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Examining the importance of open societies to the UK’s ‘force for good’ ambitions

Article by Adam Hug and Devin O'Shaughnessy

October 19, 2021

Examining the importance of open societies to the UK’s ‘force for good’ ambitions

This publication comes at a moment of transition for UK foreign policy as Britain seeks to put into practice the Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (Global Britain in a Competitive Age) and shape its future engagement with the world. The Integrated Review set the objective of the UK ‘shaping the open international order of the future’ as part of its strategic framework and made a ‘renewed commitment to the UK as a force for good in the world – defending openness, democracy and human rights’.[1] The Government now faces the task of fleshing out its approach to key priorities such as open societies, international development and soft power as well as developing its country level decision-making, building both on past practice and the direction set by the Integrated Review, while needing to work with partners across UK society to achieve its objectives.


2021 has seen the UK convene the leaders of the G7 in Cornwall and will shortly host the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow before participating in the Biden-led Summit of Democracies. The Summit is in fact two summits a year apart – taking place virtually in 2021 and in person in 2022 – with work expected to be done to deliver on commitments and operationalise new partnerships in the year between. While the importance of open societies was on the agenda at the G7, through the 2021 Open Societies Statement, there is a lot more to do to deliver the necessary response to a changing world where authoritarian powers are gaining influence.[2]


The global challenge

The COVID-19 crisis has not only dominated the international landscape for the last 18 months but has provided new opportunities and technologies for the extension of powers used by Governments to control their populations in both democracies and autocracies. The impact of the COVID crisis has further exacerbated the existing problem that the cause of liberal democracy and open societies has been in retreat for at least a decade and a half, as noted by Freedom House’s 2021 Freedom in the World Report (Democracy Under Siege) and in many of the essay contributions in this collection.[3] There has been a retrenchment by authoritarians, backsliding from countries that had once been making progress (such as Hungary, Poland, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) and challenges at the heart of longstanding democracies such as the United States.


In the West, enthusiasm for democracy is in significant decline, as existing systems struggle to deliver for their citizens in the challenging economic conditions since the 2008 financial crisis.[4] Notably among young people, there is greater appetite for ‘strong’ leaders over protection of rights, increased radicalisation, and plummeting trust in government institutions (particularly political parties and legislatures).[5] Many fragile and least developed states – such as Iraq, Afghanistan, DRC, and South Sudan – have received billions in democracy assistance funding over decades with minimal results, undermining people’s confidence in the value of these efforts.


Since 2012, particularly under Xi Jinping’s leadership, China has been increasingly assertive both within its region and globally to push back against liberal democratic norms. Russia has continued to actively promote ‘traditional’ socially conservative values, particularly in its immediate neighbourhood, and engage in covert interference in elections. As addressed in James Rogers’ essay both Russia and China are increasingly using disinformation and the manipulation of social media to fuel polarisation and undermine confidence in democratic systems across the globe. China in particular has significantly ramped up its investment in ‘autocracy promotion’, with foreign officials from many dozens of countries across every region receiving training from China on online ‘information management’.[6] The behaviour of both countries has raised increasing concerns, both regionally and globally, because of disregard for treaty commitments (such as in Hong Kong or the South China Sea), through their actions towards their neighbours (Georgia, Ukraine), or because of threats to international norms in the areas of cyber security or copyright. At times aided and abetted by Western approaches in response to the war on terror both countries have been able to promote narratives around state security and countering extremism (supported by institutions they lead such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) that have been widely applied to peaceful critics of ruling regimes.[7]


However, even if Western politicians wished to engage in cold-War re-enactment as a response to China’s rise, Russian spoiling and the actions of other authoritarian states, it would be far harder to quarantine them from the international system (than in the days of the Soviets) given their greater integration into the global economy. To fully isolate them would be fraught with difficulty given the need for collaboration to address the existential global threats posed by climate change, biodiversity loss, and COVID-19 response. A degree of decoupling may be possible, as evidenced by the decision to exclude Huawei from the telecoms networks of several countries, rethinking around the involvement of Chinese state firms in the nuclear industry, and efforts to reduce reliance on Russian gas (for both climate and energy security reasons).[8] Yet these steps, along with welcome measures such as individual Magnitsky sanctions and anti-corruption tools such as Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs), are unlikely to lead to a wholesale change of approach from Russia, China, and other authoritarians growing in confidence. It is important to recognise that through financial (such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative), diplomatic (for example China’s sponsorship of the G77 group of developing countries at the UN) and security (such as Russia’s alliances and military intervention) means these states have significant global influence that shape the global balance of power. So with punitive measures somewhat limited in scope, the response from countries who support human rights, liberal democracy and good governance needs to place a greater emphasis on ways to proactively and positively promote the principles that underpin open societies and to support and defend measures to implement them in practice.


The case for open societies has to be a holistic and integrated argument that looks at the full range of benefits they bring to the fulfilment and flourishing of human capabilities. The economic benefits of an open society and the link between open societies and open economies made in the Integrated Review needs to be seen as part of a larger picture. This is not least because the precise linkages are contested, including around correlation and causation, with different perspectives outlined in this publication. The record of certain types of authoritarian systems (China and Vietnam today, Singapore and South Korea in an earlier era) that are able to curb some of the kleptocratic and nepotistic urges that underpin most autocracies towards goals of national self-development should dispel any magical thinking around a linear relationship between economic and political openness. However as the essay from Kim Eric Bettcher from Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) shows, there remains a strong correlation between openness and economic success. This positive correlation is not necessarily due to the extent of the private sector in the economy per se, but more to do with the institutions of open governance, rule of law and a pluralistic political environment.[9] Together, these institutions can support an open economy and prevent it being dominated by kleptocratic interests that capture control of economic opportunities, whether they be in the private sector or state-controlled firms.


In these troubled times, economic opportunity needs to be married with economic justice, greater opportunities and ensuring ordinary people have a stake in the economy. Otherwise, the causes of open societies and liberal democracy are unlikely to withstand erosion by populism. The right of independent trade unions and economically focused civil society groups to organise, hold the powerful to account and to mobilise civic activism is essential both to any coherent conception of open societies and to delivering more socially just outcomes. So when considering the link between open societies and open economies, there should be a focus from policymakers on institutions that empower citizens and rules that encourage public participation, enforced without fear or favour to ruling elites. This journey is far from complete even in established democracies.


