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.

Posted by at October 26, 2005 06:04 PM | TrackBack (1)

1. There is no evidence that Saddam or his sons would have evolved the necessary prior institutional structures. There were no Pinochets in Iraq. Precious few in the arab world, and probably none in Iraq, given the Saddamite political culture. So this is a prescription for indefinite dictatorship.

2. Pinochet type regimes are not necessarily stable. In case anyones forgotten, Nappy the thirds regime took power not due to the intervention of foreign democratizers, but due to the internal contradictions of prior semi-democracies and authoritarian regimes in France. Its quite possible Saddam would have gone down eventually, to a dangerous, semidemocratic regime, but under worse circumstances.

3. While I sympathize with Democratic Peace theory, i must admit that balance of power considerations have as much to do with war as internal ones. Many of the factors that would have deterred Saddam from again going to war against his neighbors post 1991 (and he went to war against Iran, Kuwait, and Israel pre-1991) would also apply to a post Saddam Iraq. Indeed there may be even MORE reasons. A semidemocratic Iraq is vulnerable to internal divisions in ways mid 19th c France, and early 20th c Germany, were not. And Iraq is likely to rely on American support, even if US troops withdraw, for years.

4. Israel IS more popular in Iraq now. The Kurds are pro-Israel, and the general position of the Iraqi state is "lets wait till the Pals have a final settlement" IE the position of Afghanistan, Pakistan, KSA, and most Arab states - NOT the position of Iran, Saddamite Iraq, or , arguably, Syria.

5. If youre trying to say that we should try to get a fully democratic, even at some cost, and not settle to easily for a semidemocratic one, youre right. In other news, Vitamin C is good for you. If youre saying the whole enterprise was a mistake, I think points 1 and 2 in particular come into play.

6. I still think youre wrong about terrrorism and democracy, as ive posted before.

your friendly Jacobin

Posted by: liberalhawk at October 26, 2005 07:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Are you suggesting we NOT support electoral reforms in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc?

1. AFAIK we are supporting institutional changes at the same time as we support electoral reform

2. Meanwhile those regimes may fall anyway, in situations where we lose the support of the people. The shah was, arguably, building up the kinds of institutional changes needed for liberal democracy - capitalism, womens rights, secularism, etc. In case you have forgotten, supporting the correct "sequence" in that case turned out to be on of the disasters of American foreign policy, one that still plagues us in the region. In the reaction against the neocons, its easy to forget what "realism" has gotten us in the past.

3. Supporting authoritarian modernizers/liberalizers tends to earn us ill will across the region. And to breed terrorists. Which factors themselves are dangers to liberalization.

Posted by: liberalhawk at October 26, 2005 07:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Supporting authoritarian modernizers/liberalizers tends to earn us ill will across the region. And to breed terrorists. Which factors themselves are dangers to liberalization.

And our current endeavor in Iraq has....? Not done those things? Invasions can do much worse.

And I still think I'm right about terrorism and democracy, or I guess we'll just have to wait for the Salafists in Western Europe to realize they are in a democracy. Or, in the alternative, that they were in fact bred by the totalitarian regimes in the Middle East.

As for Saddam's penchant for reform, even dictators that show no inclination for reform can be swept up and out by grassroots movements. I don't think you can look to a dictator's willingness to allow reforms at a given point in history and say that they will always be able to maintain such policies, and will be able to preserve an "indefinite dictatorship."

The whole domino theory of democratization would seem to be invalidated if what you're saying is correct. The only viable option is invasion where the dictator does not intend to usher in reforms. History to the contrary be damned.

As for elections in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, I say good. But not enough. And potentially dangerous if not combined with other vastly more important structural change. I do not exaggerate when I say that most people confuse elections with democracy. I think you are right that we are pursuing both, but mine is not criticism of everything being done now. You shouldn't read it that way. Just a reminder not to be overly enthusiastic about elections at the expense of other approaches. Hey, Condi and the gang are getting a lot right now. Especially now.

Indeed there may be even MORE reasons. A semidemocratic Iraq is vulnerable to internal divisions in ways mid 19th c France, and early 20th c Germany, were not.

As I said in the post, internal divisions could make a unifying cause more appealing, not less. Of course, picking a target they can all agree on might be difficult. But less so if there is a de facto or actual fragmentation and each semi-democracy is free to pursue its own mis-adventures.

Meanwhile those regimes may fall anyway, in situations where we lose the support of the people.

But invasions would get us? Something different? Really? Support of the people?

There are options in between neo-conservatism and realism. Those need to be explored, with theses like the one presented above in mind.

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 26, 2005 08:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with Eric's comment that there are options between neo-conservatism and realism. I just don't think the options are any good. I don't think Eric does either, in the sense that he advocates, slower please. That is an option that does not fit neatly between neo-conservative and realist positions.

Slower please, at least as I understand it, should have meant institution building in Iraq, including re-creation of the armed forces and police, as the number one priority even before we actually set foot in Saddam's Iraq. And then the guts and political will to stay the course and educate the American public and world opinion about the impossibility of winning the peace as well as the war in the amount of time it takes to prepare and consume a meal at McDonald's.

