National Endowment for Democracy
by B. Raman
International Endowment for Democracy,
The post-Watergate enquiries into the activities of the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the US exposed details of its covert
political activities in other countries in order to promote US
foreign policy objectives. Amongst such activities were the secret
funding of individuals, political parties and non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) favourable to US interests and funneling
of money to counter the activities of those considered anti-US.
After taking over as the President in
January, 1977, Mr.Jimmy Carter banned such activities and imposed
strict limits on the CIA's covert operations in foreign countries.
During the election campaign of 1980, Mr.Ronald Reagan used effectively
against Mr.Carter the argument that the post-Vietnam and post-Watergate
decline of the US under Mr.Carter was due to the emasculation
of its military and intelligence apparatus.
After his election in November, 1980,
and before his taking-over as the President in January, 1981,
Mr.Reagan appointed a transition group headed by the late William
Casey, an attorney and one of his campaign managers, who was to
later take over as the CIA Director, to recommend measures for
strengthening the USA's intelligence capability abroad.
One of its recommendations was to revive
covert political activities. Since there might have been opposition
from the Congress and public opinion to this task being re-entrusted
to the CIA, it suggested that this be given to an NGO with no
ostensible links with the CIA.
The matter was further examined in 1981-82
by the American Political Foundation's Democracy Programme Study
and Research Group and, finally, the National Endowment for Democracy
(NED) was born under a Congressional enactment of 1983 as a "non-profit,
non-governmental, bipartisan, grant-making organisation to help
strengthen democratic institutions around the world."
Though it is projected as an NGO, it is
actually a quasi-governmental organisation because till 1994 it
was run exclusively from funds voted by the Congress (average
of about US $ 16 million per annum in the 1980s and now about
US $ 30 million) as part of the budget of the US Information Agency
(USIA). Since 1994, it has been accepting contributions from the
private sector too to supplement the congressional appropriations.
Thirty per cent of the budgetary allocations
constitute the discretionary fund of the NED to be distributed
directly by it to overseas organisations and the balance is distributed
through what are called four "core organisations"---the
International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic
Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the Centre for International
Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI).
In 1994, the NED set up two other organisations
called the International Forum for Democratic Studies (IFDS) and
the Democracy Resource Centre (DRC), both largely funded by the
Since its inception, the NED and its affiliates
have been mired in controversy in the US itself as well as abroad.
Amongst its strongest supporters in the US is the Heritage Foundation
of Washington DC, a conservative think tank, which played an active
role in influencing the policies of the Reagan and Bush Administrations.
It brought out two papers on the justification
for the NED, when questions were raised in the US on the continued
need for it after the collapse of the communist regimes of East
Europe. In the first paper of July 8,1993, (Executive Memorandum
No. 360) it described the NED as "an important weapon in
the war of ideas" and said:" The NED has played a vital
role in providing aid to democratic movements in the former Soviet
Union, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua, Vietnam
and elsewhere..... Communist dictatorships still control China,
Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam. Moreover, ex-communists masquerading
as nationalists continue to dominate several of the Soviet successor
states. The NED can play an important role in assisting those
countries in making the turbulent transition to democracy.....
Local political activists often prefer receiving assistance from
a non-governmental source, as aid from a US government agency
may undermine their credibility in the eyes of their countrymen."
In the second paper of September 13, 1996,
(Executive Memorandum No.461), it said:"The NED advances
American national interests by promoting the development of stable
democracies friendly to the US in strategically important parts
of the world. The US cannot afford to discard such an effective
instrument of foreign policy at a time when American interests
and values are under sustained ideological attack from a wide
variety of anti-democratic forces around the world...The NED has
aided Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement in Poland, Harry Wu's
human rights efforts in China and independent media outlets in
former Yugoslavia. Russian political activists affiliated with
the NED also played a major role in President Boris Yeltsin's
re-election campaign against the reinvigorated Communist Party
earlier this year.... The NED is a cost-effective way to encourage
captive nations to liberate themselves without committing the
US to a prohibitively risky and costly military crusade to free
them from communism."
Testifying before the Sub-committee on
International Operations and Human Rights of the Committee on
International Relations of the House of Representatives on March
13,1997, Mr.Carl Gershman, President of the NED, said: "
I just want to say that the Endowment's work is based upon a very,
very simple proposition. And that is, where there are people who
share our values, where there are people who might be called the
natural friends of America, then it is our obligation to help
those people in some way."