The recent collapse of the Western-backed Government in Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban to power 20 years after the events of 9/11 has been a further blow to the prestige of the United States and its Western Allies. The collapse triggered belated soul searching about the effectiveness of international efforts to build state institutions and nurture democratic structures in a country blighted by conflict throughout those two decades (and for decades beforehand). While failures in Iraq and Libya had already turned public opinion against using force to achieve political and humanitarian goals, the Afghanistan debacle has further underscored questions over the West’s sticking power in the face of persistent adversaries and the challenge posed by ungoverned and poorly governed spaces. Rt Hon. Alistair Burt in his essay makes a hugely important point that ‘bad governance and corruption allow other actors into the space of delivering services, and again worldwide, insurgent movements and criminal gangs from the Sahel to Latin America gain influence over local populations by becoming the authority figures, before turning those populations either to their own ideologies or simply a shield against those who seek to reassert the monopoly of authority a legitimate government must possess.’


The UK’s role in defending open societies

The Integrated Review and past research by the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC) and Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) have made clear that as the UK is ‘a middle power with an internationally focused economy and set of strategic assets, it is of critical importance to show support for shared and applied international rules and a system where the (global) balance of power remains with fellow democracies.’[10] The UK has benefited enormously from a rules based international system (or perhaps more accurately systems) that supports open societies, based on a presumption of the goal of liberal democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and free trade, combined with multilateral institutions that seek to protect these rights.[11] However, it is clear that this system that has been fragmenting and weakening as openness has declined in many nations around the world and both authoritarian and regional interests have become more assertive in international diplomacy. For countries like the UK that value open societies and open economies, it is clear that democracy and human rights should be seen as global public goods, which serve both national interests and global resilience. Therefore the UK and its allies must play an active role in shaping a future international order that delivers those public goods and while helping strengthen the development of well governed open societies at a country level. In the wake of some of the wrangling over the terms of Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol, the UK should examine ways to show the international community that it is still willing to be bound by rules based frameworks if it wishes to encourage other countries to do the same.


At time of writing the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is developing new departmental strategies and processes for the recently merged department that will flesh out the vision provided by the Integrated Review and include new thinking on how to support open societies and international development.[12] This work must seek to create some clear and measurable objectives for the UK’s Open Societies Agenda which is likely to be focused on freedom of thought, expression, religion and belief; respect for human rights, including for women and girls; media freedom; a strong civil society underpinned by inclusive, democratic political and legal institutions; and resilience to corruption and illicit finance. This work also needs to fully examine the tools available to the FCDO and across Government to help achieve them, including how to use not only diplomacy but the UK’s soft-power, trade and both Official Development Assistance (ODA) and non-ODA support (including debt relief and commercial lending) to support open societies and the desire to be a force for good in the world.


The Integrated Review described the UK as a ‘soft power’ superpower and this is a capability that needs to be nurtured and supported given that soft power has been a significant part of the UK’s approach, both directly and indirectly, to values promotion over recent decades. The FCO’s draft Soft Power Strategy highlighted the value of strengthening the UK’s offer in the realm of democracy, human rights, and rule of law. The Strategy, and the 2014 House of Lords Report Persuasion and Power in the Modern World that helped inform it, noted that this engagement is often most effective when it is done independent from government. Evidence is also clear that soft power takes many years to create and is best built on a foundation of long-term trust – particularly in a realm as sensitive as politics, elections, and governance. As noted in DFID’s Guide to Working with Parliaments and Political Parties, ‘if development programmes are serious about creating sustainable changes to the performance of parties and parliaments they need to accept that this will take time, and design programmes accordingly.’[13]


Domestic political wrangling around the future of the BBC and the higher education sector have the potential both to hamper the UK’s soft power attractiveness that builds on such institutions and to provide succour to illiberal populists such as Victor Orbán and authoritarians seeking to reign in independent institutions in their countries. The UK’s role as a global centre of legal expertise, recognised as a soft power strength by the Government, should not mean it has to play host to attempts to bury international journalists and activists in legal costs through libel tourism and Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).[14] The UK’s position as a global hub for NGOs and campaigning organisations dedicated to supporting open societies, a significant source of the country’s soft power, risks being weakened due to a mix of aid cuts and increasing attempts to circumscribe the activities of campaigning organisations.[15] FPC research published ahead of the Integrated Review’s launch made the case the UK should build on, rather than weaken, its soft power resources to play the role of a ‘Library of Democracy’, a globally connected soft power hub and resource centre to support the cause of open societies around the world.[16]


In order to advocate effectively for open societies, human rights and liberal democracy internationally the UK has to make sure its house in in order at home. Authoritarians around the globe are quick to pick up on any perceived hypocrisy or precedent provided by the West to justify or contextualise their actions, making the issue of maintaining internal and external consistency very important. To that end, as Joe Powell notes in his essay, progress has been delayed on implementing the anti-corruption measures needed to tackle the UK’s central role in international kleptocratic networks, exposed once again by the recent Pandora Papers. Much has also been written by experts and civil society (including the FPC) on the extent to which authoritarian state actors have been able to influence political activity and issues in the UK as highlighted by the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia Report.[17] With a raft of sensitive UK domestic pieces of legislation in the offing, including the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill and the Elections Bill, there are a number of area of concern around protecting open societies at home.[18] As Powell points out the UK has been added to the Civicus global civil society watchlist for the first time ever in September 2021.[19]


The UK has yet to show a particular willingness to condition its approach to trade with conditions that prioritise the promotion of human rights (or for that matter political, environmental or social rights) as a key part of its strategy. There is definitely more that could be done to integrate these agendas, particularly given the new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s previous role as trade secretary, though there remains civil society concern that it may be more likely that foreign policy priorities are reshaped to better fit the UK’s trade promotion agenda than the other way around. Indications of greater UK interest in advancing the business and human rights agenda under new Foreign Secretary are however encouraging.


The need for partnership working has been an important part of recent FPC and WFD research around how the UK can deliver on its force for good agenda.[20] It is important not to neglect regional bodies with a role to play in human rights such as the OSCE and Council of Europe, and there remains a need to find a new modus operandi for collaborating with the EU on shared objectives. However, it is clear that the UK would like to develop new bilateral and multi-country arrangements to meet specific objectives, for example building on recent UK-Canada Cooperation on Media Freedom and on diplomatic communiqués such as the G7 Open Society Statement. When identifying other likeminded partners to help it best meet its open society priorities, the UK should work with other OECD democracies – including members that are increasingly proactive in defending democracy internationally such as Japan, South Korea, Chile, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, and the Netherlands. These efforts should also pull in developing democracies in equal measure when developing joint initiatives, as these countries often carry particular weight in their regions, and send a powerful message that open societies are not just a Western agenda, but a human one.


