In This Review

Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve
Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve
By Thomas Carothers
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999, 412 pp

The best book yet on American democracy assistance. In recent years, the promotion of democracy has become a major U.S. foreign-policy goal, spawning thousands of aid projects in countries seeking to strengthen nascent democratic institutions. But soaring goals and ambitious programs have often outpaced sober assessments. Carothers tries to build an analytic framework for understanding this new field and addressing whether these programs actually work. The result is a model of policy analysis that cuts through the rhetorical excesses of both democracy promoters and skeptics. Richly empirical, the book is organized around democracy programs in four countries -- Guatemala, Nepal, Zambia, and Romania -- and untangles the various types of aid initiatives. Carothers argues that democracy assistance can contribute at the margins to democracy building but warns that projects should be targeted and expectations kept modest. Above all, democracy promoters must develop a more sophisticated understanding of where particular countries are in their development so they can find opportunities for effective change. But Carothers also admits that these programs' ultimate impact may be primarily indirect by fostering the necessary skills of local democracy builders.