Sunday, November 07, 2004

My International Politics Reading

The Oxbloggers frequently discuss democracy promotion as the highest and best goal of American foreign policy. The argument seems to go that democracies are more liberal and democracies don't fight so more democracies are better. Each state is a happier place to live and the risk of conflict between states is reduced. Therefore, U.S. foreign policy should be aimed at fostering democracy. In some long-run, they are sort-of right. Fully functioning democracies seem to be better places to live and democracies don't fight each other (but keep in mind the Fareed Zakaria point that we value "democracies" because they are constitutionally liberal states, rather than because they are democracies; perhaps, then, we should be promoting constitutional liberalism, even in anti-democratic forms, like in Turkey. Also,). My problem with their argument, however, lies with what to do in the short-run.

Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder have a quite provocative article in the May/June 1995 issue of Foreign Affairs (and a forthcoming book) arguing that a more interesting question about the spread of democracy is what happens in the short run. Based on a dataset of wars from 1816 - 1980, they find that the countries most likely to go to war are those undergoing a regime change from autocracy to democracy: "During any given ten-year period, a state experiencing no regime change had about one chance in six of fighting a war in the following decade. In the decade following democratization, a state's chance of fighting a war was about one in four." The reason, they claim, is that a new democracy creates both an insecure elite and an ill-defined nationalism. The need to both secure power and define nationalism leads the elites to cater to the baser impulses of the populace. Thus, you have war.

This has obvious pertinence to the question of Iraq. And it does not leave you optimistic. If the hope was that we would install a "beacon of freedom" in the Middle East, we are likely to be disappointed. A democracy, maybe, but probably not a liberal one. And, more disturbing, one likely to cause trouble with its neighbors.

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