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Open vs Closed: The 21st Century Statecraft Behind the Open Govt Partnership

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, September 28 2011

Canadian open government activist David Eaves has another of his usually smart posts up today about the emerging foreign policy strategy behind the launch of the Open Government Partnership. He's not the first to note that advocacy "open government" in the hands of the Obama administration has been a tool of U.S. foreign policy (see Evgeny Morozov's or Sami Ben Gharbia's trenchant critiques). But Eaves places the effort in a more benign light, one that effortlessly channels language we've been hearing from people like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her innovation advisor, Alec Ross, but situates their thinking inside the broader geopolitical context that must concern American strategists: how to contain China's growing influence in Asia, Africa and Latin America. He writes:

The OGP is part of a 21st century containment policy. And I'd go further, it is a effort to forge a new axis around which America specifically, and a broader democratic camp more generally, may seek to organize allies and rally its camp. It abandons the now outdated free-market/democratic vs. state-controlled/communist axis in favour of a more subtle, but more appropriate, open vs. closed.

The former axis makes little sense in a world where authoritarian governments often embrace (quasi) free-market to reign, and even have some of the basic the trappings of a democracy. The Open Government Partnership is part of an effort to redefine and shift the goal posts around what makes for a free-market democracy. Elections and a market place clearly no longer suffice and the OGP essentially sets a new bar in which a state must (in theory) allow itself to be transparent enough to provide its citizens with information (and thus power), in short: it is a state can't simple have some of the trappings of a democracy, it must be democratic and open....

It's no trivial coincidence that on the day of the OGP launch the President announced the United States first fulfilled commitment would be its decision to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The EITI commits the American oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments, which would make corruption much more difficult.

This is America essentially signalling to African people and their leaders - do business with us, and we will help prevent corruption in your country. We will let you know if officials get paid off by our corporations. The obvious counter point to this is...the Chinese won't. [Emphasis in the original.]

Here's Alec Ross speaking on the struggle between open and closed societies, at Personal Democracy Forum Europe 2010:

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