Amongst the critics of the NED are Ms.
Barbara Conry, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute
of Washington D.C. and Mr. Ralph McGehee, stated to be a former
In a paper of November 8,1993(Foreign
Policy Briefing No.27), Ms.Conry said: "NED is resented (abroad)
as American interference; it is often further resented because
it attempts to deceive foreigners into viewing its programmes
as private assistance.... On a number of occasions, NED has taken
advantage of its alleged private status to influence foreign elections,
an activity that is beyond the scope of AID (Agency For International
Development) or USIA and would otherwise be possible only through
a CIA covert operation..... What finally drew public attention
to NED's meddling in foreign elections was an aborted attempt
to provide opposition candidate Violeta Chamorro with $ 3 million
in funding for her 1989 election campaign against Nicaraguan President
Daniel Ortega. The plan was abandoned after it was determined
that NED's charter, which expressly forbids campaign contributions,
would be violated. In the end, the money was channeled to programmes
that aided Chamorro indirectly rather than through direct campaign
In a statement of January 19,1996, Mr.McGehee
described the post-1991 activities of the NED as "political
action operations targeting China and Cuba." Another NGO
of the US has said: " NED engages in much of the same kinds
of interference in the internal affairs of foreign countries,
which were the hallmark of the CIA. The NED has financed, advised
and supported in many ways selected political parties, election
campaigns, unions, student groups, book publishers, newspapers,
other media, even guerillas in Afghanistan and, in general, organisations
and individuals which mesh well with the gears of the globalised-economy
machine.... Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the legislation
establishing NED, and also founded the Centre for Democracy, one
of NED's funding middlemen, was quite candid when he said in 1991:
"A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago
by the CIA." The NED, like the CIA before it, calls what
it does supporting democracy. The governments and movements whom
the NED targets call it destabilisation."
Initially, the NED's activities were directed
mainly against the communist regimes of East Europe, but, subsequently,
it started combating the communist parties in multi-party democracies
of West Europe too. In the 1980s, when the late Francois Mitterrand
was the French President, an NED report showed an expenditure
of US $ 1.5 million "to promote democracy in France."
There was an uproar in France when the
French press discovered that part of this amount had been given
by the NED, through the FTUI, to the National Inter-University
Union of France, allegedly a right-extremist and xenophobic organisation,
in an attempt to use it to defeat communist candidates in the
elections to the National Assembly. Embarrassed by the controversy,
the Reagan Administration dissociated itself from the NED activities
After the collapse of the communist regimes
of East Europe, the NED has been focussing its activities against
the communist regimes of Cuba, Vietnam, China and North Korea
and the Myanmarese military regime and against the resurgence
of the communist parties in East Europe due to the economic difficulties
Its activities relating to China are of
two kinds: Those, which are legitimate in the Chinese perception
such as training of local village officials in the holding of
elections, training of local business executives in better management
practices, advice on the drafting of economic reform legislation
etc and those, which are legitimate in the US perception, but
interference in internal affairs in the Chinese view, such as
support to political dissidents, human rights activists and Tibetan
exiles and projection of Taiwan as a democratic model worthy of
The first type of activities is carried
out by workers of organisations affiliated to the NED, either
based in China or visiting the country and the second by off-shore
offices of the NED, which were located in Hong Kong before its
reversion to China in June, 1997, and which were thereafter reportedly
shifted to Australia since the ASEAN countries would not host
them. Finding Australia not a convenient place, the NED has reportedly
been eyeing India as a possible base for its activities directed
Beijing has reasons to be concerned over
what it considers as the illegitimate activities of the NED. Of
the 28 NGOs of Asia funded by the NED, 14 focus on China, four
of them of Tibetan exiles, five on Myanmar, two on Cambodia, and
one each on Vietnam and North Korea and the remaining five on
the Asia-Pacific region as a whole.
