[Background: Beth Sims is a research associate at the Inter-
Hemispheric Education Resource Center, located in
Albuquerque, N.M., and co-author of the Center's report on
the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), entitled "The
Democracy Offensive." She was interviewed by Tim Wheeler.
These people are abbreviated as 'BS' and 'TW' in the
"The Democracy Offensive" is included in the Fall 1989
Bulletin of the Inter-Hemispheric Education Resource Center.
Subscriptions to the Bulletin, which is published quarterly,
are $5 ($7.50 outside the US). Copies of the report are $5
each and are available from the Center at Box 4506,
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87196.]
TW: The argument for funding the NED was that there had been
all this terrible covert assistance and that this was going
to be a new, clean form of assistance, namely, overt. How do
you react to this selling of the NED as a new open effort by
Washington to build infrastructures of democracy?
BS: One of the things that's new about NED for the United
States is that it was established purely to allow this kind
of funding and intervention overseas. This is the first time
at the political level that the United States has established
such and entity.
But beyond that, the democracy intervention network that
we are talking about refers to a more coordinated
intervention in the name of democracy on the part of both
government agencies and private organizations. This network
supports what is referred to as the infrastructure of
democracy. That infrastructure was said by President Reagan
to include things like labor unions, free press, political
parties, civic institutions like youth and women's groups.
TW: What are some of those private organizations in
Nicaragua that are working through NED?
BS: NED works through U.S. grantees to funnel its money to
private groups overseas. For instance, the National
Republican Institute for International Affairs and the
National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. The
leadership of both these organizations are comprised of high-
profile members of the Democratic and Republican parties.
There's the Free Trade Unions Institute, the umbrella
organization for the AFL-CIO's international organization.
That's gotten major amounts of money to funnel to opposition
union federations in Nicaragua.
Then there are some of the more scandalous creatures.
For instance PRODEMCA (Friends of the Democratic Center in
the Americas), which actually turned out to be hooked into
part of Oliver North's network of private aid to the contras.
A real scandal was created when PRODEMCA began funding ads in
U.S. newspapers supporting military aid to the contras at the
same time it was supporting La Prensa [an opposition
newspaper] in Managua.
TW: So this was not just a foreign operation, but an attempt
to influence opinion here in the United States?
BS: Precisely. That's illegal according to NED's mandate.
However, PRODEMCA did what any sensible organization would do
under those conditions -- it kept its account separate and
didn't use NED's funds to pay for those ads, but used the
National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty. But we
know whatever money goes to support one end of PRODEMCA is
useful in freeing up money to be used in other places. It
did create a scandal, and NED dropped them. But that seems
to be NED's pattern: wait for a scandal to develop and then
drop the offending organization and pass money through
TW: When we look at what's happening in Nicaragua it seems
to bear out a point that flows through your report. That is,
while the funding of this overt assistance to the
infrastructure of democracy in Nicaragua sounds benign, it
does not preclude the United States from supporting the
contras. It this network linked to the contras?
BS: It really isn't so much that supporting the
infrastructure of democracy versus funding the contra war are
two separate activities. They're two tactics outlined by a
military doctrine in vogue right now called "low-intensity
LIC is a doctrine of superpower confrontation that lays
out a range of behaviors that are appropriate for different
levels of conflict and also proposes that the United States
pursue a "total war" strategy that would have simultaneous
impacts in economic, political, military and informational
arenas. NED, by supporting political and civic groups inside
a country, helps to further U.S. low-intensity conflict
goals, particularly in the political, cultural and
While NED is doing that -- without CIA influence
sometimes, and without actually having an overlap supporting
the contras -- other agencies of the U.S. government are
supporting the contras and at the economic end we have a
trade embargo and loan cutoffs and have a diplomatic
TW: What are the aims of U.S. foreign policy? What
interests are being served by this strategy?
BS: I see it as in the interests of the superpower United
States and in members of the elite in this country. When I
read the NED documents and the low-intensity conflict
documents, when I see stuff that used to come out of the
Reagan administration and now the Bush administration, what
it looks like to me is that people are immersed in the notion
that the United States is the big guy on the block and wants
to keep it that way and wants to beat down the other big guy.
TW: You say in the report that one of the aims of this
stress on the structures of democracy is an attempt to
reestablish bipartisanism in U.S. foreign policy.
BS: This bipartisan consensus being pursued by NED and in
Congress is a helpful tool in the projection of U.S. power.
if you have a consensus between liberals and conservatives,
and Democrats and Republicans, then you have less of a source
of opposition within the Congress. It's easier for the
United States to throw its weight around.
