DEMOCRACY AND DEMOCRATIZATION: THE PROBLEM WITH USING THE DEMOCRATIC PEACE THEORY AS A PRINCIPLE OF FOREIGN POLICY Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ISA’s 49th ANNUAL CONVENTION, BRIDGING MULTIPLE DIVIDES, Mar 26, 2008 The Democratic Peace theory argues that democracies do not make war against each other. Immanuel Kant made the argument in his essay “Perpetual Peace,” that republican forms of government and an international organization dedicated to peaceful resolution of disputes is the prescription for a world without war. From Michael Doyle and Bruce Russett to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W.
Bush, political thinkers have argued that empirical evidence supports the thesis of the Democratic Peace. The argument has been made that it is “the nearest thing to law. ” Yet, when the United States has attempted to use the idea of a Democratic Peace as the basis for foreign policy, it has backfired. Attempts to set up functional democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan appear to be failing. Reasons for this failure run the gamut of foreign opposition, extensive terrorist activity and severe economic problems. Yet, a fundamental cause of difficulty appears to be that the very idea of what a democracy is may be flawed.
If we do not have a well understood definition of democracy, we use the Democratic Peace Theory as the basis of foreign policy actions at our peril. MICHAEL J. WILLIAMS SPOKANE FALLS COMMUNITY COLLEGE SPOKANE, WASHINGTON E-MAIL ## email not listed ## Revised March 18, 2008 1 Unformatted Document Text: The Democratic Peace Theory in its simplest incarnation is the theory that democracies do not fight wars against each other. While many political scientists have developed elegant theories and analyses to support or oppose this thesis, political leaders in most countries have viewed it with a jaundiced eye.
Ever since Emmanuel Kant advocated that peace would be enhanced by universal republican government and an international organization to enforce the peace, the idea of perpetual peace has been vigorously debated. The idea of a democratic peace has been used by United States Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to argue that encouraging democracy by force will make the world a safer place. This position harkens back to the objectives of Woodrow Wilson to “make the world safe for democracy. Despite strenuous efforts by the United States, especially in Iraq, democracy has not taken hold and the Democratic Peace Theory appears to be strained when the United States attempts to work with other democratic states. To base a foreign policy on the idea that a nation’s security can be enhanced by creating democracies in other countries is fallacious at best and dangerous in the extreme. Since foreign policy consists of all of the goals a nation’s officials seek to reach to enhance the nation’s position in the world, the nature of other governments tend to be secondary concerns.
As noted by Henry Kissinger, “Western-style democracy presupposes a consensus that sets limits on partisanship. ” 1 The problem with this thesis is not that democratic institutions do not encourage nonmilitary resolution of conflicts, but rather a failure to understand what democracy actually is. Karl Popper wrote that democracy is a system whereby governments can be 1 Henry Kissinger, p. 811 2 Unformatted Document Text: changed peacefully. 2 Robert Dahl defined democracy as a system in which the people participate in the selection of their political leaders. Both definitions are incomplete.
The lack of a generally recognized definition of democracy has led to false lessons and disastrous policy choices by political leaders in many states. Also, different political leaders have often simply redefined which countries were democracies when it was convenient. During the Spanish-American War members of the United States government persuaded themselves, for better or worse, that the government in Madrid was not democratic. 3 For the Democratic Peace Theory to be a legitimate tool of political theory and a useful tool in foreign policy, we must understand what democracy really is.
This paper discusses how democracy has been used by many countries to justify policies to advance strategic interests and to ensure popular support among their domestic populations. I will conclude with a broad outline for a working definition of democracy while illustrating why democratization cannot be used as a foundation for foreign policy actions. Without a good definition of democracy, policy makers of the 21 st century cannot hope to achieve peace and the Democratic Peace Theory is an empty hope. Using democracy and democratic concepts has provided several countries justification for wars over the past two centuries.
Western imperial or quasi-imperial powers have used the spread of democratic or republican virtues to support foreign policy initiatives. The United States, in its war with Mexico in 1846-1848, as well as during the Indian Wars of the 19 th Century, told its citizens that these peoples needed to be conquered because they were not civilized and needed to learn the American style of government. The efforts of France and the United Kingdom in Africa were supported by 2 Karl Popper, p. 94 3 Bruce Russet, p. 19 3 their citizens because their leaders told them that the spread of liberty and “Christian culture” was needed in these societies.
