil society organizations.”
Morocco, on the eve of its second parliamentary election since the new constitution was adopted in 2011, recognizes the crucial value of building political institutions resistant to political manipulations. The process has been and continues to be a lengthy one with several moving parts: local elections reflecting the regionalization policy of devolving more political decision-making to locally elected officials, a judiciary and election commission increasingly independent of the central government, a cabinet lead by the party that garners the largest number of votes, and greater freedom of appointments by the government rather than the palace, among other factors.
There are many studies that indicate that countries that mature into full democracies “have the lowest levels of violence towards their own citizens and are more peaceful neighbors than autocratic states.” Thus NDI engages countries that are evolving their democratic institutions, policies, and values.
Morocco is consolidating its democratic advances by empowering civil service organizations to act as advocates and service providers, pressing political parties to build constituencies based on policies and capable candidates, and prodding Parliament to take significant responsibilities for building an accountable process for debating and enacting legislation.
Tunisian faces as many internal as external challenges ranging from manipulations by traditional power centers to sustain the status quo, parliament that struggles to move out of crisis mode, and rapidly evolving security services to combat internal and external threats.
As the NDI blog points out, its work is to build “conflict resilience at all of these levels – institutions, policies, and norms – simultaneously, by promoting peaceful elections, bridging conflict divides, supporting effective post-conflict transitions, and ensuring citizen security and inclusive political processes.”
Through its programs in Morocco and Tunisia, NDI promotes the adoption of effective strategies that enable the country to evolve its democratic capabilities. In these efforts, NDI’s programs are strongly facilitated by King Mohammed’s commitment to enhancing the capacities of all members of Moroccan society to take up their full roles and responsibilities as citizens.
In Tunisia, democracy capacity-building is hampered by the need “to foster a more representative political environment where political parties compete effectively on behalf of citizens’ interests, parliament conducts responsive legislating and oversight, and civil society plays an active role in overseeing the political process,” efforts which require a degree of internal stability which is still evolving.
The MENA region needs success stories to encourage citizens to press for needed reforms rather than opting out of politics as usual or turning to more militant alternatives. It is in America’s interests to consistently and sustainable support its friends.
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