Response to "Promoting Democracy in a Divided World"

March 4, 2004

The following was received in response to our January/February 2004 InPrint cover story.

In his recent story, Andrew Kuper provides a useful four-point framework for discussing the feasibility of various international democracy promotion strategies. He is right to question the effectiveness of American-led democracy promotion efforts in the Middle East, as expressed by President Bush in his recent speeches. The decision to delay elections in Iraq and to pursue a form of indirect democracy in that country suggests that as soon as Western leaders confront predictable dilemmas -- in Iraq's case, the likelihood of Shia-dominated clerical rule -- they are quick to abandon their principles. Under such circumstances, democracy promotion efforts could divide the world even further.

That said, I take issue with several of Kuper's ideas, beginning with his point about linking the survival of democracies to per capita income. India is the obvious counterexample. Despite being one of the poorest, largest, and most heterogeneous countries, it has sustained democracy for over five decades.

Second, Kuper assumes that democracy cannot take hold without significant international support. But the impetus for most countries to become democratic is provided less by international agencies than by domestic and international developments. Consider the break-up of the Soviet Union, the East Asian financial crisis, and the repeated failure of dictators to deliver on economic prosperity or social progress. These are but a few of the conditions that have nurtured the creation of domestic constituencies in favor of democratic rule.

Third, I fail to understand Kuper's claim that the "key to making democracy work lies in involving multiple international stakeholders in local communities." Surely, it is the other way around: the key lies in local actors calling upon the international community for the precise support they need.

Finally, Kuper ends by suggesting that the United States and other powerful actors pursue various democracy promotion strategies simultaneously -- direct and indirect methods, economic reform, and multilateral engagement. I would give top priority, however, to economic reform. The wrong economic policies can seriously worsen inequalities among people at various income levels and in different regions, leading to political instability. Thus a more equitable economic arrangement is of paramount importance in pursuing lasting democratic change.