Doing Development Democratically and the ‘Democracy Premium’

Much has been written about the Government’s decision to reduce its ODA spending from 0.7 per cent of GDP to 0.5 per cent, which will only be reversed under the current Government if certain economic tests are met. This a rapid and hugely consequential cut exacerbated by certain long-standing financial commitments to multilateral bodies, which necessitates larger cuts elsewhere, particularly in bilateral aid. There are further concerns that the UK may pursue a technical manoeuvre to reclassify IMF special drawing rights as ODA, further restricting the real money that the UK has available to support its open society and international development objectives.[21] This approach has already led to sweeping cuts to UK projects around the world and media reports have suggested it could equate to an 80 per cent cut in funding for the FCDO’s thematic work on open societies and human rights.[22] A further consequence of the (broadly positive) drive to devolve more spending decision-making to local Embassies is a likely reduced focus on thematic and multi-country work streams, with the potential loss of best practice learning from comparative study and cross-country engagement.


So with financial capital increasingly limited, the FCDO and the Government as a whole should seek to be more explicit and specific about the areas where it is willing to spend a greater amount of political capital in defence of human rights, governance and democracy so that stakeholders and the public can hold it to account. There is a need for integrated cross-governmental campaigns using the full range of tools set out above to try to achieve its open society priorities in these straightened times.


Irrespective of the wider case for and against the merger of DFID and the FCO, if the process is delivered successfully, it does provide an opportunity for greater integration and coherence between development and human rights objectives. Graeme Ramshaw, WFD’s Director of Research and Evaluation, has argued that ‘the UK has long espoused democracy as a fundamentally British value, yet we have never made it a central theme of our aid policy. Contrary to much perceived wisdom, there need not be a trade-off between development and democracy – much of the evidence suggests they are mutually beneficial. Both can be pursued concurrently if the UK adopts an approach of ‘doing development democratically.’’[23]


‘Doing development democratically’ (DDD) will look different in each context, but has four fundamental components:

  • Committing to a DDD approach – ideally over a long-term period and in collaboration with other international stakeholders – with strong strategic, evidence-based, and cross-governmental underpinnings;
  • Investing in stand-alone democracy assistance programmes that strengthen bedrock democratic principles, institutions, practices, and skills, and ensure that any reforms are locally owned and led by a wide range of national stakeholders;
  • Acting with ‘democratic sensitivity’, an understanding that any UK initiative conducted in or with a country will interact with its political systems and that such interaction may have positive or negative effects for its democratic health. The UK Government should take a deliberate and systematic approach to understanding the impacts of its actions.[24] It should seek to ensure that foreign assistance programmes at a minimum, do no harm to a country’s democracy, and ideally strengthens it by reinforcing local ownership, good governance, transparency, accountability, inclusion, and respect for human and democratic rights; and
  • Creating a ‘Democracy Premium’ of clear and visible incentives for governments showing a demonstrated commitment to democracy and human rights, by offering additional foreign aid, trade preferences on more beneficial terms, enhanced access to international development finance, security guarantees, debt relief, technical support, diplomatic engagement and participation in sought after international and regional agreements (disincentives for backsliding should also be considered).[25]


When adopted and implemented together, each component complements the others, creating a virtuous circle that can advance both developmental and democratic outcomes.


The first component acknowledges that this approach requires political nous, cooperation, and commitment to succeed. Short-term, simplistic approaches will not work in political contexts that not only are by their nature fluid and unpredictable, but will cause stakeholders to adapt to and counter developments that they deem harmful to their interests. It also recognises that the UK should not take an approach that privileges supporting economic growth over democratic accountability and inclusion. The two can and should be mutually reinforcing.


The second is also critical, as there needs to be some baseline democratic capability – credible elections, capable and independent civil society organisations, a functioning parliament and political parties, and a diverse range of political actors – on which to build. Practically, it is also important to have a wide range of relationships with various democratic institutions – ideally built over time to establish understanding and trust – so that your efforts reflect a true spirit of partnership and collaboration, and not unwanted external interference.


The third component reflects a significant departure from most foreign assistance, and requires those providing other forms of support – security assistance, health and education programmes, economic growth and investment – to consider how their work impacts a country’s democratic health. Many examples exist where donor countries support the rule of law and provide funding to human rights organisations, while simultaneously providing military hardware that governments use to repress their citizens. ‘Doing development democratically’ means working coherently across government (and with other donor governments) with an integrated approach to avoid working at cross-purposes. It may also require international actors to move more slowly and allow a country’s democratic stakeholders to debate and influence policy direction, conduct oversight, and occasionally reverse course; getting a minister’s sign-off would no longer be sufficient. The upside is sustainability and resilience of reforms; long-term impact is more likely if they are broad-based and legitimately agreed through domestic political processes.


The fourth component is potentially controversial, as it brings in elements of conditionality, which could be seen as counter to the spirit of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and subsequent Accra Agenda for Action. However this is an approach that has a sound justification and must be delivered transparently.[26] The UK’s recent approach to foreign assistance has shown limited linkages to a country’s quality of democracy. Seven of the top ten recipients of UK bilateral aid in recent years are electoral autocracies — the other three were closed autocracies. Meanwhile, of the 32 countries that had DFID missions (before the creation of FCDO), only seven had improved democracy scores since 2009 — and those seven include Myanmar and Zimbabwe.[27]


As set out above, this approach should be framed in terms of a ‘democracy premium’, as clear incentives over and above a baseline level of development cooperation and a prioritisation of support to democracies where need levels are similar, rather than the exclusion of all authoritarian states from receiving development assistance necessary to alleviate endemic poverty among their citizens. Thinking around how best to provide development assistance in authoritarian states is evolving and should continue to change in response to the need not to actively entrench abusive political systems, with the nature and type of direct budget support sometimes provided a key area to review.


Finally, though there is clearly value in devolving decision-making on ODA to embassy and high commission level, resources should be allocated for robust regional and Commonwealth democracy and rights programmes. Research has shown the value of regional engagement and diffusion on democracy and rights issues in large part because political reform can often be dependent on political will of local elites and the incentives and pressures they face, with politicians and government officials often highly motivated to enhance their profile in regional and global forums.[28] Yet with most funding decisions made at country level, embassies have few incentives to devote resources to wider regional programmes. So London or FCDO regional hubs should make sure to retain enough resources to fund more robust regional and Commonwealth programming.


