October 24, 2005

Electing to Fight

John M. Owen IV has a Foreign Affairs review of Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War, which argues exactly what the title suggests:
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.
The historical record bears this out, it seems. Owen wonders if, on this theory, "a democratic Iraq [will be] no less bellicose" than Saddam Hussein's regime, as various factions in the near future "compete for popularity by stirring up nationalism against one or more of Iraq's neighbors." This doesn't seem so implausible—I could see an Iraqi government with a large Sadrist presence getting all up in some neighbor's face; Jordan, perhaps—but it does sort of seem like the least of Iraq's concerns right now. On the other hand, a rapid push for democratization in the Middle East—if and when it ever comes—would make this sort of chaotic outcome all the more likely. But as Josh Marshall once suggested, perhaps this was the plan all along.
-- Brad Plumer 10:01 PM || ||