Développement démocratique international

Democracy and Peace-Building

Jane Boulden 11 avril 2005

L’évolution récente de la situation en Iraq met en relief la complexité des dilemmes qui accompagnent les processus de démocratisation entrepris à la suite d’un conflit. À quel moment, par exemple, convient-il de tenir des élections dans le cadre d’un processus de consolidation de la paix après un conflit ? Quel rôle les instances internationales et les acteurs nationaux étrangers peuvent-ils jouer sans risquer de compromettre ce processus ? Dans quelle mesure la nature même du processus influe-t-elle sur ses perspectives de réussite ?

Il y a longtemps que la démocratisation fait partie, de manière implicite ou explicite, des politiques étrangères des États occidentaux. Depuis la fin de la guerre froide, elle est un élément central des accords de paix et des programmes de consolidation de la paix entrepris sous les auspices des Nations Unies après la fin d’un conflit. La portée de plus en plus vaste et le nombre grandissant des processus de démocratisation lancés au cours de cette période fournissent les éléments d’information nécessaires pour réévaluer les théories et les expériences actuelles. Ces développements ont des incidences sur la formulation de la politique nationale et internationale, de même que sur les analyses universitaires.

Poursuivant des démarches souvent parallèles, les Nations Unies, les chercheurs et les décideurs politiques ont entrepris de réviser leurs analyses à la lumière de l’expérience récente. Jane Boulden examine ces deux éléments de la réflexion et de l’activité en matière de démocratisation dans le but, tout au moins en partie, de déterminer s’il y a ou non des symétries entre eux. Elle relève également certaines questions qu’il convient de se poser alors que les Nations Unies et des pays comme le Canada continuent de jouer un rôle actif dans les processus de démocratisation.

L’auteure avance qu’il faut se pencher beaucoup plus attentivement sur les détails de ce processus et mieux comprendre les engagements en temps et en ressources nécessaires pour le soutenir. En particulier, les décideurs devraient s’employer à assurer un meilleur équilibre entre les principes du libéralisme et ceux de la démocratisation. Cette approche devrait aussi tenir compte des perceptions de ceux qui bénéficieront du processus de démocratisation. Elle devrait enfin être le fruit d’une réflexion plus directe sur la question de savoir si les valeurs démocratiques sont des principes intrinsèques ou si elles découlent plutôt des projets, principalement occidentaux, de démocratie libérale réussis.

Editor’s Note

Over the past 20 years the promotion of democracy has become an increasingly important element in Canadian foreign policy. This is reflected in particular in the growing expenditure on technical assistance to encourage democratic development. The papers in this volume are part of the IRPP’s International Democratic Development research program, which assesses Canada’s policies and programs in delivering this kind of assistance (for an excellent review of the evolution of Canadian democracy promotion policies, see Gerald Schmitz’s earlier paper in this series). The objectives of the project are to establish how Canada can contribute most effectively to the collective international effort to assist democratic development and to determine best practices for delivery of Canadian assistance.

An active democracy-promotion program raises critical questions about the right of one state to intervene in the internal governance of another. For that reason there has been considerable debate about the grounds on which it can be justified. The two papers presented here deal with the justifications that arguably have the greatest claim to legitimacy.

The first paper, by David Gillies, addresses what might be called the “normal case”– interventions that have been used by donors of economic assistance to underdeveloped countries to try to improve the effectiveness of their assistance. These have become routine elements of most donors’ foreign aid policies. While good governance has been what Dr. Gillies calls “the master value” organizing this form of intervention, it has become increasingly coupled with the broader concept of “democratic development.” This has occurred gradually and continues to be contentious. Dr. Gillies explains the evolution of donors’ thinking about the relationship between economic assistance and “political development,” identifies the issues in the debate about this relationship and discusses the relationship’s implications for donor policy and programs.

