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CIAO DATE: 02/01

Pax Democratica: The Gospel According To St. Democracy

Mathurin C. Houngnikpo, Ph.D. *

International Studies Association
41th Annual Convention
Los Angeles, CA.
March 14-18, 2000


In an attempt to overcome the Hobbesian, solitary, poor, brutish, nasty, and short life (Hobbes 1950, 104), humankind has always longed for an arrangement of social life capable of promoting peace and understanding among individuals and groups. In an anarchical society characterized by constant fear and insecurity, where no paramount entity can impose and reinforce order, social order, in terms of obedience to rules of conduct in society, is necessary (Bull 1977, 7).

Since time immemorial, humanity has had to grapple with the problem of war and the search for more stable relations between groups of hunters, city-states, empires and nations. After the reign of sheer might (physical force), an "international order" was imposed through imperial conquest. Before the difficulties and shortcomings of imperial peace, a state-based balance-of-power system imposed itself as the surest means of keeping peace and harmony among nations. Unfortunately, competition, diffidence and glory (Hobbes 1950, 103) proved balance-of-power incapable of maintaining eternal peace, resulting in two costly international wars.

Between the wars and especially at the end of World War II, doubt about hegemonic imposition of peace generated the creation of international institutions capable of preventing aggression. Similar in purpose to the Hellenic League of Ancient Greece, the League of Nations in 1929 and the United Nations in 1945 were created in the hope of fulfilling the duties of world police. While the League of Nations failed, mainly because of US "defection," the UN could be credited with a relative success. However, the postwar sweet victory was short lived, and what was viewed at the outset as miscalculations or misperceptions became a vicious disdain between two former allies-the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R. Until recently, what was known as the Cold War erected a strong ideological barrier between two economic systems-capitalism and communism-that both claimed to hold the keys to a prosperous society.

The battle between good and evil manifested in the duel between the two systems seems to have come to an end with the victory of Capitalism. In Fukuyama's words, the late twentieth century has witnessed an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. (1989, 4)

This supposed end of history (Fukuyama 1992), as in other times in history, is seized by many "peace loving" individuals and nations in an attempt once again to plant the seeds of perpetual peace in humankind. The new credo of international order and peace is found in Pax Democratica (Huntley 1998). In the hope of using the end of the Cold War to end all wars, several Western countries led by the United States, embarked on making the world safe through democracy, have deemed the time ripe for the globalization of democratic political institutions (Tangri 1998, 108).

The thaw of the Cold War has indeed given a new momentum to the revival and spread of liberal democracy and its corollary, capitalism. Similar to the missionaries' role in "enlightening" the Third World with civilization through the Bible (Christianity), democracy became the new gospel according to which the "savior" will return (Hadenius and Uggla 1996). Both donor and recipient countries appeal to democracy, hoping that it will reverse several decades of misfortune. By adopting the refrain of democracy as a prerequisite for their help or assistance to Third World countries, both donor nations and multilateral financial institutions seek better control over political and economic systems of the so-called developing nations.

Whether it is because democracies do not fight each other (Kant 1795; Doyle 1983, 1986; Chan 1984; Weede 1984; Rummel 1985, 1995), or because of democracy's alleged contribution to economic development (Lipset 1959; Almond and Verba 1963; Huntington 1991), the fact remains that democracy is viewed as the panacea for Third World countries' problems. However, it is difficult to credit either donor countries or emerging "born-again democratic" national leaders in the developing world with genuine belief or faith in democracy. While some nations and NGOs have had a record of pseudo-altruistic contributions to Third World countries, most of them tend to use foreign aid as another means of pursuing their national interest.

From Western nations' attitude towards the Algerian crisis to the policies imposed on Third World countries by the World Bank and the IMF, as well as Third World leaders' desperate attempts to cling to power, democracy's meaning varies from player to player and unfortunately seems, at least at this point, like another convenient tool used by different players for they own selfish reasons. The message of the new gospel according to democracy seems to depend on the importance and the loyalty of the player, as well as on the stake.

After an overview of the concept of democracy, I will discuss the antic attempt to establish peace and harmony among individuals and groups. The following section will tackle the rationale behind the promotion of democracy. I will then discuss the globalization of democracy and, finally, the timing of the promotion of democracy and the sincerity of different actors, including France and Britain.

Democracy: A Changing Concept

Derived from the Greek words Demos (people) and Kratia (authority), democracy could be equated with "the rule by the people," in contrast with the rule by the few (oligarchy), or the rule by one individual (monarchy or tyranny), or the rule of the gifted (aristocracy) (Cambridge Encyclopedia 1990, 349). However, because by Demos referred to a particular social class, it is more appropriate to translate democracy as the rule of the "many" 1 . Although any political system can claim to further people's interest, and a monarchy is a good example, only a democracy allows the majority to rule, and not just benefit (Monga 1996, 19-20). Designed originally as a type of government in which the people share in directing the activities of the state, democracy has seen its meaning altered or expanded to describe a philosophy that insists on the right and the capacity of a people, acting directly or through representatives, to control their institutions for their own purposes.