In his testimony of March 13,1997, before
the House Sub-committee on International Operations and Human
Rights, Mr.Gershman said:" There has been a doubling of resources
spent in Asia (primarily China, Burma and Cambodia) and a tripling
of resources for the Middle East. There were also dramatic increases
in Central Asia and the former Yugoslavia...While the discretionary
programmes and those of our affiliated labour institute support
the activities of various pro-democracy networks, among them Human
Rights in China, the China Strategic Institute, the Laogai Research
Foundation, and the Hong Kong based activities of labour activist
Han Dongfang, IRI and CIPE have targeted opportunities created
by the official reform policy in the areas of local elections
and economic modernisation.Additional grants support the democracy
movements in Hong Kong and Tibet and,through the International
Forum, we have highlighted the role of Taiwan as an Asian model
of successful democratisation."
The trans-border activities of the NED
against the Myanmarese military regime seem to be directed mainly
from Thailand and India. This is evident from a testimony given
by Ms.Louisa Coan, NED's Programme Officer for Asia, before the
House Sub-committee on Asia and the Pacific on September 17,1997.
She said: "NED has been able through
its direct grants programme to support the dissidents, to support
the democracy movement of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, particularly through
assistance to the groups along the borders in Thailand and in
India, including twice daily radio programming through the Democratic
Voice of Burma (author's comment: based in Scandinavia), newsletters,
underground newspaper, underground labour organising, particular
programmes to foster inter-ethnic co-operation and unity among
the opposition forces in support of Aung San Suu Kyi's call for
tripartite dialogue and national reconciliation."
It is not known whether New Delhi was
aware of the India-based activities of the NED against the Yangon
Before the recent visit of the US President,
Mr.Bill Clinton, to India, the NED headquarters in Washington
issued the following press release: "Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright announced on Tuesday March 14 that the US and India will
launch a joint non-governmental initiative called the Asian Centre
for Democratic Governance during President Clinton's upcoming
trip to South Asia.
"Jointly organised by the Confederation
of Indian Industry (CII) and the NED, the Centre will be based
at CII's offices in New Delhi, The Bureau of Parliamentary Studies
and Training, an affiliate of the Indian Parliament, will partner
with the CII in implementing the activities of the Centre."
The press release said the expenditure
on the initiative would be shared by the CII and the NED.
It is an interesting case of an important
member of the Clinton Cabinet, announcing on behalf of a self-proclaimed
NGO of the US funded by the Congress, a non-governmental initiative
in collaboration with a non-governmental Indian business organisation
with which an office of the Indian Parliament would also be associated.
This launching was duly done at New Delhi.
There are three likely implications of
this unusual venture:
* Possibility of misunderstanding with
China which might interpret it as directed against it and its
presence in Tibet.
* Impropriety in co-operating with an American organisation working
against the present Government at Yangon, which has normal diplomatic
relations with New Delhi and has been co-operating in counter-insurgency
measures in the North-East.
* The presence in Indian territory, with official blessing, of
an organisation, which aims to wipe out communism as a political
and ideological movement all over the world and which might utilise
its presence to undermine the Indian communist movement. NED has
never criticised the Indian Communist parties, but a reading of
the past statements of those in the US supporting the NED would
indicate that they hold communism and democracy as incompatible.
The US has also announced the association of India as co-sponsor
with a forthcoming conference of "communities of democracies
" in Poland being funded by the Stefan Batory Foundation
of Poland, set up by George Soros in 1998, to counter the resurgence
of communism in East Europe, and the Freedom House of the US.
The Freedom House was founded in the 1940s
"to strengthen free institutions at home and abroad".
It played an active role in carrying on a psychological warfare
(psywar) against the troops of the USSR and the late President
Najibullah in Afghanistan during the 1980s through the Afghanistan
Information Centre set up by it, allegedly with CIA funds. The
offices of this centre at Peshawar in Pakistan trained the Afghan
Mujahideen groups and Pakistani organisations such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen
(formerly known as the Harkat-ul-Ansar) and the Lashkar-e-Taiba,
presently active in Kashmir, in techniques of media management
Since 1983, part of the funds voted by
the Congress to the NED are funneled to the Freedom House, which
also gets contributions from the private sector. The Freedom House
focuses its activities on media and communications and, according
to a 1990 study by the Interhemispherique Resource Centre of the
US, more than 400 journalists in 55 countries were collaborating
with the Freedom House in its activities against communist parties
Before going ahead with these projects,
there is an urgent need for an examination of the implications
of our collaboration with such organisations from the point of
view of our national security and political stability.
National Endowment for Democracy (NED)