The second paper, by Jane Boulden, deals with interventions that have been more exceptional in both their frequency and consequences. These have involved some form of military engagement and the more or less complete reconstruction of systems of government. In the first instance in the 1980s they evolved from the limited concept of the international community’s responsibility to end or prevent conflict through peacekeeping into the broader concept of peace-building – the promotion of conditions that would reduce the likelihood of the occurrence or recurrence of conflict. More recently, this justification has evolved into what might be called a doctrine of the right or responsibility of the international community to intervene in failed or failing states, either in the interests of preventing a humanitarian crisis or reducing potential threats to the security of other states. Beyond the fundamental principle involved (that is, the question of when the international community would be justified in undertaking such radical interventions), Dr. Boulden points out that there are important questions to be asked about the democratic reforms that should be incorporated into peace-building policies, and how democratic-development strategies should be included in these policies.

An understanding of the issues raised in these two papers is central to the discussion of the role that democracy promotion should play in Canada’s foreign policy. They therefore provide a context for other papers in the series, which explore both the nature and methods of delivery of Canadian assistance to democratic development.

George Perlin 
April 2005


Early in January 2004, the United States was forced to reconsider its plan for an interim government in Iraq when Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, criticized the US plan for regional councils as undemocratic. Having gone to war at least in part under the banner of bringing democracy to Iraq, the United States could ill afford to take a stand that would be perceived as undemocratic. The idea of one person, one vote in immediate postwar Iraq, however, was clearly risky for the prospects of internal stability. The United States backed away from its proposal for interim government based on regional councils and turned to the United Nations for assistance in finding a way ahead. A year later, Iraqis in their numbers followed the people of Cambodia, Mozambique, East Timor and many other countries in making their way to the polls in defiance of threats of violence. While widely hailed as an achievement, the elections have prompted a new set of dilemmas such as how to ensure that the deep divisions in Iraqi society are not entrenched as part of the move toward democracy, and how to prevent this initial success from being undermined by ongoing violence. These events illustrate the dilemmas inherent in the emphasis on democracy that has characterized the post-Cold War international arena and its connection to postconflict peace-building.

More than 10 years after the end of the Cold War, the international community’s experience with democratization and peace-building is now significant enough to be used as a basis for examining the connection between the two concepts. When and how should democracy be instituted in postconflict peace-building situations? Should democratization necessarily be part of peace-building? If so, what form should it take? What are the policy implications of the answers to these questions? To this point, little attention has been given to the assumptions inherent in the inclusion of democratization in peace processes or to the possibility that its inclusion, or the nature of the democratic model being put forward, will generate negative results.

The idea of democracy as a key element in international affairs is not unique to the post-Cold War environment. The Cold War was, in large measure, an ideological struggle in which the concept of democracy and its associated freedoms was a crucial element for the West. What is new is the hands-on element in international involvement in advocating and implementing democratic reforms in postconflict environments.

The international community, primarily under the auspices of the United Nations, has been dealing with two significant changes in its approach to international peace and security. The first is increased involvement in intrarather than interstate conflict, and the second is the development of multidimensional operations in response to conflict situations. The two phenomena are interrelated. As the United Nations became increasingly involved in internal conflict, it also became increasingly involved in overseeing wide-ranging aspects of postconflict recovery such as the disarmament and reintegration of combatants, economic reconstruction, institution-building and democratization. In the first instance this last activity primarily took the form of UN monitoring of elections that were prescribed in the peace agreements established to end the conflicts in question. Over time, the inclusion of democratization as part of the postconflict peace-building process, both as an element of peace agreements and as a component of UN operations, has become almost automatic.

This has occurred with little questioning as to the desirability of the approach or the form that democratization should take, partly because the inclusion of democratization is a function of the peace process. As part of an agreement to bring a conflict to an end, the parties to the conflict tend to agree to elections and democratic governance as a way of breaking with the past and making a new start. For the international community, elections and the establishment of a democratically elected government provide a symbolic end to the conflict and a marker from which to begin shifting the emphasis from conflict resolution to reconstruction, development and withdrawal of whatever military involvement it may have had.1

The purpose of this paper is to outline the different trends within academic thinking on democratization as well as what has been occurring through the United Nations. This latter instance takes two forms: the secretary-general’s advocacy of democratization, and the actual experience of the United Nations on the ground through its peace operations. This is not meant to be an exhaustive overview. Rather, I seek to document the main trends in thinking on the role of democratization by way of raising questions about current practices. In the concluding section of the paper I will discuss the implications of these different threads of thinking and practice for future efforts at the national and international levels.