William McKinley told the United States Congress that the Philippines should be taken over in order to bring the blessings of Christianity to the islands, notwithstanding that the Philippinos at the time were over 80% Roman Catholic. 4 Ido Oren 5 and David Kennedy 6 describe how American views of Germany’s political system changed during the Great War. After World War I the British and French governments divided the bulk of the Ottoman Empire among themselves, telling their people that the goal was to create a peace-loving democratic society in these territories.
This effort failed to provide for stable governments because the European powers in the Middle East were not interested in self-governing peoples opposing European economic and strategic interests. Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference attempted to carry out his proposals concerning self-determination but was stunned by how many different “nations” there were. He then accepted the idea of “mandates” to provide guidance for these groups while they learned the nuances of democracy from their new masters.
The difficulty with these possibly laudable objectives was that the governments were acting in the economic and strategic self-interests. Whether the goal was for land for a growing population, gold, diamonds, oil, or the spread of one religion over another, 4 In “First Great Triumph” Warren Zimmermann describes how imperialist aspirations of prominent political leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge were justified by convincing Americans that Spain was not really a friendly power. After the war with Spain, many members of Congress opposed any territorial gains by the United States.
Lodge, Roosevelt and President McKinley argued forcefully about the necessity to spread the American way of life to “backwards” countries. 5 Oren describes how the United States government of Woodrow Wilson demonized the system of government of Imperial Germany. Before the war, many looked upon Germany as having many admirable attributes but the efforts of Wilson’s supporters argued that instead of admiring the system of democratic participation of the German people electing their representatives in the Reichstag, that militaristic dictators of the Kaiser’s government should be hated and forcefully opposed. David M. Kennedy provides a detailed description of how Americans were encouraged to change their views of the Germans in preparation for war in his book “Over Here. ” 4 these governments acted to advance their individual strategic interests. The idea of spreading democracy was usually a propaganda tool. Until the period after World War II, little real effort was expended to establish functional democratic forms of government. The United States imposed a mostly democratic constitution on Japan during the occupation after the war. Germany formed its new constitution with an eye to the response of its occupiers.
The Soviet Union imposed constitutions on the countries of Eastern Europe that were consistent with its own security interests. The United States encouraged constitutions similar to its own in various countries in Europe, Asia and South America. The United Kingdom and France did the same thing in Africa and Asia when they relinquished imperial control of various colonies. All of these new governments were expected to act in supporting the interests of their former, or current, political masters. When they did not behave in a supportive “democratic” character, there were unexpected consequences.
The governments of Guatemala, Iran and Czechoslovakia (twice) among innumerable others, were overthrown. Others were invaded by the leading powers, despite the democratic election of governments that were not to the liking of the leading powers. The United Nations, having been set up to provide for peaceful resolution of these conflicts, has been stymied in many instances by the veto powers of the Security Council. The other side of the problem with democracy being a motivator in foreign policy is when the citizens of these democracies decide, by popular vote, to engage in very undemocratic, violent and malevolent behaviors.
Adolph Hitler gained power in 1933 through a highly competitive democratic process. Violence erupted in India and Pakistan immediately after partition when the British withdrew. Many democratic elections in 5 South America, Africa and Asia have been followed with brutal repression and even genocide against the losers. The nations who engage in such violence do so for many reasons but they can be broken down into several categories. Economic class warfare can follow democratic elections. The poor will attack the rich, seize their property and either expel the formerly wealthy, or kill them.
More often the violence is motivated by ethnic or religious differences. Bigotry is a powerful force, and does not respect the slightest deviation from the dominant cultural or religious norm. Ideology and religion are the primary forces for indoctrinating a population to support the government’s goals. In the case of a country that has a system of popular election in place leaders can use these forces to demonize their opposition. After they gain power, the opposition is still a threat so violence erupts. This violence can end up destroying the winners.
An excellent example of this consequence is the fall of Maximilien Robespierre as well as other leaders of the First French Republic. Leaders turn against leaders and the revolution will “eat its young. ” Leaders of the Bolsheviks and the NAZI party leadership in the 1920s and 1930s, military coup leaders in various countries, and the leaders in religious dictatorships have all followed this pattern over the centuries. In many cases these political systems, especially in the past two centuries, are allegedly built up from below to create new societies.
