The Origins of the UN Democracy Fund

The first two parts of this four part series of articles initially introduced the new head of the UN Democracy Fund, Roland Rich, which was followed by a critical examination of the ‘democratic’ background of a key former UN staffer, Mark Malloch Brown. Part three of this series will now examine the history of the UN Democracy Fund itself, and introduce some of the individuals who work with the Fund. 

“It is to the credit of the UN that it increasingly rejects an absolute non-interference in sovereign affairs in favor of not just interventions in extraordinarily calamitous situations, but also efforts to nudge along democracy. Within our country, liberals and conservatives agree that the U.S. should work to accelerate this trend, because sometimes things can be accomplished more easily and with more authority under a UN umbrella than bilaterally.”US State Department (2006)

The UN Democracy Fund was established by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on July 4, 2005, and was set up as a UN General Trust Fund whose “primary purpose is to support democratization throughout the world”. The “idea for the Fund was first articulated by President Bush in a speech before the UN General Assembly” in 2004, when with no irony he said “[b]ecause I believe the advance of liberty is the path to both a safer and better world, today I propose establishing a Democracy Fund within the United Nations”. Subsequently, the concept for the Democracy Fund was then “embraced by the 141 nations that attended the third ministerial meeting of the Community of Democracies in Santiago, Chile in April 2005”.

Convened in Warsaw under US leadership, the Community of Democracies (CD) initially met in June 2000, where “representatives of over 100 nations…for the first time, agreed to work toward a global community increasingly based on democratic governance”. The key person who brought the CD together was former US Ambassador to the UN and chair of the National Democratic Institute, Madeleine-we thinK the price is worth it-Albright,[1] and the most significant outcome of this meeting was the CD’s “joint declaration defining democracy as a new strategic vision of the world”. Subsequently, the US-based Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD) – which first began in 1979 as the Committees of Correspondence, and later became known as the CCD – “seized the opportunity to support the implementation of that vision”. Since then, in their own words:

“CCD has taken carefully-calculated, concrete steps to help create support for developing a concert of democracies.  Practical steps include helping to establish a UN Democracy Caucus, taking the lead in strengthening the Convening Group of the CD, linked to an effective nongovernmental Secretariat with six regional groupings, helping to organize an International Centre for Democratic Transition in Budapest  a collaborative effort among democracies – developing a European Network linking us and CD to our traditional European allies, and launching a website to encourage dialogue and action on issues emerging from the deliberations of the Community of Democracies”.

Moreover, moving back in time for a moment – to the early history of the CCD – it is vitally important to note that:

“After the U.S. election in 1980, CCD set as its goal influencing the foreign policy of the new Reagan Administration. Two years later President Reagan made his famous speech at Westminster Hall armed with ideas provided by CCD, calling upon nations worldwide to promote democracy by fostering the infrastructure of democracy – free press, unions, political parties, and the rule of law. Later that year a CCD paper dealing broadly with the goal of a community of democracies led to endorsement by President Reagan of a bi-partisan American political foundation headed by Hon. William E. Brock ‘to determine how the United States can best contribute as a nation to the global campaign for democracy now gathering force.’ The first international meeting of that foundation, held in November 1982, led to the ‘Declaration of London’ calling for an association of democracies composed of all genuine democracies.

“The next year President Reagan presented Congress with his ‘Project Democracy’ and a request for $31 million earmarked for establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). In 1985, NED provided funding for a major CCD conference in Racine, Wisconsin attended by 36 representatives from 26 countries. Opening with a letter from Reagan, the Wingspread conference adopted, among other resolutions, a proposal to establish a worldwide association of democracies and a proposal for a caucus of the democracies at the United Nations.”

To get a more nuanced picture of the type of democracy being promoted by the Council for a Community of Democracies, it is important to introduce some of the main people working for the CCD.