A model the UK may want to examine more closely is the US’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The MCC requires countries meet a certain standard of ‘just and democratic governance, including a country’s demonstrated commitment to promoting political pluralism, equality, and the rule of law; respecting human and civil rights; protecting private property rights; encouraging transparency and accountability of government; and combating corruption.’[29]


Women at the heart of democratic development

Though the UK’s domestic track record on women’s political representation puts it in the middle of the pack internationally, it had built up a strong development focused set of expertise to improve the lives of women and girls. Given the importance of women’s leadership to achieving more accountable and effective democracy and development these are capabilities should not be lost as the Government’s wider priorities evolve. The recent study by WFD and King’s College London’s Global Institute for Women’s Leadership (GIWL) on the impact of women on democratic governance provides unequivocal evidence that ‘when women are able to exercise political leadership in a manner that is authentic to them, there are gains not just for women and girls but for the whole of society…women are altering the political framework in a way that is bringing more robust consideration of issue areas that can deliver better outcomes for women and girls and that also directly benefit men and boys, such as improving public health services and access to clean water, expanding the provision and quality of education, and tackling violence in the home.’[30]


Expanding support for inclusive political systems is a force multiplier. Cumulative evidence indicates that women’s political leadership can be a positive disruptor of stale governance arrangements where corruption and poor service delivery have become the norm.[31] The fifth pillar of DFID’s 2018 Strategic Vision for Gender Equality on women’s political empowerment, of which WFD was an advocate through the Gender and Development Network (GADN), has seen strong rhetorical support but requires a more politically-informed approach to be realised in a development context.[32]


In her essay Rt Hon. Maria Miller MP notes the Government’s current lack of a comprehensive approach to gender equality and inclusion, particularly in the UK Government’s policy on open societies, and the limited mention the issue received in the Integrated Review.[33] In all its efforts – and in line with the International Development Act – the UK should look for opportunities to strengthen the political inclusion of women, integrating this agenda into its wider work across open society priorities. The adoption of feminist foreign policies by Sweden and Canada provide useful examples of how this might be done and it is an agenda the new Foreign Secretary is known to have an interest in.[34]


Identifying the UK’s open society priorities

While the case for increasing both the priority given to the Open Societies Agenda within Government and the funding for international aid and diplomacy remains strong and will continue to be argued for, policymakers have to grapple with the situation as it is today. The reality is that while the UK is and can be a leader on the Open Societies Agenda, it lacks the capacity to lead on everything. The task set by the current funding and political situation is how to be most effective with more limited resources than in the past. This will involve identifying where UK’s comparative advantage in the promotion of open societies lies and working out where to prioritise. This will necessitate hard choices given both the UK’s breadth of capability particularly within civil society and the interlocking nature of the challenging of supporting an open society. The essays in this collection give a strong guide to objectives that could and should be prioritised as the building blocks of an open society, highlighting how important each area is and indicating what the impact of making resource driven choices between them will mean. There are two main dimensions to address when considering how to prioritise: geographic and thematic.


Where to focus

When looking at where in the world the UK should focus its attention, the Integrated Review has already set down some fairly clear priorities for the Government’s wider global strategy: increasing focus in the Indo-Pacific, retaining a role in the European Neighbourhood, pivoting from security to trade in the Middle East, prioritising East Africa as compared to the continent’s other sub-regions (except Nigeria), and reducing its footprint across much of the rest of the global south. Irrespective the merits of these choices this geographic prioritisation will clearly influence the Government’s response to open societies issues and where it invests resources. However, particularly in relation to the Open Societies Agenda, it will be important that the UK is able to think holistically about where the UK can do most as a ‘force for good’, both in terms of opportunities for progress and areas to defend.


The international community – and the UK – needs to be better equipped to respond quickly and decisively to bolster democratic opportunities when they present themselves, an entrepreneurial approach to embedding open societies. The failure to successful build on popular groundswells of support for democratic change in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Armenia have had a knock-on impact on the attractiveness of liberal democracy and open societies as hoped for reforms petered or were snuffed out, with economic woes often undermining hopes for political change. Working with its international partners, the UK should find ways to deliver a ‘democratic surge’ of political, practical and financial support to buttress democratic openings and sustain them until change becomes embedded over the long term.


The recent victories by reformist Presidential and Parliamentary candidates in Moldova provide perhaps one such democratic opportunity where there is a clear need for a surge of open societies support. As a country in the UK’s priority ‘European Neighbourhood’, the UK should look to do more bilaterally than it has done in the past but it would also provide a wonderful opportunity to show the UK’s ability to work collaboratively with its former EU partners given the EU’s key role in supporting reform in the country. It is also a country where the expense of engaging should not be prohibitively high, as compared to contexts like Iraq, Afghanistan, or even Ukraine. While it is important to look for openings for change provided by new democratic leaning political leaders, the UK and other partners must not to forget the lessons of recent history by ensuring that support is focused on delivering systemic change rather than becoming intimately tied to a particular politician’s political project.


The second potential approach is a more defensive one, focused around long-term strategic priorities more than emerging opportunities. The UK could seek to work in partnership with key emerging democracies at the heart of efforts to drive democratic reform in their respective regions. Leading proponents of conservative internationalism, an approach that may have an appeal for the current government, have recommended employing an ‘inkblot’ strategy to defending and advancing democracy, bolstering robust and influential democracies with open economies and supporting their ability to positively influence their neighbours.[35] Evidence points to significant value of this approach, particularly in a resource constrained environment, as regional diffusion appears to be effective in advancing democratic norms, even when direct bilateral aid is limited.[36]


These key regional influencers are truly global ‘swing states’: middle income, emerging countries across Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America that are increasingly influential in diplomatic, economic and security affairs at the regional and global level. Their success – economic, diplomatic, security-wise – has a significant impact on their neighbours and beyond, and if their political systems are open, democratic, and inclusive, this sends a powerful signal to other countries (and their citizens) that democracy is the best way forward. However, the size and often comparative prosperity of these countries means that to meaningfully influence their political trajectory towards more open societies will not only require the use of the UK’s full range of political tools (particularly when ODA is not an option due to income levels), but also working closely in partnership with other like-minded established democracies as mentioned earlier to achieve a positive impact.


It is undoubtedly the case that ECOWAS’s successful intervention in The Gambia, demanding the incumbent respect the results of the 2016 election and stand down, was bolstered by the leadership of influential democratic leadership in Ghana, Senegal, and especially Nigeria. Mexico’s positive influence in the Americas, particularly in Central America, would be massively diminished if it were to become autocratic, as Venezuela’s has seen the decline of its democracy over the past decades. Indonesia has worked diligently to encourage democracy in the region (and beyond), hosting an annual Bali Democracy Forum, which facilitates discussions by leading governments and civil society on the value of democracy without imposing its own views.