Despite the reverence the concept is enjoying today, the reality is that democracy has, since an early stage, been subjected to some controversy. As a matter of fact, the introduction around the 5th century B.C. of Demokratia in several Greek city-states was met with disagreement about the essential elements of democracy. The fact that slaves and women were not allowed to vote in Ancient Greece raised a fundamental question about who "the people" are. It took several centuries of social movements to finally see universal suffrage become effective in the 20th century 2 .

Another bone of contention concerned how the people should rule. The most dramatic change in the theory and practice of democracy occurred during the transition from direct democracy as embodied in the institutions of Periclean Athens, 3 to what is described today as liberal, representative or constitutional democracy. Although modern scholars disagree on how much Athenian direct democracy, instituted by Cleisthenes in the reforms of 508-507 B.C., and modern representative democracy have in common, they do agree that Athenian democratic ideals of freedom of expression, rotation of office, and equality before the law are, or should also be, goals of modern democracies.

Other members of the Western canon have criticized democracy. Plato, who held the democratic regime in Athens responsible for the trial and death of his teacher, Socrates, in 399 B.C., condemned democracy in The Republic (1985), as the rule of license in which all the passions of the soul indiscriminately have their way. In Gorgias, he even went further by claiming that democracy corrupts public speech or rhetoric. Although Aristotle's view of democracy seems somewhat more affirmative than Plato's, he still, in both the Ethics and the Politics, favors polity-a mixture of democracy and oligarchy-as the best practicable regime because polity checks the tendency of the few to exploit the many.

Even Cicero, the Roman statesman, viewed undiluted democracy as a disaster and suggested a theory of mixed regime (with monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic elements) as the best political system. Thomas Aquinas, who believed that democracy is against the natural order, rejected democracy in favor of a limited monarchy. In On Kingship, he eulogized the rule by one: "just as God rules the universe and the queen bee rules the hive, so the monarch must rule the multitude."

In Discourses, Machiavelli treated democracy as an unstable form of government and, in The Prince, expressed contempt for the vulgar majority who are easily taken in by appearances. In the Leviathan, Hobbes clearly favored monarchy as the form of government most likely to produce peace and security. Locke, hailed as the foremost democratic thinker, advocated a civil government rather than mass democracy, because of his concerns about the "tyranny of the many."

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the father of modern democracy, rejected democracy, in the literal sense of government by all or even a majority of the people, as impracticable. In the Social Contract, he stated that "a true democracy has never existed and never will exist because it is unthinkable that the people will remain perpetually assembled to discuss and administer public affairs." While John Stuart Mill, a classic scholar of liberal democracy, was highly suspicious of unqualified majority rule, Edmund Burke, the father of conservatism, referred to undiluted democracy as the most 'shameless' thing in the world. In his Philosophy of Right, Hegel downplays any conception of the people as a collection of atomistic individuals whose opinion should be binding on those who govern.

In his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of the State, Karl Marx contrasted what he called 'true democracy' with the false democracy of bourgeois liberal representative government. As recently as in 1951, the French sociologist, Maurice Duverger, suggested that Abraham Lincoln's famous "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" be rather read as "government for the people by an elite derived from the people" (Duverger 1951).

Besides those mentioned above, a few other scholars and politicians including Madison, Montesquieu, and Kant, harbored grave suspicions about democratic systems. However, despite its shortcomings and weaknesses, a democratic political system seems to be the only system that allows greater freedom of choice and guarantees genuine civic rights to citizens, and its embrace by contemporary powers in the name of a new world order is not surprising. Since the advent of Polis (the city), human beings have been trying to craft some kind of order that humanity can agree to, in order to maintain a peaceful and stable world, in the absence of a supranational authority.

In Search of International Order

Before the creation of government, living conditions in primitive societies were analogized by a "state of nature." Combat and war seemed to satisfy deep-rooted needs of individuals and societies. According to Hobbes, constant conflict stemmed from the nature of humankind. Because human beings were self-seeking, selfish, and greedy, and in the absence of an authority to restrain them, they were only concerned with satisfying their own desires. Under those circumstances, it was unconceivable to bring humankind under any type of order. The stronger simply gets what he or she wants, while the weaker grasps what he or she can. Even the advent of city-states and empires only altered the source of power.

In antiquity, powers such as Greece, Persia, Egypt and Rome sought to impose "their" international order by dominating their neighbors (Huntley 1998, 22). Empire was the first and surest method of crafting an international order. By conquering their neighbors, annexing their lands, and putting down all insurrections, several empires imposed order and peace. For more than four millennia, the Chinese empire controlled several contiguous peoples. The Holy Roman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian and the French empires all used force to bring other entities under their loyalty.

However, order through empire would soon be replaced with peace through a balance of power, an old concept that made a true comeback. The maintenance of a balance of power is the most ancient mechanism for preserving peace. The breakdown of a balance of power was at the root of the Peloponnesian War. According to Thucydides, "what made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta" (1954, 25). The concept, however, became more important with the transition from city-states and empires to modern nation-states.

By codifying the modern nation-state, the Peace of Westphalia (1648) established the principles of state sovereignty and relations between states. With Westphalia, empires and kingdoms lost their strength, allowing states, the new actors of international relations, to conduct foreign policy on a different basis. Given that all states are formally equal in pursuing their "vital interests" in the name of raison d'ètat, it became practically impossible for a single country to impose its will on the rest of the world community.

