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The Geopolitics of the Open Government Partnership in Action

BY David Eaves | Wednesday, November 21 2012

Back in September I wrote a piece about the geopolitics of the Open Government Partnership. In it I argue that the OGP has, at least for the US, become become part of a global strategy to forge a set of alliances with key partners around the world:

It may sounds[sic] hard to believe but the OGP is much more than a simple pact designed to make heads of state look good. I believe it has real geopolitical aims and may be the first overt, ideological salvo in ... what I believe will be the geopolitical axis of Open versus Closed. This is about finding ways to compete for the hearts and minds of the world in a way that China, Russia, Iran and others ... cannot. And, while I agree we can debate the “openness” of the various ... signing countries, I like the idea of [a] world in which states compete to be more open. We could do worse.

The point here is that the OGP highlights values that go deeper than mere transactional democracy or state capitalism, and serve as high ground where America can engage the world in a way key competitors cannot.

This week, I think we got to see this strategy in action. During an important trip to Burma, designed to reward the country for its dramatic shift away from authoritarianism, President Obama shared the following words:

To lead by example, America now insists that our companies meet high standards of openness and transparency if they’re doing business here. And we’ll work with organizations like the World Bank to support small businesses and to promote an economy that allows entrepreneurs, small business people to thrive and allows workers to keep what they earn. And I very much welcome your government’s recent decision to join what we’ve called our Open Government Partnership, so that citizens can come to expect accountability and learn exactly how monies are spent and how your system of government operates.

This is not to say that by joining the OGP Burma is going to be magically transformed — but it does add international pressure, and monitoring, on its performance. It also serves as a gentle way to nudge it more clearly down the path towards becoming a democracy and get it to engage with other democracies.

This is also not to say that the OGP is merely a tool of US power — far from it. Others have reasons to be in the OGP (most notably Brazil, for domestic reasons). And indeed, getting a country like Russia to join is interesting – it may give reformers some additional tools, while enabling more conservative players to engage in “open washing.” But even if that happens, it is interesting that they feel they need to appear to be trying. It’s likely that the United States — and many of the other countries part of the OGP — genuinely believe the world is a more stable and business-friendly place if there is less corruption, public services are effective and public institutions are seen to be credible. That does not mean there are not other chess games being played as well. No need to be cynical — just aware.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to The Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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