As the UK Government has decided to make the Indo-Pacific a key focus for the UK, there is a strong case for much more intensive focus supporting the sustained establishment of open, inclusive, and peaceful democratic societies in the region. The UK’s recently approved status as a dialogue partner of ASEAN is a golden opportunity to up its engagement. Yet UK democracy assistance to that region in the past has been particularly weak, especially in Southeast Asia, where there have been recent missed opportunities to support emerging democratic forces. Given its comparative absence from open societies work in the region and reduced funding envelope, the UK should seek to find ways to work with like-minded partners to bolster existing successful initiatives and identify gaps where the UK has particular capability that would add value, rather than duplicate existing work but with the addition of a Union Jack. Given the recent events in Afghanistan and political flux in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in particular, the UK should not neglect Central Asia, the hinge point between its European Neighbourhood and Indo-Pacific focus areas. So while it is to be expected that the UK’s open society priority countries will be guided by the FCDO’s wider strategy it must also be informed by where the UK can most effectively by a ‘force for good’ and to seize opportunities that arise.


What to focus on

When deciding how to prioritise thematic areas, all of which are hugely important in and of themselves, it is worth considering how they fit together. This means trying to identify what are the foundations on which the other aspects of open societies can build, where the UK has particular expertise to draw upon and where other like-minded partners are showing leadership and expertise to avoid duplication. Rule of law and media freedom are two obvious areas of strength for the UK. Building on Britain’s history and soft power assets, they form two of the key pillars that support and open societies by acting as a vital check on the political caprice and corruption that can erode civic space.


Traditional independent media models are collapsing around the world – an ‘extinction level event’ according to James Deane writing in this publication – while ‘autocrats are playing the long game’, shaping the global information landscape to fit their objectives. This collapse risks undermining investigative journalism – which is hard to do and even harder to monetise – but which is essential to holding the powerful to account and keeping societies open, as the Pandora papers most recently demonstrate. As Deane says the UK has a key role to play in convening dialogue between media, civil society, technology platforms, governments, international development banks, advertisers and the rest of the private sector to identify solutions but this alone will not be enough. The UK should provide support to the proposed International Fund for Public Interest Media, which could move fast, marshal resources, take risks and innovate. This is a crucial area where the UK can add value within the wider freedom of expression space that is crucial to the openness of a society.


The UK has understandably traded on the legacy of Magna Carta, a long legal tradition and London’s position as the second largest global centre for legal services – both for good or ill – to position itself as an international player on rule of law issues.[37] Murray Hunt rightly argues for the integration of rule of law into whatever strategy the FCDO and Government develops on open societies, human rights and democracy, and for the adoption of and international promotion of the shared understanding of rule of law provided by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.[38] Indeed in terms of bolstering support for the rule of law in the European Neighbourhood, it is important for the Government to reflect on the damage done already by its vocal criticism of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. It should ensure future discussions around the precise nature of its incorporation into domestic law (such as the update of the Human Rights Act pledged in the Conservative’s 2019 Manifesto) are not conducted in a way that further weaken adherence to these international rule of law norms.[39] Hunt also calls for the development of both a new ‘Global Partnership’ and a new ‘Global Fund’ to coordinate and support rule of law initiatives around the world. As set out above, more needs to be done, going beyond the 2013 Defamation Act, to stop the UK acting as a global centre for libel tourism and SLAPPs.


Rule of law and media freedom are essential tools in the fight to do more to tackle corruption both internationally and at home. The UK’s record domestically and in its Overseas Territories undermine its past efforts at global leadership, providing a safe haven for the riches that help keep authoritarian regimes in power and closing civic space around the world. As Joe Powell notes the National Crime Agency argues that it is ‘a realistic possibility that [money laundering through the UK] is in the hundreds of billions of pounds annually’ because of ‘the ease with which UK companies can be established, the broad range of professional services on offer and the access UK systems provide to higher-risk jurisdictions.’[40] The recent release of the Pandora papers have again drawn attention to the central role the UK and its territories play in facilitating global corruption by authoritarian leaders and their intimates.[41] Therefore, some of the most impactful work the UK can do to support the cause of open societies abroad would be to finally clean out the stables at home. This programme of domestic reform should include delivering on the long-promised beneficial ownership register for property; reforming Companies House; expanding the staffing levels of Companies House and of the National Economic Crime Centre constituent partners (such as the National Crime Agency, Serious Fraud Office and HMRC) to give them the capacity to check registry information and undertake enforcement action; and transforming or abolishing Scottish limited partnerships.[42]


Turning to what can be done by the UK acting internationally and through its aid programme to combat corruption, Phil Mason makes clear in his essay contribution that technocratic box-ticking procedures are not enough and that there is a need for wider reform to the political and social culture. When assessing corruption levels in the societies in which the UK operates, it is important for the UK to fully assess the extent of political control of economic opportunities within a country rather than just monitoring cash transfers made by the international community. This will require measures to improve the transparency of contracting and procurement as well as support for local civil society and investigative journalism to expose the nepotism and cronyism that curtail open societies.


Action on the three pillars of anti-corruption, rule of law and freedom of expression (with a UK focus on media freedom) are mutually reinforcing and can underpin wider progress towards other open societies goals in any country where the UK seeks to engage. Such an approach can provide a baseline framework for engagement with countries on improving governance that applies well beyond those countries which are or are genuinely trying to be democracies. However more thought needs to be given, on a country by country basis, to the utility of such governance reform work in partnership with the governments of authoritarian and semi-authoritarian states where there is no real prospect of shifting the underlying nature of power that shape their systems. It is imperative that such governance work to help achieve ‘modernisation’ or ‘reform’ that may potentially lead to some outcomes beneficial for local people are not mislabelled as democracy assistance. To do so plays into the narratives of regimes claiming to be ‘emerging’ democracies when they are not, devaluing the concept of democracy and feeds into the growing cynicism about the liberal democratic project. As set out above the UK and its partners need to show ‘democratic sensitivity’ in their approach.


On a similar note, Britain and other democracies need to be more willing to openly question the intentions of their interlocutors in authoritarian and semi-authoritarian countries. The UK should not deploy diplomatic pabulum about the reforming or democratic bona fides of primarily autocratic rulers, if the UK is going to be seen by the populous in those countries as genuinely acting as a ‘force for good’ rather than pursuing its economic and security objectives under the cover of ‘democracy washing’. So honestly and rationally identifying the political intentions of potential partners rather than accepting rhetoric is key, recognising democracy and open societies rely on the political will to allow change (and accept defeat) rather than being reduced to discussions purely about capacity and technical compliance.