Almost like an automatic and natural phenomenon, similar to Adam Smith's invisible hand, balance of power became the only recipe for peace. Any nation that seeks to increase its power in order to dominate the system will see other nations bandwagon to match or counter that power. Regardless of whether it was viewed as a prescription, an empirical concept, or propaganda (Haas 1953), balance of power was still perceived, despite its shortcomings, as the best hope for a more peaceful world until World War II.

Kissinger believes, as did Bismarck, Metternich, Richelieu and others, that modern nations are stuck with the balance-of-power system if they wish to maintain a world with no major conflict. At the same time, critics contend that, besides making victory extremely difficult, balance of power can only prevent imperial wars of conquest (Maurseth 1964, 131-132). It has proven its incapacity to halt wars of rivalry among relative equals, from the Peloponnesian War, the Punic wars, the Thirty Years War, and the Napoleonic Wars, to both World Wars. Against all the hopes in the balance-of-power system, World War II occurred, demonstrating that a different mechanism to create and maintain peace was required: international institutions will become the next pedestal of international order and peace.

Although global international organizations are twentieth-century phenomena, the idea of an international or regional institution to keep peace can be traced back to the early years of recorded history. In the city-state system of ancient Greece, concepts such as alliances, negotiations, dependencies, threats and bribes were well known to Greeks. They were aware of the intricacies of international bargaining. As a matter of fact, the first model of a universal general-purpose international organization was created in ancient Greece, in the birth of the "Amphictonic League." Initially a religious organization of twelve neighboring tribes, the League was established for the purpose of safeguarding the temple of Delphi.

However, the functions of the League widened gradually to include the protection of its members from aggressive acts, from both within and outside the League. Those found guilty of acts of aggression were to be confronted collectively and with all available means by the remaining tribes (Smith 1854). Global organizational patterns were also exhibited by the Persian, Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Ottoman, and British empires. Unfortunately, the creation of various international or regional institutions did not always maintain peace. Whether for gain, safety or reputation, leaders did not hesitate to use violence to reach their goals. Consequently, no political arrangement was able to prevent World War I.

At the end of that conflict, world leaders sought to prevent future wars by establishing, in 1920, the "League of Nations." But very soon, different national agendas and strategies, especially the U.S. refusal to join, rendered the League ineffective. With unabashed competition hovering between the desire to curb the incidence of war and the need to promote and defend one's interests, rivalries led to World War II. At the end of this second conflict, the desire by human genius to devise a better and stronger international institution led to the creation of the United Nations in 1945.

With all the majors powers involved this time, the U.N. did manage to prevent "hot" general wars. However, several proxy wars have occurred since 1945. The U.N. was also powerless before the Cold War, an active campaign of checks and balances between the U.S. and the Former Soviet Union. Despite the absence of a direct confrontation between the two superpowers, several wars in the Third World prevented a genuine world peace. The "long postwar peace" (Kegley, Jr. 1991) largely credited to the U.N., renewed the sense that an international institution can, indeed, provide a shield against war. Besides the potentially positive role of a universally recognized institution, there is a growing temptation on the part of Western powers to promote democracy as the ideal form of government that can best guarantee peace.

Democracy as a Development Engine

Although the concrete meaning of democracy has varied considerably, even within the confines of scholarly debate, there seems to be a consensus among Northern powers that democracy is essential to progress on a wide range of issues. This rekindled the traditional attempt by the North to impose its will on the South. It is now clear that the waning of the Cold War has not ended pressures on the South. Rather, the North's desire for alliance has been replaced by a more discreet insistence on the part of the international financial institutions and Western bilateral donors that Third World countries improve their "governance" mechanisms (Hawthorn 1996, 23).

However, the recent renewal of interest in democracy has failed to address questions such as whether democracy must be conceived as liberal democracy, whether democracy can only be applied to "governmental affairs" (and not to the economic, social and cultural realms as well), and whether the most appropriate locus for democracy is the nation (Held 1995, v). Although democracy seems to have scored an historic victory over alternative forms of government (Held 1995, 3), it still remains an essentially contested concept (Gallie 1956).

In a survey of the literature on democratic transition, Huntington (1991, 38) identifies six general propositions regarding democracy and its causes:

  1. No single factor is sufficient to explain the development in all countries or in a single country.
  2. No single factor is necessary to the development of democracy in all countries.
  3. Democratization in each country is the result of a combination of causes.
  4. The combination of causes producing democracy varies from country to country.
  5. The combination of causes generally responsible for one wave of democratization differs from that responsible for other waves.
  6. The causes responsible for the initial regime changes in a democratization wave are likely to differ from those responsible for later regime changes in that wave.

According to early propositions of democratic theory, a viable democracy was seen as a product of higher levels of modernization, illustrated by its wealth, a bourgeois class structure, tolerant class values, and economic independence from external actors (Lipset 1959; Almond and Verba 1963; Moore 1966; Rustow 1970; Dahl 1971; O'Donnell 1979). However, since the third wave of democratization, the scholarship of necessary preconditions for democracy made way for the dynamics of democratic transition (Bermeo 1990; Buijtenhuijs and Rijnierse 1993; Buijtenhuijs and Thiriot 1995).

