How To Effectively Democratize

[First published March 3,2006] Freedom House has published a world wide empirical study of “How Freedom is Won.” (2005, in pdf). Paraphrasing and quoting from this study:

They examined 33 years of transitions to freedom (liberal democracy) made by 67 countries, of which before transition 31 were Partly Free, and 36 were Not Free. Today 35 are Free, 23 are Partly Free, and 9 are Not Free. They excluded transitions that occurred in small countries, defined as those with populations of less than one million. Excluded, too, are countries where major political transitions occurred in the last two years. This is because there has not been a sufficient interval since the transition from an authoritarian or pseudo-democratic rule to make firm assessments about the nature or durability of post-transition change in countries where institutional, political, legal, and human rights environments are still evolving or where reforms either have not yet been launched or fully implemented.

So, what can be said about democratization from this fascinating and landmark study (paraphrasing and quoting from this study):

SUMMARYThe most effective agent for promoting change toward democracy is broad-based, nonviolent civic resistance — which employs tactics such as boycotts, mass protests, blockades, strikes, and civil disobedience to delegitimize authoritarian rulers and erode their sources of support, including the loyalty of their armed defenders

The central conclusion of this study is that how a transition from authoritarianism occurs, and the types of forces that are engaged in pressing the transition, have a significant impact on the success or failure of democratic reform.

DETAILS
In a preponderance of successful transitions, the most dramatic improvements in freedom tend to come quickly — in the first years of a transition, rather than slowly and incrementally over a long time, underscoring the importance of the civic and political forces that emerge as important actors in the pre-transition period.

“People power” movements matter, because nonviolent civic forces are a major source of pressure for decisive change in most transitions. The force of civic resistance was a key factor in driving 50 of 67 transitions, or over 70 percent of countries where transitions began as dictatorial systems fell and/or new states arose from the disintegration of multinational states.

Of the 50 countries where civic resistance was a key strategy (i.e., either countries in which there were transitions driven by civic forces or countries where there were mixed transitions involving significant input from both civic forces and power holders), 25 were Partly Free countries, and 25 were Not Free countries. Today, years after the transition 32 of these countries are Free, 14 are Partly Free, and only 4 are Not Free.

Y axis = mean degree of freedom; X axis = civic, mixed civic forces/ powerholders, powerholder’s intervention

There is comparatively little positive effect for freedom in “top-down” transitions that were launched and led by elites. Before transition, 6 were Partly Free and 8 were Not Free, while today, post-transition, 2 are Free, 8 are Partly Free and 4 are Not Free. On a 7-point rating scale, top down transitions led to an improvement of 1.10 points in the combined average freedom score, while transitions with strong civic drivers led to an improvement of nearly 2.7 points on the same 1-to-7 scale.

Of the 35 Free countries post-transition, 32 (or more than 9 in 10) had a significant “bottom up” civic resistance component. Twenty-two (63 percent) of them had mixed transitions, driven by a combination of civic resistance forces and segments of the power holders, while 10 (29 percent) had openings driven by primarily by the force of civic resistance. Only two transitions that have led to high levels of freedom today were driven from the top-down by power holders and one by external military intervention.

Y axis = mean degree of freedom; X axis = civic, mixed civic forces/ powerholders, powerholder’s intervention

In 32 of the 67 countries (nearly 48 percent) that have seen transitions, strong, broad-based nonviolent popular fronts or civic coalitions were highly active, and often central to steering change. In these 32 instances, prior to the transition there had 17 Partly Free countries, and 15 Not Free countries. Now, years after the transition, 24 of the countries (75 percent) where a strong nonviolent civic movement was present are Free and democratic states and 8 (25 percent) are Partly Free states with some space for civic and political life, while none of the states whose transitions featured a strong civic force are Not Free.

The presence of strong and cohesive nonviolent civic coalitions is the most important of the factors examined in contributing to freedom. In 32 of the 67 countries (nearly 48 percent) that have seen transitions, strong, broad-based nonviolent popular fronts or civic coalitions were highly active, and often central to steering change. In these 32 instances, prior to the transition there had been 17 Partly Free countries, and 15 Not Free countries. Now, years after the transition, 24 of the countries (75 percent) where a strong nonviolent civic movement was present are Free and democratic states and 8 (25 percent) are Partly Free states with some space for civic and political life, while none of the states whose transitions featured a strong civic force are Not Free.