Robert E. Hunter is the chairman of CCD’s board of directors, and also acts as a senior international consultant to the world’s largest arms manufacturer, Lockheed Martin: from 1993 to 1998 Hunter served as the US ambassador to NATO, and prior to that he was vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. CCD’s president, Richard C. Rowson, serves on the executive committee of the International Centre for Democratic Transition; while CCD’s co-vice president, Mark Palmer, is the vice chairman of Freedom House, and cofounder of the NED. Another CCD vice president, James R. Huntley, played a critical role in the US’s cultural cold war, briefly serving as a US Information Agency officer in 1956, before becoming the Deputy Public Affairs officer for the newly-created US mission to the European Communities”.[2] During the 1960s, Huntley then served as a program officer for the Ford Foundation’s international relations department, an office which at the time was working closely with the CIA. He later went on to become the president of the Atlantic Council of the US, and currently serves on the advisory council of the Streit Council (for further details on the Streit Council’s ‘democratic’ ties see endnote [3]). Incidentally, president emeritus of the CCD, John Richardson, also sits alongside Huntley on the Steit Council’s advisory council. Richardson also exhibits strong ‘democratic’ ties as he was a “founding staff member of the U.S. Institute of Peace, [and a] founding board member and Chair of the National Endowment for Democracy”.

Other notably ‘democratic’ CCD directors include Robert A. Pastor, J. Brian Atwood (who was president of the National Democratic Institute from 1986 to 1993, administrator of USAID from 1993 to 1999, the founding president of Citizens International from 1999 to 2002, a trustee of the World Peace Foundation, a member of the strategy committee of the Project on Justice in Times of Transition, and serves on the advisory committee of the NED-funded New Tactics in Human Rights), Harriet C. Babbitt (who is a former deputy administrator for USAID, former scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, and director of the National Democratic Institute), and Jack W. Buechner (who is a former president of the International Republican Institute). CCD’s ‘democratic’ senior advisors include Max M. Kampelman (who is chairman emeritus of Freedom House’s board of trustees and of the Woodrow Wilson Center, a former director of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, former vice chairman of the US Institute for Peace, a member of both the advisory council of the American Ditchley Foundation and the Eurasia Foundation), John C. Whitehead (who was awarded the NED Democracy Service Medal in 2005, and is a director of the International Rescue Committee), John Brademas (who is a former chair of the NED, a member of the advisory council of Transparency International, and a director of the both the American Ditchley Foundation and the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute), and William E. Brock (who is a co-founder of NED, and former NED chair, and current trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies).

Having established the admirably ‘democratic’ credentials of those group involved in lobbying for the creation of the UN Democracy Fund, the following section will now interrogate the background of some of the people working under the auspices of the Fund.

Staffing the UN Democracy Fund

As you may recall from the start of this article, in October 2007, Roland Rich will become the new head of the UN Democracy Fund. However, it was Amir Dossal who initially took on the primarily leadership role in establishing the Democracy Fund. Dossal is currently also the executive director of the UN Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP), an “autonomous trust fund… operating under the leadership of the UN Deputy Secretary-General” that was set up in 1998 by Kofi Annan. The UN’s website goes on to note that the “UNFIP serves as an interface and partnership facilitator between the United Nations System and the United Nations Foundation (UNF), the public charity responsible for administering, over a period of 15 years, Ted Turner’s US$1 billion contribution in support of United Nations causes”.

Perhaps not coincidentally, two of the eight other members of UNFIP’s advisory board (barring Dossal) have strong ‘democratic’ ties, they are Lincoln C. Chen and Franklin A. Thomas. Chen is a former vice president for strategy of the Rockefeller Foundation, served as a Ford Foundation representative in India and Bangladesh during the 1970s and 1980s, and is presently the chair of CARE USA; while Thomas served as the president and CEO of the Ford Foundation from 1979 to 1996, was chair of the Rockefeller Foundation-funded Study Commission on U.S. Policy Toward South Africa from 1979 to 1981 – a commission that Roelofs (2007) notes helped Western elites “to disconnect the socialist and anti-apartheid goals of the African National Congress”. (Since 1977, Thomas has been a director of Alcoa, which is one of the world’s largest aluminium smelting companies, whose board of directors also presently includes Ernesto Zedillo – see earlier.)