The important factor here is that we have a dominant
ideology that is already shared by liberals and conservatives
and Democrats and Republicans. If that ideology is
unquestioned, then bipartisanship is almost always nearby.
Sometimes it falls apart a little while. It did that a
little while, on and off again, over the contras. It did
that a little while, on and off again, for support for
"freedom fighters" in Angola. Even over many, many years of
the Vietnam conflict you see a real bipartisan support.
TW: You've been using the word "superpower." But it seems
that there's a profound reappraisal in the Soviet Union. Do
you think that the Bush administration is responding to that
BS: I think the U.S., and particularly what I see in NED, is
still bent on following its own hegemonic agenda around the
world. The fact that the Soviet Union has been forced by its
own change in beliefs and its economic and political problems
to backtrack somewhat from its position, doesn't affect the
U.S. analysis of a world with limited resources that have to
be divided up somewhere. The United States would still like
to have the lion's share of those resources. That's a
The United States is, for the most part, reluctant to
see its own decline.
TW: A decline in U.S. power?
BS: Absolutely. What we're seeing with the rise in Western
Europe as an economic and political power, the rise of Japan,
we're seeing a breakdown in the traditional bipolar
distribution of power in the world. It's becoming much more
multipolar. We're actually in the middle of an interesting
time period as we watch how everything gets shifted around
here. But the United States isn't comfortable with that
knowledge. With Reagan was elected in 1980 we saw a
rejection of that viewpoint and funneling of resources into
reclaiming U.S. power and might around the world. I don't
think it's going to hold.
TW: They say Nicaragua is a tool of the Soviets. Isn't this
a smokescreen to generate support among the American people
for U.S. efforts to achieve hegemony?
BS: When NED was set up it was touted as a private
enterprise. But when you get into some of the National
Security Council documents you see an outline of this
strategy, which the call "public diplomacy." It's an attempt
to create allegiances around the world and generate support
for U.S. foreign policy and "national security interests."
So by promoting Nicaragua as a client state of the Soviet
Union it is participating in a quick and dirty means of
generating support for its inteventionism down there. Which
has very little to do with the Soviet Union and a lot to do
with the United States losing one of its client states. It
doesn't want to see its sphere of influence screwed up by
having independent actors in it.
TW: Isn't this a case in which a group like the Free Trade
Union Institute and the Social Democrats, USA, are working
with neo-conservative goups that are openly hostile to labor,
for example, the Heritage Foundation?
BS: Oh sure. Everybody's getting into bed with everybody
else. When you look at the Simon Bolivar Fund, we've even
got Michael Barnes and Paul Simon in with Elliot Abrams and
It's not only that the Social Democrats and AFL-CIO are
working with neo-conservatives but also with traditional
conservatives and to a certain extent with liberals.
For instance, Orrin Hatch, who's known as anti-labor in
this country, is on the board of NED, which also includes Al
Shanker of the AFL-CIO. That symbolizes the hand-holding
that goes on across ideological territory. If you take those
two guys, who may have different approaches and analyses
about U.S. labor, and throw them into South Africa or Poland
or Chile, suddenly they're more on the same side. That is,
will keep labor subservient and compliant in these
organizations overseas and preserve international economic
relations which put capitalism and our Western form of
economic relations at the top and preserve our system.
TW: Do you see this as a challenge to people who are
concerned about self-determination?
BS: Nicaragua is a prime case now because it has the
attention of the American people. I would say you could take
the crux of the struggle and put it in a number of countries
around the world. In Eastern Europe NED has had a lot of
programs, and all over Latin America and in the Phillipines
and in Africa. Each of those places highlights the essential
problems of NED: U.S. intervention in the political and
social affairs of other countries. And that's an assault on
self-determination, on national sovereignty. And it
undermines real democracy because it involves a foreign
government messing around with internal affairs, and that is
Nicaragua is being hit on all sides by U.S.
intervention: military, economic, diplomatic, informational,
and this internal meddling of the NED network. Because it's
hit on all sides, and because it already has our attention,
it can prove to be a rallying point for people to say, "Here
we can understand it because we see the issues laid out so
But the problem is they don't understand the criticisms
that we at the Resource Center are making. They might walk
away from Nicaragua and say, "That's a bad place for NED.
But it's okay if NED is funding Solidarity in Poland, because
we like Solidarity." The important thing is that people get
informed about how this helps the United States pursue a
projection of its power around the world and hold on to that
as something to be in opposition to and oppose it in all the
other places, too.