The Democratic Imperative

The Democratic Imperative

Mini Teaser: The world's democrats have joined forces, to the benefit of all involved.

by Author(s): Adrian Karatnycky
 

Sporadically, chaotically, at times violently, the inexorable force of democratic hegemony is reshaping the world. Long gone is the East-West divide.

In the wake of communism's collapse, no array of closed societies or illiberal ideologies can seriously challenge the predominance of democratic states and liberal ideas. As a result, democracies are free to project their influence and values through diplomatic, military, economic, technological and cultural power. Increasingly, global affairs are shaped by the hegemony of democratic ideas and values, the acceptance of which has grown dramatically around the globe. Through "hard" and "soft" power, the world's cohort of democratic states aids indigenous democratic movements in toppling tyrannies, intervenes against rogues and tyrants, promotes democratic practices, and expands democratic governance through conditional foreign aid.

Often, such engagement reflects the pursuit of specific national interests. At times, democracies use their hegemonic power to end or preclude a humanitarian disaster that could otherwise send floods of refugees across their borders. At other times, they pre-empt threats to their national security. As often, the powerful democracies exercise hegemony on behalf of something larger-a genuinely new system of power rooted in liberal principles.

As a result of such interventions, intercessions and diplomatic pressure, a wave of tyrants has recently fallen. Since 2000, Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, Liberia's Charles Taylor, the Afghan Taliban's Sheikh Omar, Peru's Alberto Fujimori, and Iraq's Saddam Hussein have been swept aside by the force of democratic hegemony. More recently, Georgia's president Eduard Shevardnadze succumbed to civic protest and external pressure, resigning in November 2003 after his government had doctored election results, while in March 2004, Haiti's Bertrand Aristide was forced from office amid mass civic protests and armed insurgency. Central to both resignations was the demand by key democracies that their departures were a condition for further engagement.

While the United States is perceived-and denounced-as the world's sole hegemon, it was not the leading force in several of these recent transitions. Indeed, in a wide range of settings, European, Latin American, Asian and African democracies-alone or in concert-assertively use their power to promote democratic outcomes and press illiberal regimes, often without the encouragement or participation of the United States.

Democratic hegemony does not come without risks. Because it exerts explicit and implicit pressures on dictatorships and anti-democratic movements, these have increasingly looked to the asymmetrical power represented by weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

Democratic Predominance

Since the early 1970s, liberal democracies have grown at the rate of nearly one and a half per year. Today, there are 88 such liberal states, constituting nearly half the world's polities and 45 percent of its population. The liberal democracies generate 89 percent of the world's economic output and are the main sources of international entrepreneurship, invention and innovation. The economic and technological dominance of the democracies also translates to the military and security sphere: liberal democracies account for nearly 85 percent of global military expenditures. As a result, democracy has achieved a geo-economic and geopolitical critical mass that now appears to ensure its perpetuation and expansion around the world.

As importantly, established, prosperous democracies tend to have trustworthy democratic neighbors and enter into cooperative security alliances with other democracies. And while authoritarian states often use militaries at home to preserve illegitimate rule, liberal democracies have sufficient legitimacy that their militaries are devoted exclusively to the defense of borders and the projection of power. This means most of the "hard" power of democracies can be projected externally.

Of the world's ten most populous states, seven are governed by leaders whose power derives from free and fair elections. Only one-China-is an outright tyranny. Two, Pakistan and Russia, claim they are in transition to democratic rule and offer some space for opposition political parties and media. Of the world's twenty largest economies as measured by gross national income, only one-China-is an outright dictatorship. Eighteen of the world's largest economies are liberal democratic states.

So powerful is the economic, technological, cultural and military might of liberal states that they are increasingly capable of shaping the international system, countering threats, protecting fundamental rights and promoting the values of freedom. As the power and influence of the democracies grows, with the notable exception of China, most tyrannies are stagnating and falling further behind the liberal democratic world. Indeed, even with China's large and vibrant economy, the 48 countries Freedom House rates as "not free" account only for 6 percent of global economic output.

