Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Lasting Peace?

As I have mentioned in prior posts, there is little empirical evidence to support the claim that democracy eradicates terrorism. In fact, the overwhelming heft of the evidence indicates that terrorism can thrive in liberal democracies - even mature ones - and in nascent democracies terrorism can operate at the highest levels of freedom of movement and impunity. Then, there is the truism that democracies do not attack other democracies and, in a related sense, democracies are generally speaking more peaceful than other types of regimes.

Although this second rationale, the peaceful democracies justification, might have been one of the lesser stated goals for invading Iraq, I find it ultimately less than compelling. For one, it ignores, or only tangentially addresses, the terrorist threat that we have been encountering for the past decade-plus. Our adversaries, al-Qaeda and similar Salafist jihadist groups, are not state actors and thus the peaceful characteristics of democratic states are less crucial to the defeat or containment of the Salafists. The state actor paradigm is better suited for Cold War calculations. Especially because, as noted above, terrorists can operate, generate support and find motivations while living in democracies. Thus, even if we create democratic states that are less bellicose, our terrorist threat will remain ever-present.

A review of the book, Electing to fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War, by Edward D. Mansfield And Jack Snyder, appearing in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, takes a closer look at the underlying assumptions behind certain aspects of the peaceful democracies theory and the results are somewhat counterintuitive. From the review penned by John M. Owen IV:

In Electing to fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War, the veteran political scientists Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder make two critical points. Not only is turning authoritarian countries into democracies extremely difficult, much more so than the administration seems to have anticipated. The Middle East could also become a much more dangerous place if Washington and the rest of the world settle for a merely semidemocratic regime in Baghdad. Such an Iraq, Mansfield and Snyder imply, would be uncommonly likely to start wars -- a bull in the Middle Eastern china shop. Unfortunately, such an Iraq may also be just what we are likely to end up with. [...]

Their thesis, first published in 1995, is that although mature democracies do not fight one another, democratizing states -- those in transition from authoritarianism to democracy -- do, and are even more prone to war than authoritarian regimes. Now, in Electing to fight, the authors have refined their argument. As they outline in the book, not only are "incomplete democratizing" states -- those that develop democratic institutions in the wrong order -- unlikely ever to complete the transition to democracy; they are also especially bellicose. [emphasis added]
The reviewer provides excerpts of the evidentiary basis relied on by the authors:

Mansfield and Snyder present both quantitative and case-study support for their theory. Using rigorous statistical methods, the authors show that since 1815, democratizing states have indeed been more prone to start wars than either democracies or authoritarian regimes. Categorizing transitions according to whether they ended in full democracies (as in the U.S. case) or in partial ones (as in Germany in 1871-1918 or Pakistan throughout its history), the authors find that in the early years of democratic transitions, partial democracies -- especially those that get their institutions in the wrong order -- are indeed significantly more likely to initiate wars. Mansfield and Snyder then provide several succinct stories of democratizing states that did in fact go to war, such as the France of Napoleon III (1852-70), Serbia between 1877 and 1914, Ethiopia and Eritrea between 1998 and 2000, and Pakistan from 1947 to the present. In most of these cases, the authors find what they expect: in these democratizing states, domestic political competition was intense. Politicians, vying for power, appeased domestic hard-liners by resorting to nationalistic appeals that vilified foreigners, and these policies often led to wars that were not in the countries' strategic interests.
The environment that allows for these developments, according to the authors, seems to have some connection to chronology: putting the "electoral" cart before the "institutional" horse.

According to Mansfield and Snyder, in countries that have recently started to hold free elections but that lack the proper mechanisms for accountability (institutions such as an independent judiciary, civilian control of the military, and protections for opposition parties and the press), politicians have incentives to pursue policies that make it more likely that their countries will start wars. In such places, politicians know they can mobilize support by demanding territory or other spoils from foreign countries and by nurturing grievances against outsiders. As a result, they push for extraordinarily belligerent policies. Even states that develop democratic institutions in the right order -- adopting the rule of law before holding elections -- are very aggressive in the early years of their transitions, although they are less so than the first group and more likely to eventually turn into full democracies.

Of course, politicians in mature democracies are also often tempted to use nationalism and xenophobic rhetoric to buttress their domestic power. In such cases, however, they are usually restrained by institutionalized mechanisms of accountability. Knowing that if they lead the country into a military defeat or quagmire they may be punished at the next election, politicians in such states are less likely to advocate a risky war. In democratizing states, by contrast, politicians know that they are insulated from the impact of bad policies: if a war goes badly, for example, they can declare a state of emergency, suspend elections, censor the press, and so on. Politicians in such states also tend to fear their militaries, which often crave foreign enemies and will overthrow civilian governments that do not share their goals. Combined, these factors can make the temptation to attack another state irresistible.
Unfortunately in Iraq, our chronology has been less than ideal. As admirable as the exercise has been, the occurence of elections and referendums have vastly outpaced the establishment of the institutional checks and balances that the authors suggest are needed to restrain the urge to use war as a means of garnering and/or maintaining electoral dominance. Majoritarianism is more appreciated by certain factions than other necessary components such as dissent, minority rights and sharing of power. In present day Iraq, the temptation to use war as a unifying force may be even greater given the internal divisions that need to be broached.

As bellicose and reckless as Saddam's regime was, there remains the possibility that subsequent incarnations of the Iraq state will do no better in terms of providing peace and stability to the region - if not by its internal implosion, then by its excursions targeting neighbors, territory and/or perceived threats. There has already been an uncomfortable level of cross-border sniping between the various factions and their perceived backers or enemies - from Iran and Syria to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. No doubt Israel is no more popular now than it had been prior to the invasion.

But this thesis has broader implications as well. It should be considered by those that favor the promotion of democratic reform, such as myself, in terms of informing the ideal mixture of methods, means and priorities associated with such endeavors. Sometimes, there is a great value in allowing and encouraging gradual change from the inside-out, grassroots-up. As the reviewer notes:
The authors' conclusions for foreign policy are straightforward. The United States and other international actors should continue to promote democracy, but they must strive to help democratizing states implement reforms in the correct order. In particular, popular elections ought not to precede the building of institutions that will check the baleful incentives for politicians to call for war.
As I have harped on in the past, democracy is a fragile edifice that relies on an institutional support structure that is complex, intricate and takes time to develop. Sometimes we might want to consider saying: Slower, please.

(Cross-posted at Belgravia Dispatch)

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