The Long Road to Democracy
I hope that we are witnessing a Fourth (or Fifth?) wave of democratization. However, I have concerns as to whether this is in fact a long term shift to democracy that we are witnessing. And I have even greater concerns that democracy doesn’t come in waves but rather is arrived at after walking a long and idiosyncratic path in each country.
As for whether there is a general shift to democracy taking place, I think we need to temper our optimism with a little caution. For one thing, some of the “reforms” seem more like window-dressing than anything substantive. Egypt’s reforms might be in this category.
Moreover, democratization often leads to instability in the short-run; whether instability or stable democracy defines the long term is an open question. Iraq and Afghanistan are the obvious examples of the concern over long-term stability. With the recent increase in bombings and counter-demonstrations, Lebanon may slip into this category as well.
And, on top of this, the U.S. can still “lose the peace” if it is not vigilant. The short-changing of democratization and stabilization initiatives in Afghanistan is an example of exactly the type of foreign policy we do not want. Nurturing democracies in post-conflict situations is a long, delicate, and expensive process. In Afghanistan, we lost our concentration as we moved on to Iraq. Rather than a beacon of what democracy can do to free a people, it is in the process of becoming a cautionary tale of how hard-won gains can be quickly lost. Iraq is a work in progress, of course, but some of the current indicators are not very good, as discussed in this recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Then there is Pakistan…
And, while we are getting enthused about the Fourth Wave of democratization, let us not forget about the Third Wave. We like to remember the vindication of the generation of ’56 in Hungary and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and the triumph of Solidarity in Poland, but let’s also talk about democracy in Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Albania. Where democracy has taken root in these countries it was not from some unstoppable process but because of a hard fought political battles and, in certain cases, international military intervention and significant financial and technical support. Overall, in all of these countries, whether or not democracy took hold had less to do with a wave and more to do with history, political culture, and, at times, international interest and support.
I hope we are seeing an inexorable spread of democracy. That would be nice. But I wouldn’t bank on it, it is much too early to tell, anyway. However, if we really want to make the world safe for democracy, as opposed to making the world safe for foreign investment, then we better decide to gear-up for the long road ahead and find the travelling companions that we will need to see this through.