September 19, 2004

Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Peace

Spent the morning doing laundry, cooking, lounging around, sleeping, and reading John Judis' The Folly of Empire. It's not the most insightful book in the world, but it does glance on a few important topics, not least of which is this idea of Democratizing our Enemies for Peace. Or rather, is democracy a necessary and sufficient condition for peace? (Okay, so Judis doesn't ask this question, but I want to, and his book is a good starting-point.)

Quite clearly, it's not a necessary condition. From a national security standpoint, it just wasn't a big deal that South Korea and Taiwan had autocratic regimes until the late 1980s. Nestled safely under the U.S. security umbrella, those countries posed no real threat to anyone. Moreover, from a certain narrowly-defined moral standpoint those governments served their people fairly well, offering economic prosperity, rising living standards, and above all peace. It's obviously nice to have representative government as well, but if a country has everything but that, it's doing pretty well. There's a big difference between "Democratizing our Enemies for Peace" and "Democratizing our Enemies because It's the Right Thing to Do."

Of course, not every country is willing or able to sit safely under the U.S. security umbrella, and, for obvious geo-strategic reasons, not every country can replicate the South Korea/Taiwan experience. Some despotic regimes quite clearly do pose a threat to regional (or global) stability—Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, what have you. As the story goes, George Bush and the neoconservatives believed that democratization was the best way to make these regimes more stable.

The problem, as we've seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but as should have been clear long beforehand, is that it's hard to create democracy out of nothing. No one really knows how to go about it. There's democracy-at-gunpoint, or the neoconservative method. Judis cites two examples from American history—Philippines and Mexico—where this strategy has failed. The U.S. tried to side with opposition forces against despotic regimes, but only ended up creating a massive nationalist backlash. In fact, in all of history, democracy-at-gunpoint can boast only two success stories: Germany and Japan. Both had somewhat special circumstances: There was a clear, reasonable, and widely-accepted narrative that these countries had been international aggressors; the nations suffered total military defeat; there was a native backlash against militarism that had led to WWII; they were advanced nations with pre-existing liberal institutions; there were no ethnic tensions within borders (more precisely, they were not colonial creations); and they both faced a rather grave external threat—the Soviet Union. (John Dower's prescient pre-war essay comparing Japan and Iraq makes the contrast rather clear.)

(As a side note—and a purely speculative one at that—Iraq circa 1991 seemed to resemble Japan more than did Iraq circa 2003. It's possible that had Bush I stormed into Baghdad, we might have succeeded in installing a liberal state. At the very least, the Shiites and Kurds would trust us far more than they do now, and propagandists like al Qaeda would be less prone to rile up an insurgency—after all, Osama bin Laden offered to defend Saudi Arabia against Hussein. But then again, it might not have worked.)

Bearing this in mind, the liberal approach to democracy-building has emphasized international institutions that integrate nations into a political and economic framework. Under Bill Clinton, the economic aspect became particularly important. As he told Congress in 1996, "Free market nations with growing economies and strong and open trade are more likely to feel secure and to work towards freedom." There's some historical evidence that this approach has worked—Spain, Greece, Turkey, and parts of Eastern Europe have all opened up after being integrated into a tight international order. But I'm rattling off examples rather glibly, and closer study is certainly needed to figure out exactly what is going on here.

Judis certainly places himself in this (somewhat idealized) Wilson-Clinton tradition. The liberal critique of George W. Bush, on this view, is that promoting democracy is a good thing, and probably furthers our national security aims, but it is best done through institutions. I can't say I'm unsympathetic to this view—among other things, I've been known to advocate economic engagement with Iran—although it begs for further scrutiny.

But that's not the only lesson Judis draws from the Wilson/Clinton tradition. Judis is also properly skeptical of the old adage that "Democracies rarely wage war on each other." In the age of high-tech weapons, democracies can certainly wage war without suffering many casualties—the check of popular opinion has vanished in many cases. The U.S. is the obvious example, but note that even a democratic Iraq probably wouldn't think twice about going to war with, say, Syria if it could do so simply by lobbing a few missiles towards Damascus. So democracy, if Judis is right, is not a sufficient condition for peace either. International institutions are again needed to rein countries in. NATO is the prime paradigm here—and it explains why Clinton was so eager to salvage the alliance even when it seemed obsolete in a post-Cold War era. He wanted to expand NATO towards Eastern Europe, so that those countries' ambitions would be, as Judis puts it, "subsumed beneath the large multinational commitments of these organizations."

Now, there are arguments to be made that the UN is not the right institution that can maintain a Wilsonian-Clintonian international order. If so, fine. But Bush's disregard for multilateralism—shunning not just the UN, but treaties like Kyoto, the nuclear test-ban treaty, the International Criminal Court—has badly forestalled the possibility of any international order. It's worth pointing out here that Bush's "coalition of the willing" was not multilateralism—multilateralism has nothing to do with how many allies you have and everything to do with working through international institutions. So we've reached the point where, even on the slim chance that Afghanistan and Iraq do become functioning democracies, the world is lacking a strong international framework to make those democracies peaceful democracies.
-- Brad Plumer 3:59 AM || ||