Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

Making the World Safe for Partial Democracy?
Questioning the Premises of Democracy Promotion

Original Article By: Arthur A. Goldsmith
International Security Fall 2008 vol 33 no 2
Major Topic: Politics
Minor Topic: Sociology


         It is commonly believed that the promotion and advance of democracy will generate a safer and better world for the US. The author calls attention to two errors with this belief, one of logic and the other of fact: 1) not every advance in democracy generates a safer and better world and 2) data from historical attempts to promote democracy are mixed at best.

         Despite huge effort and expense in recent years, the results of promoting democracy are not good anywhere right now. Yet both neo-conservatives and liberal internationalists (that is Republicans and Democrats) continue to support democracy promoting policies. Additionally there seems to be strong support in the UN and the EU as well as private foundations. Even within totalitarian regimes, there seems to be some grassroots support for democratization. These facts suggest that support for democratization will continue.

         The author's thesis is: “The encouragement of democracy will be ineffective, however, if its proponents do not examine the implicit assumptions made about the benefits and feasibility of democratic regime change, and tailor their strategies accordingly.” (page 123)

         The author defines democratization as: “...a broad, irregular process of replacing authoritarian regimes with rule-bound competitive political systems.” (page 124)

         The source of data for this study is the “Polity IV” data series. The Polity2 variable is used to determine a country's democratization level and changes in the variable show movement toward or away from a democratic ideal. This scale allows countries to be put into three categories: 1) autocracy 2) semi-democracy and 3) democracy. This generates 6 possible movements or transformations.

         Between 1970 and 2002 there were 123 regime changes in the world. Developing countries and Muslim countries had a tendency to stop advancing toward democracy before they became fully democratic. Some possible reasons are:

         1) As modernization theory suggests, poverty is not conducive to democracy.

         2) As the neighborhood effect suggests, democracies encourage democracy on their borders but most developing countries and Muslim countries do not have democracies on their borders.

         3) Another theory suggests that some cultures are just not suited for democracy.

         4) Lastly, perhaps entrenched leadership refuses to advance democratically.

         The Theory of Democratic Peace starts with two premises: 1) democracies rarely fight each other and 2) they overcome or avoid serious conflict. Therefore, ridding the world of dictatorships is a way to a more peaceful world.

         However, data on partial democracies do not support these premises. In fact partial democracies are more associated with increases in strife, large and small wars, and terrorism. Amazingly partial democracies are more dangerous than authoritarian states. Perhaps because a partial democracy cannot stop violent resistance as easily as an authoritarian regime nor channel violence into socially acceptable means as a full democracy can. Consequently there is a serious problem in the 'either or' categorization of democracies verses non-democracies.

         Successful regime change is influenced by many factors both internal and external. Two ways to look at external influences on a regime are: 1) Leverage: the regime's susceptibility to outside pressure, and 2) Linkage: the depth of economic and political links. Both raise the costs of dictatorship, nevertheless, linkage helps the democratization process more then leverage.

         The most blatant use of leverage is military power. However, the history of the twentieth century suggests force is less often successful (that is more often unsuccessful), although there were some spectacular successes. Why is there a low success rate? Perhaps it is a clash of interests and/or a desire for self-determination by the occupied against the occupier.

         Another form of leverage is sanctions. But, in the Muslim world, economic sanctions have been ineffective in encouraging the process of democratization.

         A popular linkage is development assistance. Development aid has almost never been enticing enough to enhance democratization. The data suggest that most aid is more often a detriment for democratization. Linkages centered on technical institution building seem to be the best chance for aid to help in the progress of democratization. Grand rhetoric seems to be a major obstacle.

         The Author makes four suggestions for policymakers: 1) They should expand the democracy verses non-democracy dichotomy into an autocracy, semi-democracy and democracy trichotomy. And seriously consider the drawbacks to partial democratization. 2) Military regime change should really always be the last option. 3) Each individual country's case should be more closely examined. 4) Finally, the US should lower its rhetoric and expectations.

Added on: 2009-04-16 22:13:14
Précis by: James Jeff McLaren
© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren