The Sources of Russian Foreign Policy after the Cold War

By Celeste A. Wallander | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Democratization, War, and Nationalism In the Post-Communist States

Jack Snyder

In the past few years, a virtual army of political scientists has been examining the relationship between democracy and war. In his State of the Union address, Bill Clinton invoked their most notable finding, that no two democracies have ever fought each other in war, to justify a foreign policy dedicated to promoting the spread of democracy. Commentators such as Francis Fukuyama, capturing the heady mood during the collapse of the Soviet empire, speculated that the new wave of democratization would bring with it a history-ending reign of liberal peace.1

Alas, the recent evidence on this hypothesis is mixed at best. The protagonists in two of the main post-Communist wars--Croats and Serbs, Armenians and Azeris--have held competitive elections. By some reasonable definitions, most of these states could be called democratizing.2 In party-list voting, a quarter of the Russian electorate voted for Vladimir Zhirinovsky's militant nationalist party, which routinely threatens intervention in the affairs of Russia's democratic and nondemocratic neighbors. Boris Yeltsin's democratically elected, avowedly liberal government used military aid to promote the overthrow of President Abulfez Elchibey's democratically elected regime in Azerbaijan.3 Elected parliaments in Estonia and Latvia stubbornly insist on restrictive citizenship laws that risk conflict with Russian nationalists and democrats. Democratic Hungary and democratizing Romania, however, have avoided a conflict over Transylvania that many considered inevitable.

To be fair, this dubious track record would not have been surprising to careful scholars researching the history of democracy and war. Their works have routinely excepted new or partial democracies from the hypothesis that democracies never fight each other. Wars have indeed occurred between elected regimes when, for at least one of the parties, suffrage was highly restricted (the War of 1812), elected representatives lacked direct control over foreign and defense ministries ( Germany in 1914), electoral outcomes were choreographed behind the scenes (Spanish-American War), or the elected regime was less than a year or two old or was dominated by a nearly autocratic chief executive ( France and the Roman Republic; Ecuador and Colombia in 1863).4 The British and the Dutch fought re-

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