The UK should consider more thoroughly the political implications of providing security sector support in non-democracies, demanding clearer evidence that such work can deliver real improvements in their behaviour towards citizens, including political dissidents, rather than simply making the forces of political control in closed societies more efficient when this money in these resource constrained times could perhaps be better used elsewhere.[43]


The growing importance of open data is highlighted in a number of essays including by Catherine Stihler, Joe Powell, and Rafael Jiménez-Aybar. It is an approach that can provide the tools for journalist, activists and officials themselves to tackle corruption and improve service outcomes. It is an agenda which could give the UK much to say in the international rule setting bodies where it is interested in becoming a thought leader and rule maker. Country governments need both support and pressure to deliver on this agenda and to ensure that the data produced is credible as well as accessible.


The UK’s recent funding decisions will have a regrettable impact on its ability to directly support civil society groups at the sharp end of efforts to shrink civic space, reducing its ability to provide the ‘flexible and sustainable funding’ for civil society rightly argued for by Iva Dobichina, Poonam Joshi, Sarah Green and James Savage in their essay. Given the funding position seems unlikely to change in the short-to-medium term, it is imperative that the Government finds other ways to ‘proactively defend civic space and the people in it’ as those authors request. Ambassadors should be proactively encouraged through FCDO policies to speak out more regularly on cases involving activists at risk, the unjustly imprisoned and to protect civic space more broadly. Minsters should also play a more active role to support such an approach and to escalate the pressure from officials on the ground.


Certainly there is little in the headline rhetoric on immigration coming from the Home Office that would suggest that the environment in the UK will become more conducive to providing emergency protection for civic activists at risk. However, if the Government showed political will in this area, given the overall political salience of immigration has declined since the 2016 referendum result, there might be room for more targeted measures to support asylum claims for known human rights defenders and other activists.[44]


Electoral processes around the world are under attack, as highlighted in the essay by Dame Audrey Glover, with disinformation and fake observers used to dilute criticism of election rigging. Western countries including the UK need to take action to protect credible election observation and this will require both investment and coordination. The FCDO could look at the option to maintain a rapid response fund for critical, unanticipated electoral and political processes worldwide, similar to USAID’s Elections and Political Processes (EPP) Fund. In the past, snap elections (particularly in countries without DFID missions) would typically leave the UK flatfooted, with few readily available mechanisms for rapidly mobilising the resources (financial and human) necessary to launch timely, robust initiatives. A standing fund with resources set aside for these scenarios would be of great value, particularly in the event of important elections in locations where there are few FCDO governance advisers in country or in country ODA resources available. Recent examples of countries with these types of elections would include Malaysia, Bolivia, Armenia, El Salvador, The Gambia, and North Macedonia.


The global promotion of LGBTQ+ rights had been an area where the UK had shown leadership over a number of years but it is notable that that the only mention of the issue in the Integrated Review is in relation to Britain being a welcoming country for LGBTQ+ tourists. Given the conservative backlash against LGBTQ+ rights in many regions around the world, sometimes with narratives crafted by Russia and other revisionist powers, careful thought should be given how best to act politically and using UK soft power to respond to this challenge, recognising that whether or not the UK chooses to engage on the topic it will be used to delegitimise open societies and liberal democracies unless these narratives are countered.


COP26 (the United Nations Climate Conference taking place in Glasgow in early November 2021) has put the UK’s climate change efforts at the front and centre of its recent diplomacy as it responds to perhaps the greatest threat humanity will have to deal with over the remainder of this century. However, once the UK’s time in the spotlight on this issue has passed it will have to drill down on the areas within this debate where it should focus its political capital. This will not only be by taking action at a domestic level to deliver on its targets but to identify specific areas where it will seek to maintain a global leadership role. On potential area could be the promotion of environmental democracy work as outlined by in the essay Rafael Jiménez-Aybar, which would seem to be a good way to draw together these the environmental and Open Societies Agenda as they note that ‘many of today’s environmental concerns are, at their core, political issues, and failures of governance.’


Supporting British democracy assistance

There is an important role to be played by UK institutions in building partnerships with likeminded actors in countries looking to reform. The WFD, one of the two organisations responsible for putting together this project, has direct experience in building relationships between UK actors in the political system – parliamentarians, party and parliamentary officials, civil society organisations and others – and their counterparts in partner countries. WFD have found that the strong appetite for these relationships often derives from the respect and admiration for the UK’s democratic culture and the experience in our democratic institutions and practices.[45] The Peer to Peer Community of Practice – established by the UK Stabilisation Unit’s Global Partnerships International (GPI) – has circulated reams of research on the potential of this approach to deliver both soft power dividends and meaningful reform.


The numerous existing linkages between British actors and institutions are key mechanisms for exercising UK influence, contributing both to alliance building efforts and outreach to closed and autocratic regimes.[46] However, maximising the value of this wide-ranging engagement requires active brokering of relationships, and, when possible, better coordination and collaboration amongst disparate efforts, including between UK government ministries, subnational government, and soft power institutions (including leading internationally-oriented arm’s length bodies such as British Council and WFD).


Maximising the developmental and soft power value of working with the wide range of innovative British democracy institutions will require a concerted investment, though not necessarily through more funding, but a change in how funding is allocated. Many UK democracy assistance organisations are undersized in comparison to their counterparts e.g. in Germany and the US, which have received decades of sole-source funding from their governments, often in the hundreds of millions per year. These organisations then utilise this capacity to win grants and contracts from foreign governments, including the UK, to expand their reach even further. By contrast:

  • The 2015 International Development Committee report on Parliamentary Strengthening highlighted the lack of investment in ‘Westminster organisations’, such as WFD and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK, with most DFID governance funding going to large for-profits and multilateral organisations (which provide minimal soft power benefits to the UK).[47]
  • The UK’s Electoral Commission, unlike most counterparts, has no legal mandate to engage internationally and the Local Government Association (LGA) scaled back its international work over the last decade.
  • There has been no UK organisation providing significant levels of international election assistance since the bankruptcy in 2014 of Election Reform International Services (ERIS). Only in recent years has WFD begun to fill this void through targeted election support in contexts such as the DRC and the Western Balkans.
  • The British Council’s 2019 Tailored Review explicitly recommended the Council de-prioritise its work on justice and governance, while offering no alternative British institution to fill the gap.[48]
  • BBC Media Action had its five year, £90 million Programme Partnership Arrangement (PPA) closed in 2017 and replaced by a smaller accountable grant, despite the PPA being rated A+ or higher each year.