The Theory

In the past 30 years the implications and nature of democracy have increasingly become a central issue in a number of subfields of political studies. This discussion focuses on two groups of work. The first can be most easily characterized as the study of democratization as a process in which states move toward or retreat from democracy. The second group of works centres on the implications of democracy and democratization for international relations. The focus of this field of study is the connection between democratic governance and peace.

The third wave and its wake

In 1991 Samuel Huntington argued that a “third wave” of democratization was occurring.2 This typology was based on the assumption that the first “long” wave of democratization began in the 1820s and lasted until approximately 1922 with the expansion of suffrage in the United States. The second wave began in the aftermath of the Second World War and lasted until the early 1960s. This phase of democratization was primarily driven by decolonization in the Third World. By Huntington’s characterization, the third wave began in the mid-1970s with the transition in Portugal, Spain and Greece from military governments or dictatorships to democratic forms of government. In the early and mid-1980s, changes in Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Turkey continued the trend, followed shortly thereafter by the democratization that took hold in Eastern Europe and the newly formed states born from the collapse of the Soviet Union. By virtue of sheer numbers, the third wave represents the largest of them all, adding significantly to the number of case studies that could be used to develop theories about democratization both as an internal process and as a factor in international relations. Indeed, the idea of the third wave was part of a renaissance in democratic studies. This included the ground-breaking work of O’Donnell, Schmitter and Whitehead. Their case studies of states emerging from authoritarian regimes established, for the first time, the various factors that contributed to successful and unsuccessful transitions in forms of government (O’Donnell and Schmitter 1986).3 Ten to fifteen years on, the experiences of democracies formed in the third wave have provided new data that can be applied to the existing theories. The result has been a surge in new thinking on the role of democracy that has, inter alia, raised questions about the process and impact of democratization, especially in postconflict societies.

In a seminal article in the Journal of Democracy, Thomas Carothers (2002) calls into question five main assumptions behind the transition paradigm that forms the heart of US policy on democratization: that any country moving away from dictatorial rule is automatically a country in transition toward democracy; that democracy unfolds in a series of stages; that elections have a significant “determinative” impact on the democratization process; that the specific conditions in a given country will not be determinative of the transition process; and that state-building and democratization can occur simultaneously, or that democratization can occur in weak or failing states.

The questioning of these assumptions stems from Carothers’ identification of two syndromes in recently democratized states. He terms the first syndrome “feckless pluralism.” In this situation, citizens in democratic states have little access to political participation beyond the exercise of their vote. A change in government only brings about a change in the ruling political elite, most of whom are corrupt and ineffective; one of the results is that governments achieve relatively little in the way of progress in dealing with major domestic problems such as fighting poverty, countering crime or improving public welfare. Carothers’ second syndrome, termed “dominant-power politics,” describes a scenario in which one political party or grouping dominates the system even while there is more in the way of political competition than there is under feckless pluralism. In these situations there is a “blurring of the line between the state and the ruling party” and the sources of power and money of the state are generally under the control of and used to bolster the party itself (2002, 12).

Common to both these typologies is a sense of stability, or perhaps stagnancy. These states do not appear to be moving forward or backward along a trajectory between democratic and nondemocratic forms of government. Instead they have become self-perpetuating, representing a kind of netherworld that is neither fully democratic nor fully nondemocratic, and exhibit no sign of moving toward one or the other. The implication of Carothers’ analysis is to call into question the way in which democracy assistance policy is carried out by most Western states and the assumptions behind that policy.4

The Carothers critique was preceded, in 1997, by a similar questioning about what was being sought and achieved in the democratization process. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Fareed Zakaria argued that the latest wave of democratization had brought with it a surge not in democracy along the lines of the Western model but in illiberal democracies.5 Zakaria’s argument is based on a differentiation between democracy itself and constitutional liberalism. The latter is theoretically different from democracy, though in the West the two are traditionally linked by virtue of their mutual development over time. According to Zakaria, constitutional liberalism is about the goals of government – the protection of individual liberty through the rule of law – whereas democracy is the process of selecting government. Zakaria’s research indicates that most Western democratic states began as liberal autocracies – that is, states where the franchise was initially restricted, evolving over time into what we now consider to be full-fledged liberal democracies. His work demonstrates that states in East Asia have followed a similar route, establishing a path based on constitutional liberalism as a starting point, leading eventually to full liberal democracy. The path does not go in both directions, however. Democracy as a base does not evolve into liberal democracy based on constitutional liberalism. Like those of Carothers, then, Zakaria’s observations call for a more nuanced approach to democracy policy. Zakaria argues, for example, that newly democratic governments should be judged according to liberal constitutional criteria, in addition to the conduct of elections, and that there is a need for greater acceptance of the long-term nature of the project.

