Pinto-Duschinsky explains WFD

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Appendix C: A note by Dr Michael Pinto Duschinsky

Michael Pinto Duschinsky was the consultant to the FCO on the setting up of Westminster Foundation for Democracy. This note explains the original thinking behind the model adopted in 1992.

To: David French
From: Michael Pinto-Duschinsky
22 November 2004

The nature and scope of "political aid": historical note on the formation of the Westminster Foundation For Democracy, 1988-1992.

This memorandum gives a brief answer to the following questions:

  • What was the intended function of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy?
  • In which sectors was the WFD supposed to operate?
  • Was the WFD intended to act principally or exclusively as a vehicle for aid, via British parties, to foreign parties?

I am answering these questions on the basis of the following experience.

In December 1988, the Policy Planning Staff of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office commissioned me to carry out full-time research for one year into the topic of "political aid" with

special reference of the US National Endowment for Democracy and the (West) German political foundations. This work was carried out in 1989-90.
In June 1989, the Planners asked me to speak to a high level seminar of ministers and officials on political aid. Following this meeting, the Planners (under Robert Cooper and Jonathan Powell) submitted a set of recommendations - eventually to result in the creation of WFD - to the Foreign Secretary. Following his approval, the proposal to create a capacity for delivering "political aid" was approved in turn by the Cabinet.
A paper which I wrote in February 1990 (titled "Political Aid") was then shown to the leaders of political parties in the House of Commons and approved by them.
The Foreign Secretary announced to the Conservative Party Conference in 1991 the commitment to create the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and I was then asked again by the Planners to draw up documents for the working of the new body, of which I was appointed a founder governor.
WFD formally came into existence just before the general election of 1992.

Subsequently, I was consulted by the Planners in 1994-5 and in 2001 about policy concerning "political aid".

What was the Intended Function of the Westminster Foundation For Democracy?

The WFD was intended as an instrument that would permit the British Government to fund political activities within foreign countries, thereby promoting democracy and British influence.

Such interference in the political affairs of foreign nations had previously been covert and had caused problems when secret financial assistance had leaked into the public domain (as occurred in the United States in the 1960s concerning certain political projects of the Central Intelligence Agency of the US).

The propositions presented in 1989 onwards were that such interference in the internal politics of foreign countries would be more legitimate and more effective (1) if it was OPEN, (2) if it was at ARMS LENGTH from the governmental bodies which provided the funds and (3) if aid could be given to a PLURALITY OF RECIPIENTS within a single country.

The aid to be funded by the WFD was to be distinguished by the fact that it would be "political" rather than technical or educational. The WFD was to give grants that were recognised as sensitive and risky. For this reason, the size of grants was generally to be much smaller than the "good government" projects funded by DFID (then titled the Overseas Development Administration).

The distinction between technical and educational projects on the one hand and political projects on the other hand required a special legal status for the WFD. The leading firm of solicitors, Allen and Overy, was therefore approached to provide the necessary legal advice.

In which sectors was the WFD supposed to operate?

The presentations and papers of the time make it clear that the question of sectors of activity was not central. The distinctive feature of the new Foundation and its comparative advantage was its freedom to give political - rather than technical or educational - grants. The WFD, for example, could give money to political forces which were in direct opposition to existing governments.

Political pluralism sometimes - but by no means always - expressed itself through the organisation of political parties. In many countries, parties could not operate freely. Democracy promotion thus required the capacity to assist a whole variety of political groups and organisations, including newspapers, samizdat publications, independent radio or TV channels, trade unions (such as Solidarnosc in Poland), religious organisations, women's groups, and so forth.

My paper for the Policy Planning Staff of 7 February 1990 titled "Political Aid" made this point clearly. It argued that there was a central distinction between "institutional development" projects such as those typically administered by governmental bodies (such as development aid agencies) and "political aid".

Examples of so-called "good government" projects designed to promote "institutional development" included the training of police forces in developing nations or "the provision of library and computerised information systems for a legislature in an under-developed country". Police training typically was categorised as a "Rule of Law" activity and the provision of library facilities for a parliament was categorised as "Legislative Development". Both activities were of a different character from "political" projects in these same sectors.

The fact that it was the character of the project rather than the sector of activity that was relevant was illustrated (in paragraph 45) by the example of "media":

"projects are commonly classified as relating to "media". But there is the world of difference between projects devoted to training journalists employed by a government run news service and projects which fund newspapers independent of and critical of the government. The latter are more likely to promote pluralism."

The same point was made in greater detail in the paper I was commissioned to write by the Policy Branch of the Canadian International Development Agency. ("Democratic Development and Human Rights: The Practical Dimension" October 1991.)

The paper contrasted some German "media" projects with those of the US National Endowment for Democracy. The German projects in several African countries were examples of technical assistance. They

"have helped governmental information ministries and broadcasting authorities in one-party states. It is evident that, at least in the short run, such ventures may provide training for the propaganda agencies of dictators and, far from promoting democracy, may thus risk consolidating undemocratic regimes."

Such projects were completely different from "political" projects in the media sector such as some of those funded by the National Endowment for Democracy. The NED's media grants in the late 1980s

"have consisted of payments for the benefit of struggling independent media and publications in non-democratic regimes. The OKNO publications in Poland when it was still under Communist

rule, Radio Nanduti in President Stroessner's Paraguay, as well as independent newspapers in Guyana, Sudan, Bulgaria and South Africa are examples of opposition media subsidised by the


In practice, as shown later by the experience of the WFD, support for controversial publications in foreign countries needs to be sanctioned by an independent organisation at arm's length from the donor government. The damage to official government-to-government relationships is likely to be far greater if the grant is given directly by the donor government.

Was the WFD intended to act principally or exclusively as a vehicle for aid, via British parties, to foreign parties?

Political parties are one key feature of democracies. Thus, the WFD was created to allow British parties to receive public funds for use to aid foreign counterpart parties. The cross-party support given to the leaders of the British parties was a crucial factor in the creation of the Foundation. However, aid to foreign parties was NOT seen as the exclusive activity of the new Foundation. The suggestion that one half of the Foundation's grants should take the form of party-to-party assistance emerged fairly casually in a document I wrote for Planners shortly before the end of 1991.

There were several reasons why party-to-party assistance could not be the whole story of "political aid". (1) In many countries free parties do not exist. During the "pre-transition" phase of democratisation, political expression may take the form of publications by research institutes, samizdat journals, church groups, trade union activities, and so forth. (2) Even where there are political parties in foreign countries and even when these parties are members of the party internationals, there may be no neat fit between the policies and ideologies of British parties and those of the foreign parties. (3) Democratic politics does not exclusively consist of electoral contests between parties. Pressure groups too have vital roles in post-transition as well as pre-transition stages. (4) Research institutes and interest groups sometimes develop into political parties or are "political parties in hiding". Thus any holistic strategy of democracy promotion cannot realistically restrict itself to political parties.