Unfortunately, this is not really democracy. Karl Popper argued that democracy is a political system in which the people can change the government without violence. 7 While this definition does not describe the process people use to choose their leaders it does point to a key element in a successful modern democracy – namely the lack of violence directed at the change of government. 7 Popper p. 95 6 Democracy, strictly speaking, does not describe the nature of a constitution or electoral procedures. It does not explicitly prescribe that the rights of minorities are protected from abuse.
It does not even explicitly require that everyone in a state has the right to vote. What it does require is that governments be changed by peaceful means and that all citizens participate in the process effectively. The classical liberal mode of democracy acceptable in Western society does expand the definition to mean that all citizens of the society have the right to participate in the election of its political leadership, that this election process can result in peaceful change of government and that the losers are not punished for their opposition to the new government.
Given that this description of a democracy is valid, why does the Western concept not successfully transfer to other countries, especially rising democracies in the former Soviet block and the developing world? A key element for a democracy to last is that the people who lose an election must have faith that they will get another chance to win power and to have their voices heard in the interim before the next election cycle.
This requires an institutional expectation that minorities will be protected from retribution by the current political leadership. This means that any society without a cultural predisposition to accept political opposition will have a difficult time sustaining a democratic form of government on a model similar to the United States and Western Europe. Another significant difficulty with the efforts by the United States to establish democracy in other countries is the controversies within the United States over the nature of its own democracy.
Recent books by many authors such as David Hackett Fischer 8 and Sean Wilentz 9 describe the difficulties in expanding and 8 “Liberty and Freedom” by David Hackett Fischer 9 “The Rise of American Democracy” by Sean Wilentz 7 maintaining democracy in the United States. Because of the instant communications and access to information that exist in the world of the 21 st century, all nations of the world can see and comprehend the weaknesses of American society as well as its strengths. Consequently, many people find the sermonizing character of American democratization efforts to be self-serving and illegitimate.
What is wrong with the effort to establish democratic forms of government in the world today even with these problems? Many Western Europeans and Americans feel that all that is needed to make a peaceful world is to establish democracy in the developing world and the former Soviet Communist states. However, many of these countries’ efforts have ended in failure. There has been widespread abuse of minorities, religious and ethnic, and reversion to autocratic rule in several of these governments. Social and economic abuse of minorities even occurs in accepted democracies such as France, Germany Britain and the Untied States.
Violence has been visited on ethnic and religious minorities in Columbia, Mexico, India and several countries in Africa. Autocratic rule and the suppression of political opposition have gained ground in several countries, such as Venezuela and Russia. Democracy is a difficult system to maintain because people who gain privileges tend not to want to share them. In the former communist countries of Eastern Europe and developing countries in Asia violent abuses of minorities have occurred as well as violence perpetrated by the minorities in response.
Countries with a tradition of democracy also experience such violence but not at the levels seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and previously in the states of the former Yugoslavia. Violence in areas of South American countries with large indigenous populations occurs regularly. Minorities in 8 Indonesia and the Philippines frequently lead violent opposition to the regular governments. Palestinians in Israel oppose the occupation of Israeli forces and take their efforts to the cities of that country because they feel left out of the political process. Hamas and the PLO are fighting each other over who is to lead the Palestinian people in the future.
Why does democracy not work for these people? It worked in the United States, right? Or did it? When the constitution was ratified in 1789, not even white male suffrage was universal. Only New Jersey allowed women to vote and then only if they owned property. That incidentally was repealed in 1807 when universal male suffrage was established in New Jersey. 10 Most states had religious tests for local and state office, even though religious tests were prohibited in the federal constitution. That prohibition only applied to the federal government. In general, Indians and freed slaves were not allowed to vote.
So, by today’s standards, the United States, although perhaps the most democratic society in the world of 1789, was not a democracy. What happened? Mostly, we grew. In the 18 th century, people in general were just beginning to believe slavery was wrong. Women were treated as property, and only God-fearing Christians, whatever that meant, were considered to be fit for the rights of citizenship in the United States, Britain and most of the other states of Europe. Other countries of the world were not considered to be civilized. The other countries of the world looked upon the Christian West in much the same way.
