The National Endowment for Democracy is not an agency of the federal government; it differs in that crucial respect from the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. Rather, NED is, in political-science argot, a QUANGO—a “quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization.” It is a private, non-profit corporation that receives an annual appropriation from the government, after an extensive round of hearings in the Congress.
NED is governed by a bipartisan board of directors that has included distinguished Americans of widely varying political persuasions and from many different walks of life. What other board has included, for instance, Henry Kissinger, Madeline Albright, Lane Kirkland, and Orrin Hatch? Trade unionists, corporate executives, academics, former government officials, and leaders of the two national political parties have given untold hours of time, and worked together harmoniously, to build sup port for democrats abroad. Indeed, one of the most striking things about NED is the sense of teamwork and common purpose that has permeated both board and staff from the outset. (Would that all of Washington worked this way.)
As for its functions, the National Endowment for Democracy exists to provide support for activists, educators, business people, trade unionists, and journalists working to achieve democratic transitions or consolidations in their own countries. NED does not “impose” a program on unwitting or unwary foreigners; rather, it responds to requests for help that are generated by the people most directly affected.
That response takes place through discretionary Endowment grants to American nonprofit organizations on behalf of democratic activist agencies abroad,* and through the work of NED’S four “core institutes”—independent, non-profit organizations that also manage NED grants on behalf of projects and partners around the world. The four core institutes, which work on business, labor, and political-party development, are the National Democratic Institute (NDI, affiliated with the Democratic Party), the International Republican Institute (IRI, affiliated with the Republican Party), the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI, affiliated with the AFL CIO), and the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE, affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce)
In recent years, the Endowment has also helped launch the Journal of Democracy, a quarterly review that has quickly established itself as an important vehicle for democratic debate on an international scale. In addition to articles by such leading democrats as Adam Michnik, Vaclav Havel, Burmese Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and Argentina’s Maria Rosa de Martini, the Journal publishes key documents from democratic movements, reports on election results, and reviews the expanding literature on the ways and means of democratic transitions.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.
* The Ethics and Public Policy Center managed two NED grants to Asociación Libro Libre, a Costa Rica-based publishing house that has made the classics of Western democratic thinking available in affordable paperback editions in Latin America.