As UNFIP serves as an “interface and partnership facilitator” between the UN and CNN founder, Ted Turner’s, UN Foundation, it is worth briefly mentioning the ‘democratic’ ties of the UN Foundation’s board of directors. First off, Turner himself was a cofounder of the Carter Center,  is a co-chair of the State of the World Forum and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, serves on the advisory council of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and is a director of the UN Association of the United States of America (whose president is William H. Luers). Furthermore, six of the nine other UN Foundation directors have ‘democratic’ ties, these include Ruth Cardoso, Graca Machel (who has served on the board of the International Crisis Group, is a member of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Advisory Committee, and has received Africare’s Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award), Emma Rothschild (is married to Amartya K. Sen who in turn is a director of the Center for Global Development, a member of the advisory council of Realizing Rights, and a former director of the International Center for Research on Women), Nafis I. Sadik (who served as the president of the Society for International Development from 1994 to 1997, is a director of the International Center for Research on Women, and is a honorary trustee of the Asia Society), Andrew Jackson Young, Jr. (who serves on the advisory board of the National Peace Foundation, is a director of the Drum Major Institute , is a former director of the International Alert, and is a former trustee of Freedom House), and Mohammad Yunus (who is on the advisory board of Stockholm Challenge, where he sits alongside NED director Esther Dyson, and US Institute for Peace advisory board member John Gage).[4]

Returning to people directly associated with the UN Democracy Fund: the Fund’s advisory board has 17 members, Amir Dossal, representatives from the member states (Australia, Benin, Chile, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Qatar, South Africa, and the United States), representatives from two NGOs, CIVICUS and the International Commission of Jurists, and another three representatives appointed by the Secretary-General. The final three individuals serving on the UN Democracy Fund’s advisory board are Michael Doyle, Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, and Guillermo O’Donnell.

Michael Doyle formerly worked for two years as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s special advisor, is a director of the International Peace Academy, and in 1997 coedited a book titled Keeping the Peace with Robert C. Orr (see Part 2) and Ian Johnstone. Doyle is presently the Harold Brown Professor of United States Foreign and Security Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and serves on the council of the American Political Science Association.

Rima Khalaf Hunaidi is the UN Development Programme’s Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States, and also serves as a director of the Center for Global Development. And finally since 1997, Guillermo O’Donnell, has been the Senior Faculty Fellow of the Kellog Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame. O’Donnell served as the vice president of the American Political Science Association from 1999 and 2000, and he serves on the editorial board of the NED’s Journal of Democracy, and on the international advisory committee (in 2001 at least) of the NED-funded Center of Legal and Social Studies. Having investigated the ‘democratic’ orientation of the UN Democracy Fund’s staff, the following and penultimate section of this paper will now critically examine the types of organizations that the Fund supported in its first round of funding.


To be continued… The final part of this four part series will examine the ‘democratic’ credentials of some of the recipients of the UN Democracy Fund’s first round of funding. It will then conclude by offering some suggestions for how progressive activists might potentially deal with some of the worrying issues that have been raised about the UN’s global role as a key democracy manipulator.

Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael.J.Barker [at], and some of his other articles can be found here.


[1] “In January 1999, Madeleine Albright, President Clinton’s Secretary of State, told the Los Angeles Times that her highest priority before leaving office was to create a global community of democracies.”

Memorably, in a 60 Minutes interview (May 1996) Lesley Stahl, speaking of US sanctions against Iraq, asked Albright: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And – and you know, is the price worth it?” Albright then responded: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”

[2] Giles Scott-Smith and Hans Krabbendam (eds.), The Cultural Cold War in Western Europe, 1945-1960 (London: Frank Cass, 2003), p.99.

[3] The Streit Council notes that it “works toward closer cooperation among the experienced democracies as a basis for more effective U.S. engagement in world affairs”. The treasurer of the Streit Council, Erik Johnson, served as the Director of Policy Studies at the Center for International Private Enterprise from 1996 to 1999, and the Council’s executive director, Tiziana Stella, also worked for the CCD in preparing for the CD initial CD conference in Warsaw. One other ‘democratic’ Streit Council director is Richard T. Arndt, who has also served on the advisory board of the American Iranian Council.

[4] According to Susan FeinerDrucilla Barker writing in the Dominion in 2007: "Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize because his approach to banking reinforces the neoliberal view that individual behavior is the source of poverty and the neoliberal agenda of restricting state aid to the most vulnerable when and where the need for government assistance is most acute.”


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