Several scholars have tried to understand how, without fulfilling all the prerequisites, some countries in the Third World were able to democratize or at least open up their political systems (Charlton 1983; Berton 1992; Conac 1993; Callaghy 1994; Chabal 1998). Like democracy itself, democratization means different things to different people. Many writers have spent their scholarly lifetimes teasing out the subtleties and nuances associated with conception of democracy (Schumpeter, Dahl, Przeworski, Lipset, Huntington, etc.). Yet, the concept remains elusive, still highly contested in analytical and ideological discourse (Wiseman 1996, 8).

According to Schumpeter,

Democracy does not mean and cannot mean that people actually rule in any obvious sense of the terms "the people" and "rule." Rather, it comprises institutions and procedures that ensure plural centres of power and competition for office between contending political èlites. It is more a technique of government than an ideal to be pursued over the long term; more about government for than of the people (1942, 284).

Besides the complexity of the concept of democracy, raised by Schumpeter, it is also important to mention at the outset that not all systems that accept political participation are necessarily democracies (Daloz and Quantin 1997).

In Catt's view:

Democracy is not valued in itself but because it provides other desirable ends. Central to the arguments for democracy and its gradual acceptance are the basic ideas of equality and individual liberty and what these concepts entail. However, both of these central ideas can be interpreted in a variety of ways and the exact nuances that are stressed affect the type of democracy that is seen as justifiable. Another problem is that individual liberty can be restricted by the implementation of equality and can also hinder equality. The ways in which tensions between the key ideas of equality and liberty are dealt with are at the centre of arguments for different types of democratic procedures (1999, 7).

The concept of democracy has two variants: a maximalist definition and a minimalist or procedural version. In its maximalist form, democracy is supposed to be the vector to solve all the problems a society is facing (Muller 1988; McFerson 1992; Good 1997). This concept equates democracy with economic development. The original statistical research in the 1960s on the correlates of democracy was partly inspired by, and also contributed to, a prerequisite for socio-economic development, labeled "modernization theory," which expected societal "goodies" to go together: increased incomes, more modern and positive social values, enterprise, socio-economic diversity, income equality and democracy (Moore 1966, 60). In its maximalist expression, democracy is associated with "welfarist" public policies and relatively good performance on the components of human development indices. Several scholars who argue for the dualism of economic stability and democratic sustainment maintain that "Africa has no chance of attaining meaningful economic growth and development unless it first moves squarely into modalities of governance that include political accountability, participatory politics and free market economy (quoted in Udogu 1996, 9). Ake (1990, 2) concurs with this view when he asserts that "the problem of persistence of underdevelopment is related to lack of democracy in Africa...democracy is not just a consummatory value but also an instrumentalist one."

A simpler form counters this approach, contesting socioeconomic advances as defining criteria intrinsic to democracy. According to minimalist proponents, (Schumpeter 1942; Dahl 1971; Di Palma 1990; Huntington 1991; Przeworski 1991), democracy is simply a method that allows the majority to have a say in the political decision-making process. According to Schumpeter's "another theory of democracy," "the democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people's vote" (1942, 269).

According to its critics (Held 1987; Dahl 1989) however, constitutional democracy does not in itself guarantee development, nor does it meet the demands of democracy itself. It excludes many interests, and puts unacceptable and unnecessary limits on the possibilities of politics itself. Democratic government does not even have to be necessarily 'good,' since "governments produced by elections may be inefficient, corrupt, shortsighted, irresponsible, dominated by special interests, and incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public good. These qualities may make such governments undesirable but they do not make them undemocratic" (Huntington 1991, 10). Through institutional arrangements for arriving at political decisions, individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the majority's vote. In a way, minimalist democracy simply gives the citizenry the opportunity to "kick the rascals out" (Wiseman 1996, 8).

The current literature on democratization deals with how to reach a political system that grants civic and political rights to citizens. Scholars generally agree that the route to democracy is normally a gradual, staged process rather than an abrupt and dramatic one (Keller 1995, 224). However, there is no commonly agreed on number of stages to the process. Schmitter and O'Donnell (1989, 6) suggest two broad phases leading to democratic outcomes: liberalization and democratization.

While liberalization encompasses the more modest goal of merely loosening restrictions and expanding individual and group rights within an authoritarian or totalitarian regime, democratization goes beyond expanded civil and political rights (Shin 1994, 142). Unless a distinction between liberalization and democratization is made, any move towards a less closed political system might be confused with a democratization process. Liberalization is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for democracy. As a first step towards a government by the majority, democratization requires that political leaders be elected through regularly held free elections (Maclean 1994; Stromberg 1996, 3-15). Because of the importance of, and the expectations in that first step, the North is counting on the wave of globalization to instill democratization in the South.