Today, increased trade and growing cross-border economic relations in the context of democratic predominance places constraints on how non-democratic states behave in the international system. Even powerful tyrannies like China are unlikely to act in a disruptive and aggressive way against liberal states that provide the direct investment and import markets on which those tyrannies rely. It is not accidental that rogue states have been either autarchic economies unconnected to the international system or self-sufficient states, usually deriving their wealth from exporting vitally important energy resources.

The overwhelming global predominance of the democracies means they can project power, even when they are sharply divided on tactics. Despite strained relations between the United States and major European states over Iraq, such foreign policy disagreements did little to abate the force of democratic hegemony. Paradoxically, the fact that democracies sometimes act in the absence of consensus increases the frequency of interventions and leads to a more active foreign policy.

Writing in these pages 15 years ago, Francis Fukuyama argued that "the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world." But the overwhelming economic success of the liberal democratic idea is now tangibly felt in the real, material world.

As a result, authoritarian values are increasingly threatened by the growing power of democracies and democratic ideas. Indeed, widespread global terrorism and efforts to procure weapons of mass destruction can be understood as responses by illiberal movements and states to democratic hegemony. Terrorism and weapons of mass destruction represent asymmetrical power in the face of democracy's growing strength.

Democracy's Many Interventions

So widespread and frequent are democratic engagement and intervention that-major wars apart-we are inured to the phenomenon. Yet by any measure, the pace of intervention by liberal democracies in the affairs of other states and societies is breathtaking. At times, such interventions occur under the aegis of the United Nations; at other times they are carried out through regional organizations; sometimes they are unilateral or launched by coalitions of the willing. In almost all cases since the end of the Cold War, the liberal and emerging democracies have been the driving force behind military interventions and peacekeeping operations-lobbying for them, committing military forces, and financing, staffing and shaping the post-conflict nation-building agenda.

In the last decade, the democracies have led military interventions and occupations in Haiti in 1994, Bosnia in 1995, Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and Haiti, a second time, in 2004. Each time, whether under UN aegis, through NATO, or through coalitions of the willing, the military leadership and the post-intervention rebuilding has been firmly in the hands of the established democracies. Similarly, an array of peacekeeping and post-conflict interventions have also been launched mainly at the instigation and under the command of the liberal democracies including: Mozambique in 1994, Albania in 1997, Sierra Leone in 1997 and 2002, East Timor in 1999, Liberia in 2003, and Cote d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003.

As Haiti and Iraq demonstrate, not all military and peacekeeping actions easily lead to stable democracy. Still, nearly all contemporary military interventions are accompanied by ambitious democratic state-building initiatives, including support for free media, independent civic groups and internationally supervised or monitored democratic elections.

Additionally, democracies exert influence through the regional bodies they now dominate. In organizations like the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union, NATO, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as the Commonwealth, agendas are shaped by the most influential regional powers (which as a rule are democratic) or by regional democratic majorities.

For example, in 2003 Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, on behalf of ECOWAS, risked personal safety when he traveled to Sao Tome and Principe and berated junior military officers who had staged a coup against the island democracy's government. His intervention led to a stand-down and the collapse of the coup. ECOWAS is now engaged in a vigorous effort to rebuild democratic electoral processes in Guinea-Bissau, where a coup toppled an elected government in 2003. In 2002, following a coup against Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, the OAS exerted pressure that helped reverse the military takeover. A coup in Fiji in 2001 triggered suspension of aid by Australia and New Zealand, two major donors, who later provided assistance for new elections. West Africa's regional group, ECOWAS, likewise reacted sharply to a 1999 coup in Cote d'Ivoire and was instrumental in the return of civilian rule to the still troubled country. While international pressure does not always succeed, in most recent cases, military rulers are pressured to return their countries to elected leadership-making long-term military rule increasingly unsustainable.

Essay Types: Essay