“Democracy assistance” has become ever more important to U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Its goal is to help usher in or encourage democratic practices amongst the world. But these attempts raise many philosophical questions including whether it is possible to “export” democracy at all. Paul E. Sum is a political scientist whose research explores the effectiveness of such democracy assistance programs in the post-communist world. In late July, he will travel to Romania for one year to investigate that country’s transition to democracy. With this episode of WHY?, we will catch up with him before he goes and ask a range of preliminary but related questions: What is a democracy? What conditions are necessary for a transition to this form of government? What method most effectively delivers democracy assistance? And, what has the track record of the US attempt to foster democracy been so far? We hope, when he returns, to revisit these questions and discover what new information he can provide about the process of democratization in Romania and around the world.
Paul Sum is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of North Dakota. His interests were shaped through his experience during an earlier trip to Romania as a Visiting Scholar and Fellow at Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj (1996-1998). He has worked with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the U.S. Department of State (formerly the U.S. Information Agency), the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Democracy International, and the International Research & Exchanges Board. His work includes monitoring elections and campaigns, assessing pre and post-election voter surveys, and evaluating the impact of various democracy assistance programs in Albania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, and Romania among other locations. He remains on staff as a Visiting Professor at Babeş-Bolyai University in Romania and has taught at Tulane University and Northwestern University. He is particularly interested in the background and motivations of civil society activists in the post-communist world. He has been widely published, but work in this specific area have appeared in East European Politics & Societies and the Romanian Journal of Science and Politics.
Why?’s host Jack Weinstein says, “Paul is one of those people who teaches you new facts about the world every time you engage him in conversation. His ability to understand the practicalities of democratic behavior has opened up, to me, an entirely new understanding as to how and why politics operates as it does. We are truly fortunate to get to talk with him on the eve of a whole new project, and to share with him the power of the unknown — the excitement of the unanswered question.”