The idea of a democratic peace

The possibility of a correlation between democracy and peace generated a new focus of interest in academic circles. The idea had been variously suggested prior to the 1980s, but an article by Michael Doyle prompted an extraordinarily active debate on the issue (1983). The democratic peace proposition (often referred to as the DPP) is a contested concept. At its simplest, the DPP holds that states with democratic governments do not go to war with one another. More carefully defined, the proposition suggests that mature or established democratic states do not enter into large-scale, formal wars with one another. Whether this is simply a statistical observation or the basis of a theory with predictive and prescriptive value remains contentious. The number of identifiable democracies has increased the statistical base from which the theory is derived. One of the results of this has been questions about distinguishing between democracies. Evidence from newly established democracies, for example, suggests that during the early phases of democratization “immature” democracies may actually have an increased tendency to go to war. This tendency is said to result from a combination of factors relating to a lack of stable institutions in the wake of the disintegration of institutional structures associated with the previously autocratic state. The lead scholars in this area of research find that “the heightened danger of war grows primarily out of the transition from an autocratic regime to one that is partly democratic” (Mansfield and Snyder 2002, 297).6

Within the DPP field, there is a further debate, among those who accept the proposition that democracies tend not to go to war with one another, as to the causal factors in this conclusion.7 Is it the result of systemic factors, or the nature of democracy itself? If the latter, what particular elements of democratic governments contribute to an absence of war? Doyle, arguably the founder of the debate, based his argument on the role of liberal institutions rather than democracy as such. Doyle argued that the tendency of liberal states to avoid war is a function of liberal principles. The basic premise of liberalism at the international level is derived directly from its domestic base: “Since morally autonomous citizens hold rights to liberty, the states that democratically represent them have the right to exercise political independence. Mutual respect for these rights then becomes the touchstone of international liberal theory.” By extension, the resulting “conventions of mutual respect” mean that liberal states have developed cooperative foundations for relations with other liberal states (Doyle 1983, 213).

Others argue that there is a norm of peaceful conflict resolution inherent in the domestic structures of democracy that carries over into relations with other democracies. Still others suggest that it is the nature of the institutions – the checks and balances, accountability and transparency – that make it difficult to go to war. In addition to uncertainty about causal factors, assuming one accepts that the DPP holds, detractors argue that there are a number of other explanations for the phenomenon that do not necessarily relate to democracy. For example, is it possible that the constraints of the Cold War and the nature of the systemic order of the time provide an explanation for the absence of war between democracies during that time (Farber and Gowa 1999)? Recently the emphasis has shifted toward a focus on other elements in the equation. In Triangulating Peace, Bruce Russett and John O’Neal (2001) argue that the combination of democratic governance, adherence to international law and membership in international organizations, and economic interdependence together affirm the DPP.8 The debate surrounding the DPP – the idea that there is grounds for a theory, and the precise reasons for the proposition – is one of the most active and contentious in academic circles. There are no clear answers, but the mere existence of the debate, and the level of contentiousness surrounding it, reflect the importance now given to the possibility of a connection between democracy and democratization and peace.

Neither should a linkage between democracy and peace at the domestic level be assumed. Yale scholar Amy Chua, for example, draws on the economic side of the Western model to raise questions about the presumed benefits of democratization and free-market values in multi-ethnic societies. She argues that “the global spread of markets and democracy is a principal aggravating cause of group hatred and ethnic violence throughout the non-Western world” (2003, 9).9

Throughout the non-Western world, wherever a small “outsider” market-dominant minority enjoys spectacular wealth in the midst of mass destitution, democratization has invariably produced tremendous popular pressures to “take back the nation’s wealth” for the benefit of its “true owners” (Chua 2003, 131).

