Thursday, September 20, 2007

The folly of trying to impose democracy

The Washington Post has an article this week which cites a new study from two political science professors at the University of North Texas (where I am getting my BA in poli sci), Andrew Enterline and J. Michael Greig, that examines in detail 41 cases over about 200 years where one nation has tried to impose democracy on another. Their findings?

A third of all democracies imposed by one nation on another fail within the first 10 years of their establishment, Enterline and Greig found. Strong democracies, such as the ones set up in Germany and Japan, that last beyond 20 to 30 years seem to survive indefinitely.

But 75 percent of weak democracies, where elections are held but the civic institutions that shore up a democracy are weak or missing, die within the first 30 years. According to the definitions used by the political scientists, the democracy in Iraq, like others established by European colonial powers in Africa and Asia, is extremely weak.

"Their trajectory of failure deepens so that 90 percent have failed by their 60th year, and most have failed well before that," said Greig.

The two big success stories came after WWII with West Germany and Japan, of course, but they differ greatly from the situation in Iraq:
Those two success stories had all four of the ingredients that Enterline and Greig found make for successful impositions of democracy: large occupation forces early on to stamp out nascent insurgencies; a clear message that occupation forces were willing to spend years to make democracy work; an ethnically homogenous population, where politics was less likely to splinter along sectarian lines; and finally, the good fortune to have neighbors that also were democratically minded, or at least neighbors who could be kept from interfering.

Iraq, unfortunately, has none of the four ingredients.

"Trying to create a democracy in an ethnically diverse society is very dicey and historically very difficult, so to expect the opposite in Iraq runs counter to what has happened historically," Enterline said. "The initial plan was democracy in Iraq would radiate outward and democratize the Middle East, but if you place a democracy in the middle of authoritarian regimes, what we found is the democracy oftentimes fails and becomes like its neighbors."

The article goes on to say that imposed democracies that fail have even smaller chances of reestablishing democracy because, as Greig explains, "citizens learn that democratic institutions are not effective in dealing with the problems in their societies, so the society becomes less likely to push for democracy in the future."

Of course, a lot of people recognized this before we went to war. It's especially hard to look back now as see how anyone ever thought turning Iraq into a democratic oasis in the Mid East would be a cakewalk.


Nat-Wu said...

You know, this is nothing new. All the experts could have told you t his before the war, but those who wanted to go to war didn't care. It's irrelevant to them.

Xanthippas said...

I was about to the say the same thing. Historians have known these lessons for quite some time, but such knowledge was unwanted and unasked for in the run-up to invasion. Even now there are those who just don't care that Germany and Japan were not the same as Iraq is now, and never could be.