China looked upon foreigners as uneducated barbarians and treated them as such. The Moghul Empire of India looked upon foreigners the same way. The Ottoman Empire and its satrapies took slaves and prizes from the commercial shipping from the West because they did not believe in Islam. Even within 10 Keyssar, p. 54 9 the Western societies differences over how to worship the Christian God led to violence. Catholic versus Calvinist versus Episcopalian versus Presbyterian conflicts were not uncommon. The treatment of Mormons in early 19 th century United States was particularly gruesome, with lynching common.
What was needed for the United States to develop into a modern democracy was education and the development of a social willingness to allow everyone the right to some form of dignity. Each person also had to learn to respect everyone’s right to be a little different, as long as they did not try to impose their views on others. Each person had to learn that they did not have the right to insult and punish another person simply because their hair looked different or their lips were a different shape or their skin was of a different shade. But this did not happen overnight. It was the product of changing times.
Revisionist historians and apologists constantly talk about how the Constitution is not the democratic document we worship. Yet, we fail to appreciate that it was very democratic for its time. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams famously argued over the character of the American system of government and what was needed for it to succeed. Both felt that an educated population was essential. Adams wanted a national education system while Jefferson wanted education to be locally controlled. Hamilton, who is frequently referred to as a closet monarchist, also argued that an educated society was essential for an effective democracy.
Hamilton’s problem was that he did not think it could be done. Jefferson and Adams disputed the best method rather than the goal. Intriguingly, Alexander Hamilton was one of the founders of the New York Manumission Society in 1785 along with Aaron Burr. Their personal enmity came later. Among the other framers of the Constitution, Benjamin Rush was a leading abolitionist in 10 Pennsylvania who was joined in 1786 by Benjamin Franklin. George Mason of Virginia argued that slavery was in decline. Roger Wilson of Philadelphia was an advocate for the popular election of the President.
The major reason popular election was not accepted was that it was felt that the country was too big for a majority of the people to know all of the candidates and the Electoral College would eliminate that as a need. Many of the elements of democracy in the United States today have grown over the past 200 years. Women’s suffrage became law of the land in 1919. Even though the Civil War amendments were designed to protect the civil rights of black men in 1870, effective enforcement still took over a century. This was because the social fabric did not accept differences willingly. This problem, though not as virulent, still exists today.
Legal discrimination based on race has been abolished, but there are still many parts of the United States where racial and ethnic prejudice exists and justifies undemocratic behavior. Language is still used to express displeasure, television commercials asking us not to spread hate notwithstanding. Democracy in Europe is also not perfect. Economic discrimination against Muslims and other minorities in Spain, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom sparks violence at various intervals. The Western democracies are more protective of the rights and privileges of their people now, but it has taken two centuries to get where we are.
We have developed social and economic rules that incorporate the opportunities and education to allow all people to improve their conditions in society and to participate in the decision-making processes of our political institutions. It has taken two hundred years. So how can we expect countries that have never had a democratic tradition to succeed? Especially since these Western European based powers imposed colonial rule and otherwise exploited and destroyed the 11 internal cultural cohesion of these countries through violence and war. In addition, even the Western countries have seen internal failures of democracy over the past century.
Greece, Weimar Germany, Italy in the 1920s, and Republican Spain come to mind. Countries in Africa and the Middle East have little democratic tradition. In this part of the world religious faith has often been the sole source of political cohesion. The only other method of holding the country together has been the application of military and economic power, often violently. In the 19 th century, Africa was brutalized by the division brought about by the European race for colonies. The contest over Fascism, Communism and Capitalist Democracy dominated the 20 th century.
All contestants were compelled to worry about military and economic issues rather than how people participated in their government processes. After the fall of the Soviet Union, ethnic and religious differences have unleashed hatreds that had been held in check for the previous 70 years. All nations in the 21 st century want peace. Environmental issues and weapons of mass destruction are only the biggest reasons for this desire. Many countries are struggling with the concept that democracy is the best approach. The reason is both simple and extraordinarily complex.
The countries that are struggling the most have little or no tradition of economic fairness and political democracy. Large minorities exist which are economically disadvantaged and socially and theologically distinct from the majority. The minorities are discriminated against because they are seen as threats to the existing social structure. Finally, the minorities are given no hope of becoming part of the majority system unless they give up their own cultural and religious heritage. Religious faith is particularly important in Muslim countries. Fundamentalists see a high price for 12 joining the modern international system.