Globalization of Democracy

For much of this century the study of International Relations has been dominated by the Realist tradition, which is more concerned with how the global states system conditions the behavior of individual actors/states (Morgenthau 1948; Waltz 1979). At its simplest, the realist stance views the state as a vehicle for securing national and international order through the exercise of national power. Within realist thinking, the state is almost taken for granted, with its goals assumed and little or no internal differentiation among its elements. Yet, there is a new phenomenon in international politics embraced by both academics and practitioners: democratization. Although an internal attribute of states, democracy or the political system of states has gained a considerable amount of importance in world politics, even if it means different thing to different actors.

Throughout history, the North has always yearned to control the South. The central concern of the North has always been, and seems to remain, its own economic, political, strategic or even ideological interests (Hippler 1995, 6). Export markets, access to raw materials, the elimination of competitors, military bases, the settlement of its own 'surplus' population, the security of sea routes, and other similar factors have long been the determinants of Northern policy towards the South. Selfish interests justified colonialism and imperialism, through the pretended spread of civilization from the North to the South. Although the whole enterprise was undertaken on a highly moral ground, the truth remains that European colonialism was more about grabbing lands than improving the welfare of the populations of the South. While Europeans could have strengthened any democratic culture they found in place, they chose rather to destroy any democratic ingredient in African political culture.

Currently, there is growing support for democracy, particularly for "free and fair elections," facilitated by a new set of conditions imposed by the international financial institutions. The global wave of democratization made several countries switch from authoritarian to democratic forms of government. Inter-Governmental Organizations (IGOs) are getting a great deal of support from Western countries in their newly-discovered commitment to democracy. National politics, namely the strengthening of civil society and social movements, facilitates regime changes in the South (Lucero 2000). Changes in the global normative climate have also contributed significantly to the growing involvement of IGOs and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in efforts towards the promotion of democracy (Chand 1997, 545).

The shift from evident support for authoritarian regimes to the promotion of democracy in the South has major implications for international politics and the restructuring of the global order. While the new attitude appears to usher a new era in international relations, a brief survey of the North's recent foreign policies tells a different story. The North has maintained a formal commitment to promoting democracy and human rights as an important tenet of its foreign policy goals. The victorious Allies initiated a wave of democratization in Europe after World War I. The defeat of the Axis powers during the second world conflagration was also followed by "democracy by the bayonets" (Peceny 1999, 1). In the 1960s, de-colonization triggered a great deal of hope for democratization. In the throes of the Cold War, "democracy promotion" fell well within the realm of the competition between capitalism and communism, and President Truman's program of assistance for Greece and Turkey in 1947 is a good example of an appropriate response to the communist challenge (Packenham 1973, 25-49). During his short term in office, President Kennedy gave concrete expression to this policy through the Alliance for Progress in Latin America (Furlong 1980). Attempts were also made in the 1970s and 1980s to lend U.S. support to "democratic" regimes all over the world.

Other European countries embarked on the same path, devoting most of their foreign aid packages to "democratic" countries in the Third World. However, the democratic commitment gradually waned as the Cold War intensified. Fear of the spread of communism made most Western powers oblivious to the abuses and incompetence of many non-democratic governments in the developing world. Whatever was left in the "democratic creed" simply vanished, and aid and support became conditioned on loyalty. Even odious regimes were still labeled "friendly" as long as they were consistent in their support of Western countries' policies and goals. Speaking about loyal recipients of foreign aid, one U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was even alleged to have said of certain foreign leaders that "they may be sons of bitches but at least they are our sons of bitches" (Leftwich 1996, 11; Time, 15 November 1948, 43).

The commitment to democracy and improving human rights has always been provisional, and apparently always secondary to considerations of regional or global security and economic interests. So far, there is very little evidence that the renewed push for democracy is going to be any different this time. Obviously the thaw of the Cold War will lend some credit to the promotion of democracy. However, a closer look at the interplay between national and international politics belies a genuine intention of supporting democracy for democracy's sake. As much as a new world has emerged at the "end of history," the rules of the game continue to be mostly the same. In this "new world order" still in the making, old habits still persist. Although both the U.S. government and Congress have made spreading democracy one of the main pillars of US foreign policy, the rationale behind such a policy still remains unwrapped.

At the dawn of the post-Cold War era, Secretary of State James Baker announced the noble goal of democratization as the logical follow-up to the end of the Cold War, when he said:

Our idea is to replace the dangerous period of the Cold War with a democratic peace - a peace built on the twin pillars of political and economic freedom...Shared democratic values can ensure an enduring and stable peace in a way the balance of terror never could...we plan to build a democratic peace by pursuing a straight forward policy of American leadership called "collective engagement." (Quoted in Mirsky 1993, 567)
Echoing Baker's views, President Clinton also states clearly the correlation between democracy or its promotion and American interests when he contends that:
A pro-democracy foreign policy is neither liberal nor conservative, neither Democrat nor Republican. It is a deep American tradition. And this is so for good reason, for no foreign policy can long succeed if it does not reflect the enduring values of the American people. We do not stand behind the cause of democracy simply because of the goodness of our hearts. The fact is that democracy abroad also protects our own concrete economic and security interests here at home. The democratic countries do not go to war with one another, they don't sponsor terrorism or threaten each other with weapons of mass destruction. Precisely because they are more likely to respect civil liberties, property rights and the rule of the law within their own borders, democracies provide the best foundation on which to build international order. Democracies make more reliable partners in diplomacy and trade, in protecting the global environment. (Quoted in Mirsky 1993, 575)

