Wed, 06 Aug 2003

Peace, democracy two different things

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Former Secretary General United Nations (1992-1996), Inter Press Service, Paris

Is it true that the propagation of democracy has made the world more peaceful? The idea of a democratic peace was formulated in 1795 by German philosopher Immanuel Kant. This theory, dismissed as utopic, came back into fashion in the 1980s and was ultimately adopted as doctrine by the U.S. government.

The theory is not so much that democracies are pacifist but that in general they do not go to war over differences with other democracies. It is based on three arguments:

First: The participation of citizens in the debate on the costs and benefits of war, and the exhortations for peace that the officials will receive, make evident the risks that military ventures pose to the well-being of citizens and thus to elected officials survival in office.

Second: Constitutional requirements, particularly the separation of the legislative and executive branches, and the complexity of the decision-making processes of democracies, tend to limit the autonomy of leaders and possible arbitrary excesses.

Third: Democratic political culture favors attempts to find negotiated solutions, building the norms and procedures for working out consensus at a national level.

Although democracies tend not to go to war against each other, they do not always behave peacefully to states that they consider anti-democratic, barbaric, or rogue. There is much evidence to bear out an observation of Tocqueville: "If democratic states naturally desire peace, democratic armies naturally desire war."

The peace-democracy relationship must be examined closely in the light of events of the past few years. Though there is a tendency to accept the positive influence of democratic institutions in affirming peace, it is also necessary to recognize the short-term dangers that stalk regimes in transition, and the difficulty of making democracy work in countries where the institutions are relatively weak and need time to consolidate themselves.

A small group of countries has succeeded at this consolidation in less than 10 years: Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Brazil, Chile, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, for instance. But there are democratic ruptures, failed consolidation, and perversion of the democratic institutions by regimes in transition.

Recent history shows that there is a high probability of a democratic transition degenerating into armed conflict, within or between states. While analysis shows that the risk is low in the first stages of a change of regime, it rises 10 years after the transition. Note the conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia and Chechnya, and Croatia and Serbia.

Similarly, transitions can trigger internal conflicts. When ethnic minorities are victimized by autocratic governments, a climate of violence is established that leads to the emergence of radicalized ethno-nationalist movements.

Transition implies a semi-open system of liberties that does not allow from the beginning the democratic participation that would serve as a release valve for minorities' frustrations The situation is further complicated when secessionist movements include groups that are considered terrorist by the dominant ethnicities, as was the case in Kosovo and East Timor.

Yet the installation of a democracy does not guarantee quality of government. In the last 20 years we have seen many "facade democracies", marred by election fraud, leaders who shirk their responsibilities before parliament, a precarious rule of law, weak protection of civil liberties.

The challenge to the international community is not only to prevent violent conflicts in countries making the transition to democracy but also to promote democratic institutions in societies where violent conflict has been avoided, but there is still no effective truly democratic system of government.

Democratization that has been pushed in these years has been largely vacillating, inconsistent, and opportunistic.

What is needed is a long term policy that fosters the development of the necessary actors and institutions: Political parties, a judicial system, civil society, a free press, and apolitical, professional armed forces.

Western democracies must understand that a firm adherence to such a policy of democratic development is the best way to serve their own interests in the long term.