by Sylvain Comeau
While taking the first difficult, painful steps toward democracy, do states
become more volatile and dangerous? According to Edward Mansfield, the
transition toward democracy can actually raise the odds of war.
When states get stalled in the middle of this transition, they are
more likely to get involved in war or initiate war, the University
of Pennsylvania political scientist told a Concordia audience last week.
Many observers expect that democratization will promote peace, prosperity,
and respect for civil liberties. While stable democracies may foster these
worthy ends, transitions to democracy can be treacherous processes.
Mansfield and his colleagues computed in a study that there is an 11-per-cent
chance that states in these circumstances will get embroiled in a war.
So one out of nine times, these conditions lead to war. That may
seem low, but in fact, its an awfully high batting average, because,
thankfully, wars are a rare occurrence.
Unstable political coalitions
The instability of a state in transition is the key, coupled with a lack
of centralized authority and of democratic institutions, like a free press,
to ease the transition. Under those conditions, war is more likely than
in an autocratic state.
New political groups are thrust onto the domestic stage, and yield
unstable political coalitions in the face of weakened central authority.
Nationalist appeals are the lowest common denominator used to cobble together
ruling coalitions, Mansfield said.
These nationalist appeals can unleash forces which are difficult
to control. Wars may be launched by elites who have military or imperial
interests, or by countries that view those appeals as provocative, and
launch pre-emptive wars.
They may also be vulnerable to attacks from predatory neighbors who perceive
them as weak. Countries that undergo regime transitions suddenly
look like more attractive targets to a neighbour with long standing grievances
He cited the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 as a prime example. Turkey
at the time was ruled by a fragmented, improbable coalition. Virtually
the only points that this coalition of opposites held in common were a
firmly nationalist stance on Cyprus, and a desire to stand up to the U.S.
on this issue.
Mansfield says that his study carries some lessons, and cautions for the
comfortably democratized Western world.
For a long time, people have assumed that as long as you start pushing
countries toward democracy and give some advice about how to accomplish
it, at the end of the day you end up with a country that would look more
or less like the U.S. That has not worked, mainly because we have not
helped them set up the pre-conditions leading to a stable democracy.
It just doesnt do any good to say that were going to
democratize you, and then applaud from the sidelines while you do all
the work. What you get are messes, and messes can be dangerous.
He says that his study offers some guidelines on how we can help emerging
nations move toward democracy, while bypassing the danger zone he identified.
Policies to foster democratic transitions should be accompanied
by efforts to mold strong, centralized institutions that can withstand
the intense demands on the state and political elites posed by high-energy
Before pressuring autocrats to hold fully competitive elections,
the international community should first promote the building of strong
party organizations, the formation of impartial courts and electoral commissions,
the professionalization of independent journalists, and the training of
competent bureaucrats, Mansfield said.
If mass politics arrives before the institutions needed to regulate
it, hollow or failed democracy is likely to result.
Asked whether his work has any bearing on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
in the U.S., Mansfield said that the conditions he discusses may also
increase the likelihood of asymetrical warfare.
Countries in transition toward democracy may be more likely to engage
in terrorism, since they are breeding grounds for strong nationalistic
Edward Mansfields lecture was part of the Department of Political
Sciences Seminar Series.