The underlying persistence of the North's inclinations to engage in democracy promotion in the South is more based on economic and political rationales than on true devotion to democracy as the only viable political system. Despite efforts by Northern nations to conceal ulterior motives, their deeds (or lack thereof) often belie their intentions. Alluding to the U.S. "mission" of democracy promotion, Carol Lancaster argued that:

It is not just the end of the Cold War and the re-emergence of values as an influence in US aid policies that has given rise to the current emphasis in Washington on promoting democracy abroad. It is also a practical response to a variety of domestic political imperatives. The most urgent imperative is finding a rationale for a $15 billion a year foreign aid programme. (1993, 13)

If there is any region where political imperatives have clearly dictated U.S. behavior, it is in South America. U.S. policy toward Latin America evolved throughout three decades of Big-Stick Diplomacy and the Good Neighbor Policy under Roosevelt and Truman, through Cold War interventionism from Eisenhower to Ford, to Carter's human rights program, then the Reagan Doctrine (Zarate 1994, 38), and the Bush/Clinton "drug war." All of these different policies have been clearly guided by Washington's desire to maintain stability and control in the region (Booth and Walker 1989, 106). The U.S. continues to protect its interests in Latin America, via democratization, and Zarate is right in saying that "democratization and regime formation in Central America is a direct result of Washington's influence and sheer power at specific periods in the countries' histories. Individuals are able to act, but they are constrained by the corral of U.S. hegemony" (1994, 28). The U.S. supported the removal of several political leaders, democratically elected, because they did not fit the profile of the "ideal" Latin American leader according to the Monroe Doctrine. While Allende's case in Chile is an obvious example, other scenarios in Latin America demonstrate that U.S. choice between democracy and its national interest is unambiguous.

Proponents of globalization have observed, with obvious satisfaction, that there is an increasing consensus across and within states that democracy is the adequate standard upon which to judge the political legitimacy of states. Although upholding such a moral appropriateness of democratic legitimacy raises problems due to the lack of consensus on the definition of democracy, several Western countries and international financial institutions stick to their new gospel. Unfortunately, the words hardly match the actions or deeds, and when put to the test in Africa, France and Britain follow the example of the U.S. in Latin America by opting for a position consistent with their foreign policy goals, rather than supporting democracy for its own sake.

Promotion of Democracy: Why Now?

After several decades of firm control over African politics, European powers discovered that only "good governance" and "democracy" can help the beleaguered African countries get out of their misery (Hyden and Mukandala 1999, 14-15). With the focus on characteristic virtues of democratic governance-transparency, responsiveness, accountability, official propriety and tolerance (Luckham and White 1996, 3), democratization appeared as an important item on the agendas of Western nations. Donor approaches fall into two broad categories: those which use aid as a lever for pressuring governments to opt for reform, and policies founded on positive measures. The first generally takes the form of political conditionality, where donors suspend, reduce or terminate development assistance pending improved performance on a range of participatory development and good governance (PDGG) indicators. The second hinges on a more supportive approach in which aid donors seek to strengthen an ongoing reform process through carefully selected projects and programs. However, while the end of the Cold War permits the new tune of "democratization" to be sung (Baynham 1991a) and a new aid policy, the sincerity of Western nations' intention to see democracy take hold in Africa has been called into question because of particular interests (Conteh-Morgan 1997, 26; Whitehead 1996, 270-271).

And indeed, France's attitude vis-à-vis the political situation in Algeria, and its position in the democratization process in both Benin and Togo, suggest a gap between the theory and practice of democratization in Africa (Allison 1994; Marchal 1998). Since President de Gaulle at least, France acted as a provider of legitimacy to its former colonies, and both incumbents and their opponents in Francophone Africa factor this variable into their political calculus, and most take their cues from Paris (Messone and Gros 1998, 142).

There is no doubt that the international community seems to be rejoicing at Africa's emerging democracies, in the hope that Democracy's new dawn on the continent could help change the course of Africa's recent history. The change from a bipolar to a multipolar international system opened the way for introducing issues such as human rights and democracy into international aid rhetoric (Conteh-Morgan 1997, 161). However, there is hardly any coherence with foreign aid policy. While some view the lack of coherence over objectives, approaches and delivery mechanisms as a source of poor implementation (Robinson 1999, 425), the fact remains that policy incoherence could also be deliberate because of the stake or goal set up by donor countries.

Both bilateral and multilateral actions were geared towards democratization. The promotion of democracy and observance of human rights became so important that even the European Union tied its aid to democratization in Africa. In 1993, Hans Smida, the head of the Directorate General VIII in the European Commission, with the responsibility for development aid to Africa, emphasized that:

The Community's support for the democratisation processes in Africa is a practical illustration of its determination to make the promotion of human rights and democracy one of the linchpins of its development (quoted in Olsen 1998, 345).

