On Democratization and Its Globalization

April 24, 2009

[First published December 6, 2005] You may remember my blog on “Does Incomplete Democratization Risk War?”. I evaluated the book by Jack Snyder and Edward Mansfield on Electing To Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go To War, and concluded that their quantitative results about the war likeness of nations in transition to full democracy do not prove (show, establish, indicate) that they are more likely to make war than other nations. I warned, however, that their results are being misapplied to Iraq.

Well, here is a review of the book by John M. Owen IV that does so. To give you some priceless quotes:

According to the academics, Bush’s chief transgressions have had to do with foreign policy, especially the Iraq war — a mess that could have been avoided if only the president and his advisers had paid more attention to those who devote their lives to studying international relations. . . . [RJR: I am a former academic who has spent his life studying international relations, and I support Bush's foreign policy and Iraq War]

[On] Iraq, and in particular the notion that the United States can turn it into a democracy at an acceptable cost. In effect, Mansfield and Snyder have raised the estimate of these costs by pointing out one other reason this effort may fail — a reason that few seem to have thought of. . . . . What if, following the departure of U.S. troops, Iraq holds together but as an incomplete democratizer, with broad suffrage but anemic state institutions? Such an Iraq might well treat its own citizens better than the Baathist regime did. Its treatment of its neighbors, however, might be just as bad. . . .

If Mansfield and Snyder are correct about the bellicose tendencies of young, incompletely democratized states, the stakes of Iraq’s transition are higher than most have supposed. They are high enough, in fact, that those who called so loudly in the 1990s for an end to UN sanctions because Iraqis were dying but who are silent about the Iraqis who are dying now ought to reconsider their proud aloofness from the war. An aggressive Iraq, prone to attack Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, or Israel, is in no one’s interest. The odds may be long that Iraq will ever turn into a mature democracy of the sort envisaged by the Bush administration.

Note that Owen does not even let a wisp of doubt cross his mind that Mansfield and Snyder are wrong.

Larry Diamond, editor of the Journal Democracy has a very good article on “Universal Democrary? appearing in Policy Review Online. He says:

[Re Iraq] This is the most ambitious effort to foster deliberate political change since European colonial rule drew to a close in the early post-World War II era. Can it succeed? Since Iraq lacks virtually all of the classic favorable conditions, to ask whether it can soon become a democracy is to ask, really, whether any country can become a democracy. Which is to ask as well, can every country become a democracy?
[note that Iraq is not a fully functioning democracy, and under a constitution that has been approved by the Iraqi people]

My answer here is a cautiously optimistic one. The current moment is in many respects without historical precedent. Much is made of the unparalleled gap between the military and economic power of the United States and that of any conceivable combination of competitors or adversaries. But no less unique are these additional facts:

• This breathtaking preponderance of power is held by a liberal democracy.

• The next most powerful global actor is a loose union of countries that are also all liberal democracies.

• The majority of states in the world are already democracies of one sort or another.

• There is no model of governance with any broad normative appeal or legitimacy in the world other than democracy.

• There is growing international legal and moral momentum toward the recognition of democracy as a basic human right of all peoples.

• States and international organizations are intruding on sovereignty in ever more numerous and audacious ways in order to promote democracy and freedom.

He concludes:

The fully global triumph of democracy is far from inevitable, yet it has never been more attainable. If we manage to sustain the process of global economic integration and growth while making freedom at least an important priority in our diplomacy, aid, and other international engagements, democracy will continue to expand in the world. History has proven that it is the best form of government. Gradually, more countries will become democratic while fewer revert to dictatorship. If we retain our power, reshape our strategy, and sustain our commitment, eventually — not in the next decade, but certainly by mid-century — every country in the world can be democratic.


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