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World Bank mustn’t say “democracy,” but “deploy troops” is OK

UPDATE: Wed, May 11: World Bank media chief David Theis responds (see end of comments section below)

I finally read the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report, Conflict, Security, and Development. It shed new light on an earlier discussion I had by email with World Bank Media Chief David Theis last month, which I reproduce here, and then I add a new letter I just sent to Mr. Theis.

To World Bank Media Chief David Theis, April 7, 2011

David, I noticed that President Zoellick’s speech yesterday on the Arab Democratic Spring did not actually mention the word “democracy” … The omission is quite startling given the topic, so I was wondering: is there a legal prohibition (such as from the articles of agreement) that prohibits the President from overtly using the word “democracy”? Bill

From World Bank Media Chief David Theis, April 8, 2011

Hi, Bill. Since you worked at the World Bank for 16 years, you probably know that our Articles of Agreement say that the Bank, which is owned by 187 member countries, “….shall not interfere in the political affairs of any member; nor shall they be influenced in their decisions by the political character of the member or members concerned.”

Here’s a link to the Articles, if you need a refresher:

Thanks very much,


New letter yesterday

To World Bank Media Chief David Theis, May 9, 2011

Dear David,

I have finally had a chance to read the 2011 World Development Report (WDR) on Conflict, Security, and Development. On p. 188, it says:

” External forces can …begin to restore confidence … They can also deploy troops to provide physical security guarantees against a relapse.”

On p. 192, it talks again about the idea for external forces “to deploy peacekeeping operations to confront violence in a timely manner.”

Thanks for the refresher in your April 8 letter on the restriction that the World Bank “not interfere in the political affairs of any member.”

And thanks for explaining that any descriptive use of the word “democracy” on Arab revolts by President Zoellick would be such an interference in political affairs of a member state.

I was just wondering if you would consider a deployment of outside military troops to be less of an interference than using the descriptive word “democracy”?

Thanks for any clarification you can provide.

All the best. Bill

Mr. Theis kindly said he would check with the WDR team and get back to me.

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  1. Mukil wrote:


    Posted May 10, 2011 at 2:57 am | Permalink
  2. David Zetland wrote:

    Sounds like Collier (“there are times when we need to invade”) has had some influence on them.

    That said, an Army officer from West Point claimed (Jan ASSA in Denver) that they were doing “good development” in Afghanistan, so maybe this is a good dummy variable for one of those development regressions?

    Posted May 10, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink
  3. Cornelius Christian wrote:


    Posted May 10, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink
  4. Chris wrote:


    You are God sent, I wish there is a way to encourage people in every country to put up the same challenge to every aid agencies as you do.

    Posted May 10, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink
  5. William Easterly wrote:


    Thank you, for the incredibly kind comment that I am “God sent”.

    I was really just sent by some amazingly stubborn West Virginia mountaineers.

    Yours, Bill

    Posted May 10, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  6. Quicksilversurfer wrote:

    “….shall not interfere in the political affairs of any member; nor shall they be influenced in their decisions by the political character of the member or members concerned.”
    Interesting to see what the WB perceives as “interfering”. Push to privatize, to favor some budget items rather than others, among many of their pieces of “advice”,
    are obviously not by their views interference in political affairs!

    Posted May 10, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  7. Sophie wrote:

    “if you need a refresher”

    The arrogance and condescension are palpable. Kudos for commented on the ad hoc application of the “prime directive”.

    Apparently, words are more contentious than a military deployment…who knew? Then again, UN staff are masters of political correctness.

    Just one question. How did you manage to work for an organization as moribund as the UN for 16 years without losing your sanity? You must have one hell of a strong stomach for political bullshit.

    Posted May 10, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  8. Teresa wrote:

    Sophie, a clarification. Bill worked at the World Bank, not the UN.
    Bill, I admire you for actually reading the entire WDR. Those things are usually so bland and conceptual I find it impossible to get through Chapter 1! You must have had a case of Red Bull next to you.