Together these decisions, made separately over a number of years, have combined to undermine the UK’s ability to advance democracy, rights, and governance. The FCDO – if properly resourced and operating under a robust strategic open societies framework – represents an opportunity to 1) develop long-term strategic relationships with leading British organisations already operating relevant programmes at scale abroad; and 2) commit to investing in developing the capacity of smaller British actors – particularly in the areas of political inclusion, rule of law, civic tech and innovation, and local governance – to play a greater role abroad. This building of UK based non-profit organisations must not come at the expense of but instead be complemented by greater direct investment in the capacity building of local partners to avoid unhelpful competition for resources and the fostering of collaborative relationships; a good example would be providing more funding directly to women’s rights organisations in country, while offering technical support and two way learning with relevant UK organisations.


It is worth comparing the UK approach to supporting domestic democracy institutions with Germany, France, the EU, the US, with a deeper dive on the US experience. In Germany, most open societies funding is directed on a sole source basis to either the state-owned GIZ (mainly for good governance) or to the party foundations (mainly for political systems and parties), in the hundreds of millions of euros (if not up to a billion or more) annually. In France, state-owned Expertise France received over 60 million euro in 2019 to implement democratic, financial and economic governance programmes. The EU is now backing Team Europe Initiatives (TEIs) – joint activities by the EU, its member states, and the European development finance institutions focused on a specific sector – with as many as 150 in development, most of which would likely be directed to EU – and member-state organisations.[49] The Netherlands, Denmark, and Finland are the largest investors in their own multi-party foundations, which also increasingly access EU funding mechanisms under which UK-based organisations are ineligible to participate.[50]


Meanwhile, the US established the National Endowment for Democracy, National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute, and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems in the mid-1980s. For nearly 40 years, the US has invested substantial resources in these American democracy assistance institutions through a range of sole-source mechanisms, in particular the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS). Under President Biden, investment in these four institutions is expected to reach $700-800 million annually.


As part of the Global Britain approach outlined in the Integrated Review, there is clearly value in supporting highly capable (if undersized) British institutions to help deliver its Open Societies Agenda, while simultaneously enhancing UK soft power. While a new, stand-alone mechanism similar to the US CEPPS could make sense in the longer term, a shorter term fix is available. An Open Societies Fund could be ring-fenced from the Conflict Security and Stability Fund (CSSF) – a logical source given the contribution democratic societies can make towards long-term resilience and stability – and could be delivered by a consortium of British organisations (Team UK). These ‘best of British’ organisations would be capable not only of delivering impactful programming and generating soft power dividends, but would also be increasing competitive in securing EU, other European, and US-funding, further stimulating their growth and capabilities.


The next steps

As James Deane notes in his essay in relation to media freedom and one of the editors (Adam Hug) has argued in the FPC’s ‘Finding Britain’s role in a changing world’ project, there is a need for democracies to find a way to project strategic intent beyond the constraints of the electoral cycle.[51] This will require building cross party agreement on the nature of the challenge and on certain objectives, as well as the development of tools that will be sustained irrespective of who is in power. This long-term, cross-party approach is necessary to ensure that the cause of open societies and liberal democracies can withstand the pressure from authoritarian states and revisionist powers seeking to roll back the forces of freedom on the world stage. Germany and the US are notable for their strong cross-party commitment to democracy assistance. In fact, advocates from both leading parties in the US Congress came together and pushed through increased funding during the Trump administration, despite initial plans to slash these budgets.[52]


This publication brings together a range of leading voices to draw attention to some of the most important challenges facing human rights, good governance and democracy around the world. They make the case for prioritising open societies in UK foreign policy and look at where Britain should focus its energy within the different areas that together comprise the Open Societies Agenda, areas that are almost all complementary in nature but which are competing for resources and attention. What is clear from all of the contributions is that the loss of funding provided by the UK’s ODA cuts will have an impact on the UK’s ability to deliver on its open society ambitions but it certainly is not time to throw in the towel. With a combination of the necessary amount of political will and an integrated strategy that brings together and uses all the tools at the Government’s disposal to support the Open Societies Agenda the UK can make a real difference. So it is therefore imperative that the UK becomes more willing to aggressively tackle corruption both at home and abroad, to use trade incentives, to actively deploy diplomatic and political influence, to work with partners and reform how it delivers its international aid and democracy support to ensure the Government delivers on its commitment for the country to be a force for good in the world.


Adam Hug became the Director of the Foreign Policy Centre in November 2017, overseeing the FPC’s operations and strategic direction. He had previously been the Policy Director at the Foreign Policy Centre from 2008-2017. His research focuses on human rights and governance issues particularly in the former Soviet Union. He also writes on UK foreign policy and EU issues. He studied at Geography at the University of Edinburgh as an undergraduate and Development Studies with Special Reference to Central Asia as a post-grad.


Devin O’Shaughnessy is the Director of Strategy and Policy for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), responsible for advancing WFD’s strategic direction and providing technical leadership to its programmes and policy work. He has over 20 years’ experience in the field of international development, with expertise in democracy and governance, legislative assistance, civil society strengthening; electoral processes and observation; citizen participation; state building in fragile contexts; and inclusive politics. Before joining WFD, he worked for the National Democratic Institute (NDI) for nearly six years in Washington, DC, Indonesia, and Afghanistan. He has a Master’s degree in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).


[1] Cabinet Office, Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, March 2021,

[2] Cabinet Office, 2021 Open Societies Statement, G7 Summit in Cornwall UK, July 2021,

[3] Sarah Repucci and Amy Slipowitz, Freedom in the World 2021: Democracy under Siege, Freedom House, 2021,

[4] Philip Stephens, The west is the author of its own weakness, Financial Times, September 2021,

[5] Yascha Mounk and Roberto Sefan Foa, Opinion: Yes, people really are turning away from democracy, The Washington Post, December 2016,

[6] Sintia Radu, China’s Web Surveillance Model Expands Abroad, U.S. News, November 2018,; According to Freedom House, the following countries have received surveillance training from China: They include: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Brazil, Venezuela, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Angola, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

[7] Edited by Adam Hug, Sharing worst practice: How countries and institutions in the former Soviet Union help create legal tools of repression, FPC, May 2016,

[8] The latter objective not being helped by the finalisation of Nordstream 2.

[9] Bettcher eloquently argues the case for the private sector bolstering pluralism in his essay. However, it is important to recognise from a European perspective both Social and Christian Democratic political and economic models have achieved long-lasting open societies with a greater level of state engagement in the economy than a pure free market model would necessarily prescribe but they are marked by pluralistic politics, the rule of law, active civil society, as a well as freedom of expression and the press that can curb corruption and other distortions that harm both the economy and society.