The data suggest that the prospects for freedom are significantly enhanced when the opposition does not itself use violence. In all, there were 47 transitions in which there was no (or almost no) opposition violence. Before the transition, 23 were Partly Free, and 24 were Not Free. Today, years after the transition, 31 are Free, 11 are Partly Free, and 5 are Not Free.

Therefore, recourse to violent conflict in resisting oppression is significantly less likely to produce sustainable freedom, in contrast to nonviolent opposition, which even in the face of state repression, is far more likely to yield a democratic outcome.

Y axis = mean degree of freedom; X axis = nonviolent/mostly nonviolent opposition, significantly/highly violent opposition.

WHAT TO DO
Given the significance of the civic factor in dozens of recent transitions from authoritarianism, it is surprising how small a proportion of international donor assistance is targeted to this sector.

One way to increase the odds for successful transitions to freedom is to invest in the creation of dynamic civic life. Such support is most effectively rendered in the following sequence:

General assistance for civil society forces.
Targeted assistance focused on education and training in civic nonviolent resistance.
Assistance for cohesive civic coalitions through which such resistance is expressed.

Such developments also should be matched by efforts to establish a broad-based civic coalition focused on nonviolent resistance. There are many reasons why such umbrella civic coalitions are important in the outcomes for freedom. In short, broad-based democracy coalitions can imbue leaders and activists with the principles and experience that makes for successful democratic governance.

Opposition forces can be helped in more effectively achieving their aims if they are assisted in thinking strategically about how to push change through nonviolent means. A growing civic infrastructure of well-trained activist groups and their coalescing into broad-based coalitions also needs to be coupled with knowledge on how to devise effective strategies of nonviolent resistance to authoritarian power.

Another crucial way of assisting democratic transitions is to work to constrain insurrectionist and state violence and to expand the political space for nonviolent civic action. This means that in the cases of civil wars, governments and international organizations should seek solutions that lead to an end to hostilities and to internationally supervised or monitored elections. Democracies also should engage in preventive diplomacy to avert violence and support policies that prevent or limit the spread of violence in its earliest stages.

Authoritarian leaders lack democratic legitimacy, and this lack of legitimacy needs to be challenged by democratic civic forces. But, because repressive governments limit or control media and communications, pro-democracy activists must develop independent outlets of communication to stake their claim to represent the legitimate aspirations of the people. Invaluable in this effort are the Internet; independent newspapers and newsletters; unauthorized or external broadcast facilities; and cell phones, satellite phones, and text-messaging devices.

Much of what is recommended here is being done in Iraq by the U.S. and its coalition partners. In evaluating this, one has to keep in mind that the reason for the Iraq war to begin with was to eliminate the danger that Saddam posed to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and American national security. Once he was gone and the battles won, the question was what to do with Iraq. Democratization was the answer, and that is now what is in process against the wishes of foreign terrorists and insurrections. With this in mind, and consistent with How Freedom Is Won, what are we doing in Iraq, as shown by my two posts (here, and here) that provided details:

Aiding and assisting cohesive civic coalitions and civil society.
Seeking solutions to constrain and end violence through direct action and international organizations.
Encouraging independent communication outlets, such as newspapers, internet, telephones, and cell phones galore.
Internationally supervised and monitored elections.
Establishing central government legitimacy.


Links on Iraq

“U.S. Troops in Iraq: 72% Say End War in 2006″ This is a very suspicious Zogby poll just released, and did in conjunction with the far left, “anti-war” Le Moyne College’s Center for Peace and Global Studies. For some questioning comments on it, see below:

Murdoc Online

“Mystery Pollster”

“The Officer’s Club”

“The Soldiers Speak. Will President Bush Listen?” (subscription required) Of course, Nicholas D. Kristof at The New York Times likes it.

Now, how can we explain the incredible contradiction between what American troops believe according to Zogby, and what public opinion polls show the Iraqis themselves believe as given in the chart below.

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One Response to How To Effectively Democratize

  1. I follow your blog for a long time and should tell you that your articles are always valuable to readers.

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