25 maart 2006

Democracy, the U.S. and the war against terror (The Flemish Beerdrinker)

Democratic states rarely, if ever, go to war with each other. This statement often is called the “democratic peace”. It’s also often called into question. Yet, there is more than a ring of truth in it. The first observation to make is that since the number of democracies have been on the increase, the number of armed conflicts is declining. Especially since the end of the cold war – an era supposed to be one of great stability – the number of countries engaged in war declined dramatically. All this while the number of states rose as well. Second, not only is it unlikely that democratic states fight each other. Even in their relationships with autocracies do they rarely go to war. In eighty percent of the cases it are the latter ones who instigate an armed conflict. Overwhelmingly democratic states are the victims of war, not the instigators. However, they are more likely to win: in 76% of the cases they are victorious. Third, democratic countries experience less civil war than dictatorships. For example of the 49 low-income countries that had a civil war between 1990 and 2000 only eight were democracies. Finally, autocracies are the main culprit in the worlds refugee crises. Of the 40 countries that have generated refugee crises over the past 20 years, 38 were autocracies engaged in conflict. So when the world has become more peaceful lately it’s thanks to the spread of democracy. It certainly is, I think, one of the more important and hopeful trends of the past years. Will this trend continue? Well, since G.W. Bush came to power America has become known as the country that wants to encourage and even impose democracy all over the world, starting with the Middle-East. It hasn’t always been that way however. For a long time after World War II, and maybe even now (we come back to that), the United States did not support democracy. Instead it supported dictatorships, again especially, but by no means exclusively in the Middle-East. A few years ago G.W. Bush acknowledged this to be a mistake:

Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.

But as Captain Bertorelli in Allo Allo would say: “what a mistaka to maka!”. More than that, U.S. support for autocrats was so vast and extensive that it beggars believe to call it just “a mistake”. Consider. Between 1950 en 2000 the United States gave preference to 104 (!) autocracies with military and economic assistance. That support since 1950 has been substantial and sustained. All the while those autocratic recipients managed to attain a growth rate half that of democratic recipients. And the assistance failed miserably in the quest for regime change: autocratic states receiving aid generally stayed autocratic. So what about now? The U.S. of course is trying to built democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq. It seems to succeed in Afghanistan. For Iraq the picture is less clear. Then again, there is some compelling evidence for the prosecution. Let’s stay in the Middle-East for a few examples:
1. Egypt: highly corrupt, little opportunities for political expression, provider of many recruits for al-Qaeda (in fact the majority of al-qaeda members are thought to be Egyptian). But it’s a top recipient of aid from the U.S.
2. Pakistan: ruled by a self-appointed dictator general Musharraf. Corrupt, spending a quarter of the budget on the military, encouraging the Medrassas where Islamic fundamtalist fighters are trained and indoctrinated.
3. Saudi-Arabia: home of the Whahabi-fundamentalists, oppressor of women, totalitarian regime devoting 40% of the budget to wasteful military projects.

Pakistan is deemed to be a “major non-Nato ally” (the words of Colin Powell). And Al Gore is begging the government and business leaders of Saudi-Arabia not to severe the ties with the U.S. All three countries get military support. And all three get lavish government aid. We get a profound sense of this ambiguity between theory and reality when reading the just released new National Security Strategy of the Bush-administration. In a clear restatement of the neoconservative view it begins this way:

It is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. In the world today, the fundamental character of regimes matters as much as the distribution of power among them. The goal of our statecraft is to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. This is the best way to provide enduring security for the American people.

The NSS further contains a very interesting and convincing analysis of why democracy (freedom) is the best anti-dote for terrorism. But then it talks about support of “friends and allies”, even if they are autocracies. If democracy is should a good antidote (a thesis which gets support from this book, the main source of this post by the way) why not push those regimes harder into democratic reforms. In the case of Egypt, Pakistan en Saudi-Arabia the U.S. is satisfied with some cosmetic reforms and some measures against terrorism to include them into the category “friends and allies” and continue it’s support for those regimes. This does not seem to bode well for democracy and thus for the fight against terrorism. But of course I here you say! The American government does not stand on it’s own. It’s a part of the military-industrial complex. It’s the executive arm of those mighty corporations searching for a quick profit. Indeed, one can find many quotes of business executives saying they are happy to do business with dictatorships as long as it’s good for profits. But is it? Well, it isn’t. And business leaders know it. In fact, foreign direct investment is gravitating towards low-income democracies instead of low-income autocracies. And for all it’s brouhaha companies consider the investment climate better in India than in China. Apparently businessmen do not like paying bribes all the time. And in a democracy there is always the rule of law to protect companies against arbitrary confiscation and other misbehavior of government against property rights. So perhaps it’s time business leaders put their mouths were the money is. Their vocal support for democracy could then perhaps persuade politicians to give their support for real.

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