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How is Democratization Supposed to Make America Safer?

I support efforts to spread democracy and liberalization. If done properly, through encouragement of indigenous democratic movements, wise use of soft power, and a principled (read: not transparently self serving) foreign policy, it works to the benefit of everyone except those displaced from the former regimes. Unfortunately, the period of international instability like that following Sept. 11 is probably the worst possible time to undertake an aggressive democratization strategy.

Stable democracies (with the apparent exception of the United States) are much less likely to wage war, much less likely to initiate war, and very rarely wage war against other stable democracies. For much of the nineties, this reality was viewed as a prima facie case for democratization as a pro-peace strategy. Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder pointed out the logical leap inherent in that jump, though: the process of democratization involves a period of destabilization during the transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Regimes become unstable democracies before they become stable democracies. During this transitional stage, regimes are more likely to adopt aggressive foreign policy postures than either their predecessor authoritarin regimes or their eventual stable forms.

It is probably true that a world where more countries were mature, stable democracies would be safer and preferable for the United States. However, countries do not become mature democracies over night. More typically, they go through a rocky transitional period, where democratic control over foreign policy is partial, where mass politics mixes in a volatile way with authoritarian elite politics, and where democratization suffers reversal. In this transitional phase of democratization, countries become more aggressive and war-prone, not less, and they do fight wars with democratic states. [Mansfield and Snyder, Democratization and the Danger of War, International Security 20:1 (Summer 1995) p. 5]
While waging a war against an anti-state ideology like bin Ladenism, the strategic benefit of democratization seems to be seriously in doubt. Yet there has been little debate about the desirability of democratization in the current security environment. Almost all of the disagreement focuses on the Bush administration's sincerity or its competence.


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