In the academic debate following the proclamation of the new political agenda of aid conditionalities, a number of motives were stressed to explain the raison d''tre of these new conditionalities. It was argued that one of the important reasons for introducing democracy and human rights as conditions for aid was to ensure a continued minimum of popular support for aid at home (donor's country), since development assistance had lost most of its political rationale with the thawing of the Cold War (Lancaster 1993; Conteh-Morgan 1997). Another motive was allegedly to establish a set of politically acceptable arguments for cutting aid now that aid no longer serves its former political and security purposes (Olsen 1998, 346). But it could also simply be that the euphoria following the fall of the Berlin Wall led to a somewhat arrogant belief that Western political values were the "best" (Fukuyama 1992) and as such could be exported anywhere.

Another parallel debate in the literature on foreign aid has to do with the motivations behind aid policies. For several years, one prominent trend in this debate has used a two-model explanation of the motives of bilateral donors: the "recipient needs" and the "donor interest" (McKinlay and White 1978; McKinlay and Little 1979). According to the second model, donors are motivated by economic interests such as trade and investment interests, security interests, political interests including stability and possibly interests in furthering democracy (Tordoff 1997, 136-137). On the other hand, the "recipient needs" are most often related to the economic and social development of poor countries measured by the level of real income, or alternatively measured by the growth rate per capita GDP in real terms or the ratio of current account deficit of the balance of payments to GDP and population size (Chalker 1994).

Although there are only a few studies on aid motives of the European Community, Bowles (1989, 31) for one, concluded that donor interests have been far more important than recipients' needs. It has also been demonstrated that countries' behavior within the Community was different. The influence of the member-states is not equally distributed, and France is by far the most influential member within the development aid system of European Union (Chipman 1989). This observation is confirmed by another study, which emphasizes the difference between the European countries as far as aid motivations are concerned. The authors concluded that French aid is almost exclusively donor-interest driven, whereas Dutch aid was almost totally determined by recipient country needs (Grilli and Riess 1992).

France's position as the most influential member of the European Union should be of little surprise, given its open and stated desire to dominate both Europe and Africa. It is obvious that France is forced to go along with the Union most of the time in order to avoid being seen as a dissenter (Gardinier 1997, 20). However, the reality is that the Union's agenda cannot supersede France's, and democratization is a good illustration. Despite the "positive" attributes of democracy, France is not ready to sacrifice her interests on the altar of democratization, and Algeria and Togo demonstrate the shortcomings of France's policy (Schraeder 1997; Clark and Gardinier 1997).

The 1992 events in Algeria exposed not only the lack of sincerity in Western nations' rhetoric of democratization but also France's obstinacy in seeing democratization move at her chosen speed. In the new mood of political reforms, Algeria embarked on a democratization path. Given the recent past of the country, Algerians saw in the new move a chance to turn things around. They went to the polls and voted for a new regime (Alam 1986; Riley 1992, 539).

Unfortunately, their choice came as quite a shock to both Algerian and French authorities. The first round of parliamentary elections gave a clear majority to the "Islamic Fundamentalists," and that was unacceptable to both Algeria and France (Riley 1992, 540). Consequently, and with no apparent alternative, the second round was called off, and since that time an open war has been going on between the government and the "Fundamentalists" (Stromberg 1996, 141). The strong belief in democracy simply vanished when it became apparent that the government might take an "Islamic" turn, the issue of "security" overtook democracy, and the unthinkable occurred (Conac 1993).

Referring to the misguided fundamentalist or extremist concern in the West, Falk shed some light on why countries such as Algeria are turning towards the "wrong" way:

In North Africa...grassroots support for Islamic orientation toward politics arose out of disenchantment with secular government, its corruption and indifference to the plight of the poor. Islamic groups often delivered social services in local communities of the poor, thereby winning support of many people and fulfilling, to some extent, the mandate to promote social and economic rights, especially the provision of the basic necessities of life. We [the West] cannot grasp the success of fundamentalist political if we do not also appreciate the failures of secular politics (1995, 105).

Although there were recent-albeit controversial-presidential elections that saw Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika become the new President of Algeria, nothing guarantees security in the country, and the defiance of the "Fundamentalists" is not a good omen. If the goal was to ensure security at the expense of democracy, France might have miscalculated her moves, since there seems to be neither security nor genuine democracy in Algeria, paralleling the situation of Togo (Conteh-Morgan 1997). While African leaders were forced to open up the political systems of their countries, loyal "clients" of France, such as ...yadèma of Togo, managed to remain in power with France's assistance, despite popular uproar.

The tide of democratization reached Africa's shores in the 1990s and Togo was not spared. France seemed to have required all African countries to reform their political systems, if they were to continue maintaining good relations with their former colonial power. Consequently, Benin had to democratize and did so under pressure from France. However, the special relationship between France and Togo clearly put Togo on a different pedestal. As a member of the French pré-carré (closed circle) in Africa, France was willing to and did sacrifice democracy (Andereggen 1994, 137-138). Regardless of how much rhetoric goes on within the international community, powerful nations continue to be guided by their national interests (Schraeder 1996, 146).

There was a great deal of expectation that the country which had such an important revolution as occurred in 1789 should take advantage of the wind of change blowing on the continent to help finally bring about a new era in Africa. That belief was so strong that France's declaration at La Baule was interpreted as a genuine intent to contribute to the restoration of democracy on the continent (Clark 1997, 34). But, unfortunately, a year later at Biarritz, African leaders had to face a reality check, when France brought a very important nuance to her position.

