Academic journal article International Journal of Peace Studies

Military Intervention and Prospects for Democratization

Academic journal article International Journal of Peace Studies

Military Intervention and Prospects for Democratization

Article excerpt


Even before the Iraq war of 2003, a body of literature was developing concerning the possibility of implanting democracy in developing states. Recent works by Mark Peceny (1999a and 1999b) suggest that those U.S. military interventions that specifically promote "free and fair elections" have frequently resulted in remarkably resilient new democracies. We empirically evaluate the track record of liberalizing interventions, focusing on countries Peceny deems to be cases of successfully imposed democracy. We find that when factors such as human, political, and civil rights, as well as judicial independence are used as measures of democratic success, the "forcing them to be free" strategy does not clearly emerge as an agent for democratic transformation.


The idea of external imposition of democracy goes back to the origins of liberal theory in international politics, and has been especially prevalent in U.S. foreign policy making. Examples include Woodrow Wilson's attempts to draw "self determination" maps for Eastern Europe following World War I, the Kennedy-Johnson forceful "nation-building" strategies in Vietnam, and, more recently, George W. Bush's apparent belief that Iraq and Afghanistan can be remade in a Western democratic image. This is not to say, of course, that U.S. action has always matched its rhetoric or that there has been consistent support for democracies over autocracies. In U.S. policy, lip service is frequently paid to democratization, as in Kennedy-Johnson's Alliance for Progress in Latin America and Clinton Administration preferences for "big emerging markets," but when put to the test it is not always clear that democracy is the top U.S. priority. How sincerely would Washington abide by democratic principles if free elections brought a confirmed or alleged "leftist" to power (e.g., Chile and Dominican Republic during past decades), or an Islamic theocracy (e.g., Algeria), or even an assertive nationalist (e.g., Iran in 1953, Haiti)? It has been argued that American preference for democrats gives way to acceptance of autocrats before acceptance of radicals (Barnet, 1968).

Even taking U.S. policy at face value, however, determining the effectiveness of democratic implantation is complicated by a number of factors, including uncertainty over what causes political changes in developing states, definitions of what constitutes "democracy," and confusion about the underlying goals of the intervening power. The growth of democracy has always been a complicated historical process, with periods of advancement and retrenchment, of war and peace (witness America's own civil war), and the development of key social and economic underpinnings such as the rise of middle classes. [See Barrington Moore (1993) and Rueschemeyer, Stephens, and Stephens (1993) for two examples of works that discuss the complicated nature of democratization.]

Challenging this complex evolutionary view of democratization, Marc Peceny (1999) and others (Hermann and Kegley, 1996; Meernik, 1996; Peceny and Pickering, 2002) argue that certain types of intervention can hasten the process. Specifically, Peceny believes that U.S. military interventions, through direct use of force, indirect military support, appear to have substantially improved the democratic standing of the states receiving the interventions. A number of these studies measure democracy along the dimensions of the Polity III or IV data set devised by Gurr and colleagues (see Jaggers and Gurr, 1995), which gauges general political openness through the institutionalization of free elections or executive change mechanisms, functional checks on executive power, and competitive political parties. For instance, using Polity data Hermann and Kegley (1996) find that intervention increases liberalization in states receiving the intervention. However, while the authors detect a move toward democratization, the mean Polity IV scores for these target states on a combined democracy-autocracy scale remain on the autocratic side, indicating that democratic improvement does not necessarily translate to a high level of democracy. …

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