Slower please is a policy that only a lame duck President with a wish to go down in history as a great one has the luxury of pursuing. To be honest, if I have any hope, it's because it is in the interest of the Iraqis themselves to do the right thing. A growing majority of them, to judge from their voting habits, know it.

Posted by: JohnFH at October 26, 2005 08:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1. Our current situation in Iraq
A. is not done, we dont know the long run effects
B. Was not executed optimally
C. Has been discussed at great length elsewhere - the point is that the alternatives, supporting authoritarian states, may be no better

2. Salafists in Europe - yes, they ARE largely the result of the situation in the middle east. Whether they are conscious of it or not. They face a broad humiliation, due to the failure of the civilization they identify with. That civilization must be fixed. What else do you think it is? Racism in western europe? then where are all the west Indian and west african (non-muslim) terrorists? Something inherent in Islam?

3. Yes, they can be swept out. In Iraq that would likely have led to a semidemocracy such as we have now. Again, i thought you were making a case that invasion is bad, cause invasion per se leads to semi-democracy. AFAICT ANY form of regime change could lead to semi-democracy. So youre either making a case against all regime change (other than a CIA coup to put in a Pinochet) or youre not making a case about the Iraq war.

4. Dominos - the theory, as applied to Iraq, is that Iraq, being totalitarian, not just authoritarian, needed force to achieve change. Once Iraq is pushed over by force, the rest will fall without force. The weakness of course, is that this requires that change in Iraq be handled competently, which is why Id like a McCain - a neocon who beleives in doing what needs to be done to SUCCEED. Hillary maybe also, if shes not captured by the "realists"

5. You like whats happening now, but are warning against pursuing elections without supporting liberal institutions. Hmmm. I would warn liberal environmentalists that pursuing clean water, while ignoring global warming is a mistake. What, no ones advocating that? Whatever.

6. Each semi-democracy pursuing its own misadventures - I thought we were talking about a united Iraq. Only serious guy supporting partition is who Korb? Kalb? I agree thats a mistake.

7. Options other than invasion. Well d'uh. You say more slowly please, an allusion to Ledeen. Who, for the thousandth time, does NOT support an invasion to establish democracy in Iran. Youre still beating the same strawman. Yes there are folks contemplating war with Iran and Syria. But thats NOT principally about democratizing those countries (though IF went into say Syria over another issue- which im not advocating - , i cant see how we wouldnt then attempt to support democracy). There are also people (some the same people) who support aggressive democratization - but NOT by invasion.

Posted by: liberalhawk at October 26, 2005 09:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1. Whether or not the alternatives are better depends on the context. At the time of invasion, there were better alternatives. Such as, not invading. Even if we take your theory of humiliation leading to Salafism (which I don't wholly discount), Iraqis (even in exile) were not among those that were led to Salafism out of humiliation. Curious place to start then.

2. Same as above.

3. I wasn't making that case as you laid it out. Invasion can lead to the pernicious form of semi-democracy that lacks institutional girding in certain contexts (where such inst. support is missing). That is bad. It was the case in Iraq, but not Germany or Japan. But the larger point is, given the knowledge of this tendency, such conditions should enter into the cost/benefit analysis - not become some hard and fast black/white rule about regime change and/or invasion. It must be considered when weighing costs and benefits. This is more pressing when an invasion of choice, or preventitive invasion, is used as a tactic.

4. Are you saying Iraq was the only totalitarian regime in the region?

5. I like some of what's happening now, and would warn about losing sight of the goals and not pressing too fast for elections without the other components. Like say, I like what's happening on water pollution now, but would warn about loosening standards in the future given what we know about the carcinogenic properties of arsenic. Unfortunately, in the world of foreign policy there are in fact many people advocating many things. Some of that involves pushing elections ahead of the other changes. I wish that weren't the case. So, wow, somebody is advocating that (Reuel Marc Gerecht's recent writings embracing Islamists as our hope for democracy is indicative of this).

6. I wasn't advocating one or the other, or citing anyone who was. Nevertheless, fragmentation is a possibility - strong one in fact. That being said, Galbraith favors fragmentation. Or in his words, it has already happened de facto, so we should work within that framework.

7. I have heard this before, and I have read the opposite from people - including Mr. Ledeen. I also marvel at your ability to divine the motivations of various people who have created more than a little murkiness around such motivations. Look LH, if we truly live in the world where that opinion I push against is only straw - well then rejoice. Unfortunately I have seen and heard otherwise. At the very least, democratization has been used to gussy up the support for invasion on other lines. It has been included in the plus column of the cost/benefit ledger. I would remove it, or properly quantify its value.

As for Mr. Ledeen, I hope that he has come around, but in the past, he has not sounded so pacifistic. Some examples:

We need to sustain our game face, we must keep our fangs bared, we must remind them daily that we Americans are in a rage, and we will not rest until we have avenged our dead, we will not be sated until we have had the blood of every miserable little tyrant in the Middle East, until every leader of every cell of the terror network is dead or locked securely away, and every last drooling anti-Semitic and anti-American mullah, imam, sheikh, and ayatollah is either singing the praises of the United States of America, or pumping gasoline, for a dime a gallon, on an American military base near the Arctic Circle.[...]

