Does International Moral Suasion Influence Democratic Development? the Nobel Peace Prize and Political Reform in Burma and East Timor

By Toole, James; Henning, April | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Does International Moral Suasion Influence Democratic Development? the Nobel Peace Prize and Political Reform in Burma and East Timor


Toole, James, Henning, April, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


The Nobel Peace Prize can be viewed as an instrument of international moral suasion. This article asks how much, if at all, the Prize encourages authoritarian regimes to liberalize when awarded to dissident democratic activists. Using comparative case analysis of Burma and East Timor, it studies patterns in media coverage and in sanctions and aid policies imposed on the two countries' regimes by important international actors. The Prize awards seem not to have encouraged political liberalization in any obvious way. They did raise international awareness of the two countries' situations, but did not clearly increase outside pressures on the regimes.

Key Words: Nobel Peace Prize; Moral suasion; Liberalization; Democratization; Burma; Myanmar; East Timor; Timor-Leste.

Democratization has often been considered a largely internal affair. But in a world in which state boundaries appear increasingly permeable, international influences on democratization seem more significant than ever. This article examines one potential international influence on democratic development: the awarding to dissident democratic activists of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Studies of international influences on democratic development have increased in recent years. For the most part, however, such studies have focused on how states or international organizations have used particular democracy promotion policies (Carothers 1999; Burnell 2000; Crawford 2000; Youngs 2001; Crawford 2003a, 2003b; Ethier 2003; Bjorlund 2004) or direct assistance funds (Crawford 2001; Burnell 2004; Knack 2004) to try to push regimes toward greater democratic rule. This article considers the possible effects of moral suasion, a less commonly studied international influence on democratic development. The Nobel Peace Prize can be considered an instrument of moral suasion to the degree that its commemoration of people who have promoted ideals of peace, social justice, and democracy contributes to some practical political change. This article aims to gauge the practical effects of Peace Prize awards by examining two recent cases in which the Prize was awarded to people struggling to transform the dictatorships under which they live into democratic regimes.

The Peace Prize is justly celebrated for promoting the ideals that it does. But we should be willing to ask what practical effects it has had on specific ongoing struggles led by its laureates. The Prize sometimes is awarded to honor a successfully completed struggle, but it more often is awarded to people or organizations engaged in ongoing ones. Most people probably assume that the awarding of the Prize changes the dynamics of such struggles, making peaceful, just, or democratic resolutions more likely. This assumption is likely reinforced by the rhetoric of politicians whose personal beliefs or calculations of self-interest lead them to express hope in the Prize's practical effects. But researchers have made surprisingly little effort to put the assumption to the test.1

Among the ongoing political and social struggles undertaken by Nobel Peace Prize laureates, the only ones considered here are those aimed at transforming the governments of particular countries from dictatorships into democracies. But democratic regimes are complex, as are the processes needed to create them. While it is theoretically possible that the influence of the Prize could be traced clearly through various processes of political and social change to the many components of newly constructed democratic regimes, such tracing is not practically possible given that so little prior work has been done on the subject. A more realistic first step toward evaluating the effect the Prize has on struggles for democratic change is to gauge how much it contributes to political liberalization. When regimes liberalize, they reduce at least some of the constraints they have imposed on their populations, in a process that may or may not ultimately lead to full-fledged democratic rule. …

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