Having linked any further aid to democratization a year earlier, France later recommended that African countries follow their own pace of democratization. In other words, the first injunction to reform was replaced with a tremendous amount of flexibility, creating a great deal of confusion to this date. France's efforts at keeping other members of its pré carré such as Gabon and Côte d'Ivoire under its control, by dictating the nature and the speed of their political reforms, are also noticeable.

In an effort to seek a coordination of policies among donor countries, Britain also embarked on the "cosmopolitan democratic governance" path (Nash 2000, 252), adopting a new policy of linking foreign aid to "good governance." According to the Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd:

While countries tending towards pluralism, public accountability, respect for the rule of law, human rights and market principles should be encouraged, those which persisted with repressive policies, corrupt management, or with wasteful and discredited economic systems should not expect aid donors to support their folly with scarce aid resources which could be used better elsewhere. (quoted in Legum 1998, A62)
Making the promotion of "good governance" a cardinal principle of its foreign aid policy, Britain threatened to withhold aid from governments, which abuse human rights, or are corrupt and undemocratic. However, right from start, it appeared that British national interests and goals would prevail over democratization. Pressure to democratize varied depending on the country and the quality of its relations with Britain.

While Britain demanded that the corrupt military regime of Nigeria and the left-leaning government of Zambia get on the "democratization wagon," Kenya was rather urged or recommended to adopt a multiparty political system, and Life-President Kamuzu Banda of Malawi was advised to abandon his autocratic rule. These inconsistencies became even more apparent in other cases. Despite his insistence on an original "no-party" democratic system, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni continued to receive substantial aid. Even the overthrow of a long-standing multiparty system in the Gambia only called for a trimming of British foreign aid (Legum 1998).

Like France and other Western countries, Britain simply realized that it is inconvenient to tread on the toes of governments that she does not wish to offend or antagonize. Although the official rhetoric seems to suggest an attempt to improve conditions in Third World countries, by striking some sort of balance between individual rights and the responsibilities of the state, the reality is baffling at best. This policy of double standards instills doubt in the sincerity of Western countries that pretend to want to combat poverty, and to promote economic growth and social progress through their aid-for-democracy rhetoric. Some of the declarations seem to convey a rather different if contradictory message, and that of the British Minister of Overseas Development, Linda Chalker is a good example:

[Good governance] is not neo-colonialist or neo-imperialist. [It] cannot be imposed on developing countries; but their effort can be sustained and helped effectively only through a just and democratic system of good governance, in a world interests are served by a healthy global economy and open trading environment (emphasis is mine) - themselves the result of good governance in the developed world.
Such a statement reflects the underlining attitude of Western countries' endeavor towards democratic renewal in the Third World. What matters is not really democracy and its potential virtues, but a clear attempt to make the developing world politically more stable, economically more secure and safer for financial investment. At least, that is what seems to emerge from a scrutiny of Western countries' foreign aid-for-democracy policies.


The Northern or Western countries and international financial institutions would want the world and specifically the South or developing countries to believe in their efforts to make the world "safer for democracy." However, the whole enterprise is suffering from a few shortcomings. Great-power rivalries or ideological conflicts continue to generate disunity within the ranks because of security considerations or fear of uncertainty. In some instances, undemocratic regimes can, and sometimes "must," be maintained as long as they remain loyal to the West. International efforts at democratization can also be inhibited by the concern that change might produce uncontrollable consequences (Whitehead 1996, 268).

Through either the contagion approach or great-power 'control,' democratization, like globalization, seems to be on the move. However, what it really means, and why some Western countries are adamant about its progress raise some concerns. In a striking resemblance of the dawn of colonization, when "civilization" was used as a powerful method to subdue African peoples, democratization seems to be a new "old" tool to achieve specific national interests. In fact, a statement of a former national security adviser to President Clinton, Anthony Lake, is unambiguous:

To the extent that democracy and market economics hold sway in other nations, our nation will be more secure, prosperous and influential while the broader world will be more humane and peaceful...[D]emocracies tend not to wage war on each other or sponsor terrorism. They are more trustworthy in diplomacy and do a better job of respecting the human rights of their people...[Therefore,] the successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement - enlargement of the world's free community of market democracies. (1993, 660)

While a few nations in the North and some NGOs are clearly trying to give a renewed sense of hope to peoples in the South, most Western powers are simply lip-singing the "democratization" tune, because their peculiar goals do not allow them to articulate the words. Until there is a consistency in the North's attitude towards democratization, and similar standards are used to judge the performance of developing countries, a huge cloud of doubt will hang over Western countries' efforts at promoting democracy.



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*: Department of International Studies
Miami University
Oxford, Ohio 45056
E-mail: Back.

Note 1: This meaning of democracy is posited by Professor Jack Donnelly in a lecture on Democracy and Democratization, at the Graduate School of International Studies, University of Denver, 1995. Back.

Note 2: The French Revolution of 1789 and the revolutions of 1848 allowed democracy to become a universal goal. Back.

Note 3: Athenian democracy reached its climax under Pericles (circa 495 - 429 B.C.). Back.