Don't kid yourself. We can still blow this thing, big-time. Every few days we show alarming signs of being "reasonable," and "evenhanded," apparently because somebody forgot that that's what got us into this mess in the first place. We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless. No compromise with evil; we want total surrender. Once the ink's dry on the surrender documents, then we can start thinking about the best way to build theme parks in underground-tunnel networks.

Back at the beginning of our war, when I insisted that this was going to be a vast revolutionary war, and that we would transform the entire Middle East, few were inclined to agree. Now it is just barely over the horizon, but the tyrants, who are always looking as far ahead as they can, can already see it, and they are very frightened. The latest word from Tehran is that the mullahs are afraid that they will have the same destiny as the Taliban.

And why not? They even look the same.


I suppose he meant by same destiny as the Taliban that they would be....?

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 26, 2005 09:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1 and 2 - im not interested in rehashing the retrospective cost/benefit of the decisons 2002/2003 - that involves too many issues that pull us away from the debate about democratization - its also premature.

3. Im still not sure its a tendency, as compared to other policies that encourage change. Are orange revolutions more likely to preduce liberal institutions? Maybe in Ukraine, probably not in Kyrgistan. My point is thats a problem with ANY strategy that isnt one of stabilization.

4. Essentially yes. Maybe Libya and Sudan are exceptions. But Iran is not totalitarian, and id say even Syria is much less so than Iraq -though Ill admit we're learning more about Syria every day. Sudan and Libya have not been viewed as being as central as the core fertile crescent countries. I think rightly so. Syria and Iran are clearly the "targets" and they are clearly very different internally from what IRaq was. and that was why Iraq first, NOT because Iraqis in europe were the core of Salafist terror. You really should read Bernard Lewis and Paul Berman, so I dont have to keep repeating this (of course some folks tell me I should read Juan Cole, and I dont - i doubt very much youll dislike Berman as much as I dislike Cole)

5. Islamism of some kind has to be part of democratization I think. Just as Christian democracy was part of democratization in europe. Look at the Turkish Islamists, theyre not undermining democracy. I think a viewpoint that sees full secularization of politics as sina qua non for democracy is doomed to failure. If thats our view, we might as well go looking for more shahs, and we should discourage Mubarak from democratizing. If Gerecht has actually opposed rule of law, free press, and other institutional marks of liberalism ive never read it - i would appreciate the link as time allows :)

6. Peter Galbraith? remind me who he?

7. Ledeen aint no pacifist. He seethes with hate for salafists, khomeinists, and Baathist/nasserite Arab nationalists. You know what? So do I. But he seems to acknowledge that invasion is not the preferred option for dealing with Iran - and thats my impression of his point for years. Hed like to see the Mullahs swinging from ropes - so would I - but ropes strung up by the Iranian people without the support of the 3rd infantry division.

Posted by: liberalhawk at October 26, 2005 10:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Just some quick points:

3. Still think "orange" has a greater chance than shock and awe. Orange generally occurs when the population has been able to mount an effort of scale. In such situations, there are more likely inst. supports. Not an absolutism, but few things are.

5. False choice. Gerecht (or if not him, then the subject of this particular critique) wouldn't be "opposed" to those liberal institutions, just not pushing for their pre-existence in as robust a fashion prior to democratization. A question of sequence and chronology, not ultimate existence.

Nothing inherently wrong with Islamists in elections or in democracies, but not unless there are institutional fortifications to channel their theocratic tendencies. Ala Turkey.

6. Galbraith is former ambassador to Croatia, has been in and out of Iraq over the past couple of years (Kurdistan), supporter of invasion (I believe). Here's his bio:


Here's a recent piece quoting him:


In response to critique of his position re: fragmentation:

You also describe me as advocating the break up of Iraq. My position is slightly different. I argue that Iraq has already broken up, and that it will be much more costly—in terms of lives and money—to put it back together than to accept the new reality. One reason I like the new Constitution is that I believe it is

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 26, 2005 11:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"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"

Let's see - how likely is it that another govt in Iraq will allow Big Brother's sons to have a torture chamber annex to the Olympic Team compound. Will brag about exterminating every kind of insect with insecticide after gassing it's enemies. Will start wars that kill millions for the meglomania, bloodlust, and caprice of Big Brother. I think we overlook the intensity of depravity we were facing in March of 2002, and project rational motivations on a man who cannot be plausibly accepted as rational by our lights.

If FDR had our press corps and intelligencia nitpicking every action he took leading up to WWII, how would he fare? Surely he didn't have to bomb the U-boats in '40 and '41 in violation of the Neutrality Acts. Surely there was no operational ties between Hitler's govt and the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Why the rush to war? Slower please?

Posted by: wayne at October 27, 2005 01:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Democratic Peace

Posted by: Solomon2 at October 28, 2005 01:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
The City
Western Europe
United Kingdom
Central and Eastern Europe
East Asia
South Korea
Middle East
B.D. In the Press
Syndicate this site:


Powered by