    Posted May 10, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink
  9. Aşk Sözleri wrote:
    Posted May 10, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Permalink
  10. Scott wrote:

    Isn’t there a pretty simple explanation for this? That the World Development Report is a research document that is somewhat independent of the official representatives of the bank. There is lots of WB research on democracy. But this is surely different than what the head of the World Bank can say in his capacity as WB representative.

    I’m not disagreeing that Zoellick should use the term, I’m just saying that there might be some explanation for the asymmetry.

    Posted May 10, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Permalink
  11. Quicksilversurfer wrote:

    “That the World Development Report is a research document that is somewhat independent of the official representatives of the bank. “????
    You must not have worked there as there is NOTHING published that has not been vetted by the powers that are… Including their blogs!

    Posted May 10, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Permalink
  12. Quicksilversurfer wrote:

    Of course NOTHING [that they publish] that …

    Posted May 10, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Permalink
  13. William Easterly wrote:

    Quicksilversurfer is certainly correct, especially about the WDR. It has never been “research”.

    Posted May 11, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink
  14. David Theis wrote:


    The WDR refers to peacekeeping operations such as those implemented by the UN or AU, and sanctioned by the international community — for example in Haiti, Liberia, Mozambique. No need for exemptions to the Articles, as you suggest — the authors aren’t implying that the World Bank should take on this role!



    Posted May 11, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  15. Paul wrote:

    Bank response is lame and off-the-point. Advocating–and if nothing else, the WDR is an advocacy document–use of armed external force, however justified, under UN authorization, is advocating interference in a country’s internal affairs, and avoiding mentioning ‘democracy’ because the very mention might be construed as interference looks inconsistent.

    Posted May 11, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Permalink
  16. Jacob AG wrote:

    Bill’s criticism is that President Zoellick didn’t use the word “democracy” in his speech on the Arab Democratic Spring, which (his argument goes) is inconsistent with the WDR’s advocacy for foreign military intervention. But I would point out a second inconsistency.

    Mr. Thies’ excuse for Presidnet Zoellick is that the Bank is prohibited from meddling in national politics by its Articles, implying that President Zoellick’s use of the word “democracy” in that context would have been in violation of the WB’s Articles.

    The WDR, however, *does* mention democracy, in several places. On p. 115:

    …a prerequisite for
    successful political transitions [from autocracy to democracy] had to be strong national ownership and… the peace process underpinning it had to be embedded at a local level and deliver a peace dividend that benefitted local communities.

    And here (p. 165):

    “A constitution and elections are only the beginning of a functioning democracy. A lot depends on the emergence of working practices that respect the rights of the opposition and that set standards for political behavior that, in time become traditions.”

    And again (p. 165):

    “Attention is needed to ensure that new democratic processes reinforce rather than undermine the fragile peace that has been achieved and promote institutional legitimacy and accountability.”

    Maybe democracy could have been more prominent in the WDR–and one could debate the utility of what little the WDR does have to say about democracy–but the WDR is clearly a pro-democracy document.

    So my question for Mr. Thies is, if the word “democracy” is good enough for the WDR, why not for President Zoellick’s speech on the Arab Democratic Spring? If anything, the latter would have been more apropos.

    Why this second inconsistency?

    Posted May 12, 2011 at 1:27 am | Permalink
  17. Steve D wrote:

    If memory serves, the World Bank put the word “corruption” into development discourse close to two decades ago. Which word is more threatening to the oligarchies that ruin lives around the world: corruption or democracy? I’d say use both as often as possible in the hopes of riling those oligarchs as much as possible. But the WB is an entrenched bureaucracy that protects itself above all other considerations. You can’t expect well-paid civil servants with high mortgages in Montgomery County to put their necks out for disenfranchised Arabs.

    Posted May 14, 2011 at 4:05 am | Permalink

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