After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy

By Eland, Ivan | Freeman, November 2008 | Go to article overview

After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy


Eland, Ivan, Freeman


After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy by Christopher J. Coyne Stanford Economics and Finance * 2007 * 248 pages $65.00 hardcover; $24.95 paperback

Reviewed by Ivan Eland

In important new book, After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy, Christopher Coyne, an economics professor at West Virginia University, cogently argues that since the late 1800s, American attempts to export democracy at gunpoint have been mostly unsuccessful. He convincingly demonstrates all military options to be flawed and advocates a noninterventionist, free-trade approach.

Coyne analyzed 25 U.S. occupations and concluded that ten years after American forces departed, only seven of the countries had achieved stable liberal polities (with results in four countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan, too early to assess). Thus the success rate of "nation-building" is only 28 percent.

Coyne's results closely agree with a study done in 2003 by Minxin Pei and Sara Kaspar for the Carnegie Endowment of Peace. Their study found that only four of 15 episodes of U.S. nation-building resulted in democracies lasting ten years or more (with the results from the two current episodes of Iraq and Afghanistan still out). That is a similarly abysmal 27 percent.

The author is vague about how he selected the episodes to put on his list of armed democracybuilding adventures. As an economist working on a noneconomic issue, he naively seems to have taken the rhetoric of U.S. administrations at face value. However, a seasoned international-relations expert might have realized that despite the perpetual hype on installing democracy, some of these U.S. interventions - in fact, many of them - were not primarily done to bring democracy to the particular country. In reality, since the beginning of the last century, the United States, when overthrowing foreign governments, has often preferred friendly governments to democratic ones. The United States has even overthrown democratic governments and installed dictators - for example, in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Chile in 1973.

Coyne seems to accept that the Clinton administration's motivation for occupying Haiti in 1994 and for intervening in the former Yugoslavia in 1996 (Bosnia) and in 1999 (Kosovo) was merely to install democracies. In actuality, Haitian refugees washing up in the key electoral state of Florida and giving the NATO alliance a new mission to justify keeping U.S. forces in Europe after the Cold War, respectively, may have been the primary reasons for those military actions. Similarly, Coyne also seems to buy the Bush administration's "democratization" rationale on Afghanistan and Iraq. These realities do not affect Coyne's principal effort to show that attempts at armed democracy-building usually fail whether or not installing democracy is mere rhetoric or the real purpose of the military interventions. …

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