Promoting Democracy Backwards

Peter Burnell is Professor of Politics in the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, United Kingdom. He has published numerous books and articles on democratisation generally and international democracy promotion in particular, and on politics in Zambia specifically. He is founding editor of the international journal Democratization (FRIDE, NOV/06):
The idea and practice of international democracy promotion has gained considerable attention over the last few years. There is now both a substantial multinational industry involved in promoting democracy abroad and a significant accumulation of scholarly studies examining the performance. In the United States, President George W. Bush has given impetus to the cause of promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East especially, as a major plank in his administration’s strategy for countering international terrorism. In Europe, the effectiveness of the European Union’s application of democratic conditionalities (the so-called ‘Copenhagen criteria’) to accession candidates from post-communist Central and Eastern Europe has been widely acknowledged. There is now an attempt by the EU to adapt the lessons and repeat the democratic gains from its enlargement strategy in the context of a new ‘European neighbourhood’ policy towards countries that will never be considered candidates for membership. In March 2006, the United Nations launched its Democracy Fund, with 26 countries pledging an initial total of 41 million dollars for the initiative. All in all, just as Amartya Sen said at the end of the last millennium – in a much repeated claim – that democracy is now a ‘universal value’, so a more recent suggestion by Michael McFaul declares that democracy promotionis a world value, albeit not yet a universal value. According to Sen, democracy’s status as a universally relevant system is now accepted and democracy is desired throughout the world, even though some dictators still remain to be convinced. And for McFaul, the promotion of democracy is now an international norm; the normative burden has shifted to those not interested in advocating democracy promotion.

However, democratisation still faces an uphill struggle in many parts of the world even today. Ipso facto the same is true of democracy promotion. Moreover, many of the adverse factors originate in the international environment and they include some that can be found within the democracy promotion industry itself – as a comprehensive impact evaluation would reveal. The spotlight should concentrate not just on the rights and responsibilities of the world community of democracies
to intervene on the side of democracy against enemies inside countries that would erode or destroy it from within. It needs to be trained as well on threats that international dimensions of democratisation and the international system pose to democracy and democratisation. Accordingly, this paper offers a typology of anti-democracy promotion.

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