Additionally, in Christian countries in the same way as in Muslim countries, there are extreme fundamentalist elements opposed to any compromise with other societies or even different groups within their own societies. The proponents of the extreme forms of Muslim and Christian theology advocate destruction of nonbelievers. Examples can be found in the Koran as well as the Christian and Jewish Bibles. “Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate. ” (Koran 9:73) “Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you.
Deal firmly with them. Know that God is with the righteous. ” (Koran 9:123) The Koran also speaks of punishing by death the crime of apostasy. We can find similar requirements in the Jewish and Christian bibles. “Take the blasphemer outside the camp, and when all who heard him have laid their hands upon his head, let the whole community stone him. ” (Leviticus 24:14) ”But if you do not heed me and do not keep all of these commandments, if you reject my precepts and spurn my decrees, refusing to obey all of my commandments and breaking my covenant, then I ,in turn, will give you your deserts.
I will punish you with terrible woes – with wasting and fever to dim your eyes and sap the life. You will sow your seed in vain, for your enemies will consume the crop. ” (Leviticus 26:14-16) The complex part of the problem of modern democracy is how to make it work peacefully. If a political system provides no opportunity for the minority to improve their economic or social status, resentment is going to set in. When the system discriminates against a group’s ethnic heritage or religious beliefs, resentment sets in. If the minority has no faith in the fairness of the political system, resentment sets in.
Until these causes 13 of resentment are addressed, no system can be truly democratic. This requires a change in the total culture of a political society. It will take a generation or two of concentrated effort to educate all of the people in a society. It will take years of effort to make all of the people believe that if they lose an election that the political system will not take away their rights. Everyone must believe that their culture and religion will be respected. Finally, the losers must respect the right of the winners to lead. If the winners, fail the next election will tell the tale.
This problem exists today even in countries with a longer tradition of democratic actions. The United States continues to suffer the consequences of African slavery. Britain still has problems in Ireland and economic problems with Muslim and Hindu populations as legacies of its colonial era. France recently has experienced urban upheaval among its Muslim population. Finally, the people of Africa and the Middle East are suspicious of the motives of the Western democracies since the European powers were the ones who destroyed their societies in the 19 th century and after WWI and imposed systems that did not exist for the peoples’ welfare.
The institutions of government must actively protect minority rights. It must provide for regular opportunities for all citizens to express their views. The system must respond effectively to grievances. This also means the governments’ actions must be equitable, what John Rawls referred to as “just. ” 11 Finally, the Western democracies must understand that the process of creating democracy in any country will take decades. It took most Western countries a century or more to create effective democracies. Why should any of us think it would take less time for other countries to do the same?
This does not mean we should impose democracy, 11 Rawls, John Justice as Fairness 14 because the people will have no faith in a system that comes from the outside. We must respect their concerns and be patient with their fears. For democratization to work, we must understand what it is and develop a consensus across all cultures to make it work. Democracy is a system of government that allows all citizens to be part of the process of selecting their political leaders. Citizens in a successful democracy must have faith that the government will respect different views as long as all citizens accept the winners in these elections.
The victors must reciprocate and respect the views of the losers. Violence, social ostracism and economic hardship are not legitimate responses to political disagreements. All people must agree to this rule. To allow such a system to succeed, all citizens must receive an effective education so that they can understand the issues being debated. Freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are critical for this process. It will take decades before all people to accept democracy as a characteristic of their society. Even in the democracies of the West there are social groups who do not accept this point of view.
In conclusion, to use democratization as justification for foreign policies is a dangerous practice. Because democracy must be learned and developed as a consensus practice for all people, a nation must expect to spend a long time on this one project. Meanwhile, the citizens will look upon the imposition of this strange concept called democracy as the effort of an outsider to destroy their own traditions. This is almost always doomed to failure. The United States is learning this lesson in Iraq today. No people likes being told their traditions are flawed.
They will not accept anyone acting like a pedantic school teacher wagging a finger at them and telling them that the only way to succeed is to completely ignore their own traditions and history and to try this weird 15 thing that will take fifty or one hundred years to make their lives better. It will not work. The attitude that the Democratic Peace can be used as a basis for foreign policy has cost the United States over 4000 lives and trillions of dollars of treasure. Long term goals are difficult to sustain and prone to failure.
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