[10] Adam Hug, Finding Britain’s role in a changing world: Principles (and priorities) for Global Britain, FPC, September 2020, in The principles for Global Britain, FPC< September 2020,; For more on the role of middle powers see: Rachel Kleinfeld, Thomas Carothers, Steven Feldstein and Richard Youngs, How Middle-Power Democracies Can Help Renovate Global Democracy Support, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 2021,

[11] See: Dr Nicholas Wright, The UK and the international rules-based system, FPC, FPC, September 2020,; Malcolm Chalmers, Which Rules? Why There is No Single ‘Rules-Based International System’, RUSI, April 2019,; Albeit that international institutions and rules have always functioned with the participation of autocracies and weak democracies.

[12] Created in September 2020 through the merger of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DFID).

[13] DFID, Guide to working with parliaments and political parties for sustainable development, November 2017,

[14] For more on SLAPPs see here: FPC, Unsafe for Scrutiny programme,

[15] Jonathan Freedland, In plain sight, Boris Johnson is rigging the system to stay in power, The Guardian, October 20201,

[16] Edited by Adam Hug, Projecting the UK’s ability to defend its values, FPC, December 2020,

[17] Edited by Adam Hug, Protecting the UK’s ability to defend its values, FPC, September 2020,; Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Russia, July 2020,

[18] ICIJ, An ICIJ Investigation – Pandora Papers, October 2021,; Jonathan Freedland, In plain sight, Boris Johnson is rigging the system to stay in power, The Guardian, October 20201,

[19] Monitor: Tracking civic space, UK added to human rights watchlist over threats to peaceful assembly, September 2021,

[20] Edited by Adam Hug, Partnerships for the future of UK Foreign Policy, FPC, December 2020,

[21] Ian Mitchell, Twitter Post, Twitter, August 2021,

[22] Peter Geoghegan, UK government plans 80% cuts to ‘world-leading’ anti-corruption work, Open Democracy, March 2021,

[23] Graeme Ramshaw, Doing development democratically, WFD, July 2020,

[24] Adapted from the UK Government’s guidance on the concept of Conflict sensitivity, see: Stabilisation Unit, Conflict Sensitivity: Tools and Guidance,, June 2016,; The ‘Do no harm’ principle is an important approach in this field and there are important lessons to be learned that from work in this area. See also: CDA Collaborative, Conflict-Sensitivity and Do No Harm,,development%20and%2For%20peacebuilding%20interventions; International Alert, Conflict-sensitive approaches to development, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding,

[25] For examples of doing trade to proactively support development see: Adam Hug, Projecting the UK’s values abroad: Introduction, FPC, December 2020,

[26] A ‘sound justification’ and the need to be delivered transparently are the criteria set out in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and Accra Agenda for such conditions. See The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action, 2005-2008,

[27] Alex Thier, Opinion: Doing development democratically, devex, September 2020,

[28] Scott Mainwaring and Anibal Perez-Linan, Why Regions of the World Are Importance: Regional Specificities and Region-Wide Diffusion of Democracy, ResearchGate, June 2007,

[29] Millennium Challenge Corporation, Guide to the MCC Indicators for Fiscal Year 2021, October 2020,

[30] WFD, The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership and King’s College London, Women political leaders: the impact of gender on democracy, 2020

[31] Ibid.

[32] Gender & Development Network, Working Group: Women’s Participation and Leadership,

[33] Letter from Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP to Sarah Champion MP, December 2020,; Paul Abernathy and Abigael Baldoumas, What the integrated review means for international development, Bond, 19 March 2021,

[34] Government Offices of Sweden, Feminist foreign policy,; Government of Canada, Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy,

[35] Not a philosophical school that the authors are part of themselves per se, but raise this inkblot strategy given the current Conservative government and the potential merits of the approach. Henry R. Nau, Conservative Internationalism, National Review, September 2013,

[36] Scott Mainwaring and Anibal Perez-Linan, Why Regions of the World Are Important: Regional Specificities and Region-Wide Diffusion of Democracy, ResearchGate, June 2007,

[37] The Economist, London’s business courts face growing competition, April 2021,

[38] Venice Commission, Rule of Law, Council of Europe,

[39] Conservatives, Our Plan – Conservative Manifesto 2019,

[40] NCA, National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime, 2020,

[41] ICIJ, An ICIJ Investigation – Pandora Papers, October 2021,

[42] Adam Hug, Projecting the UK’s values abroad: Introduction, FPC, December 2020,

[43] This is not to imply that progress cannot ever be made but it is an argument for caution and greater rigour in assessment of project implementation.

[44] Sunder Katwala, Twitter Post, Twitter, December 2020,

[45] While often beneficial some caution must also be taken to monitor and evaluate the nature of the UK’s institutional engagement to ensure it is delivering results from an open societies perspective, particularly when dealing with institutions in authoritarian and semi-authoritarian states to avoid adding international legitimacy to Potemkin Parliaments.

[46] Alistair MacDonald, Soft Power 30 2019, British Council, October 2019,

[47] The report recommends “a joint DFID/FCO fund be established to commission expert organisations; this would also enable work to be commissioned at short notice when opportunities arise. A joint fund would combine the differing and important skills of the two departments. The fund could be on a similar scale to the £21.4 million which BBC Media Action received as a global grant from DFID in 2013–14.” See: House of Commons International Development Committee, Parliamentary Strengthening, Ninth Report of Session 2014-15, January 2015,

[48] “Recommendation 10: The British Council should focus on its core objectives of promoting the English language, education and British culture, and reconsider all its non-core work, in particular its justice and governance work. Absent a strong rationale on the British Council’s added value, it should consider withdrawing from these areas.” See: FCO, British Council Tailored Review, 2019,

[49] Samuel Pleeck and Mikaela Gavas, Getting to the Bottom of the Team Europe Initiatives, Center for Global Development, May 2021,

[50] While building UK capacity is absolutely crucial as argued with the Team UK approach below, there may still be scope for looking again the nature of UK participation in EU funding arrangements so that opportunities for fruitful and large scale collaborations are not completely excluded in future. It is worth noting that in the area of research the UK will remain an associate member of the Horizon 2020 scheme, enabling a degree of ongoing pan-European collaboration. European Commission, Q&A on the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe, February 2021,

[51] Edited by Adam Hug, Finding Britain’s role in a changing world, FPC, September 2020,

[52] Thomas Carothers and Frances Z. Brown, Three Ways the New Congress Can Defend Democracy Abroad, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 2018,

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