Rather than being conducive to peace, therefore, democratization can contribute to conflict. Like Zakaria, Chua is concerned about the particular model of democracy and free markets being promoted by Western states. This model is based primarily on the system now in place in Western states and is promoted without thought to its implications for societies whose history and current situation are significantly different from those of states in the West. Experience indicates that when the Western free-market democratic model is applied in states where there is a market-dominant ethnic minority, the combination of democratization and opening up of markets creates a situation in which certain minority groups benefit. The resulting disparity of impact in society creates or deepens inherent tensions, contributing to serious problems, including conflict.

The Connection between Democracy and Peace at the United Nations

In a much more ad hoc manner, the idea of a connection between democracy and peace has taken hold within the United Nations Secretariat and among other actors in the UN system. The connection between democracy and peace-building at the United Nations has occurred in two different contexts. The first articulates a theoretical connection between democracy and peace. Two secretaries-general – Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan – have made the case for such a connection, which can also be found in agency documents such as the Human Development Index established by the UN Development Program.10 The second way in which the democracy-peace connection has become a feature at the United Nations is as a consequence of UN involvement in democracy-related tasks as part of its operations. In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, the organizaton’s involvement in postconflict situations expanded dramatically, as did its involvement in postconflict settlements that entailed elections. The extent of UN involvement has varied with each operation, but it has ranged from complete involvement in Cambodia, where the United Nations supervised and ran elections for the country, to situations in which it simply provides monitors for initial national election processes.

The secretary-general and democracy

On January 31, 1992, flush with the sense of optimism that infused the early years of the post-Cold War era, the UN Security Council met at the level of heads of state for the first time. One of the outcomes of the meeting was a request that the secretary-general prepare a set of recommendations as to how the Organization might address issues of international peace and security in the new era. The result was a report titled An Agenda for Peace (United Nations Secretary-General 1992), which put forward a number of proposals for reviving old mechanisms as well as new and innovative ways to deal with conflict and potential conflict. The proposals were based on an assumption that peace is more than the absence of war, specifically identifying the “deepest causes of conflict” as “economic despair, social injustice and political oppression” (para. 15).

Later that year, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution requesting the secretary-general to prepare an “agenda for development.”11 The phrase and the request were drawn from the secretary-general’s annual report on the work of the United Nations, which called for an integrated or holistic approach to development, to be made possible by a strengthened United Nations (Boutros-Ghali 1992, para. 105). The secretary-general’s resulting report, An Agenda for Development (Boutros-Ghali 1994), established a direct link between development and democracy. It suggests that the relationship between democracy, development and peace is a mutually reinforcing one: “Social stability, needed for productive growth, is nurtured by conditions in which people can readily express their will…The existence of widespread absolute poverty inhibits the full and effective enjoyment of human rights and renders democracy and popular participation fragile” (para. 28-29).

In December 1996, Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali published a report titled An Agenda for Democratization (1996) “in the hope that it may deepen understanding of United Nations efforts in favour of democratization and intensify debate on future international action in this area” (para. 8). Building on the linkage established by the first two reports, here the secretary-general makes the case for a tripartite link between peace, development and democracy. This argument is based on the need for accountability and compromise that is part of the democratic process:

Democratic institutions and processes channel competing interests into arenas of discourse and provide means of compromise…thereby minimizing the risk that differences or disputes will erupt into armed conflict or confrontation. Because democratic Governments are freely chosen by their citizens and held accountable through periodic and genuine elections…they are more likely to promote and respect the rule of law, respect individual and minority rights, cope effectively with social conflict, absorb migrant populations and respond to the needs of marginalized groups. (para. 17)

Accountability and transparency of democratic governments are said to contribute to peace between states by generating caution and restraint within democratic governments, who must answer to citizens for their actions (para. 18). Those same democratic features are said to contribute to a context that favours development. The secretary-general argues this first in the negative by stating that nondemocratic states “tend to generate conditions inimical to development.” In particular, nondemocratic states do not allow public pressures for development to be addressed with “popular unrest and instability” as a result (para. 25). But he also makes the argument in the positive: “The reality is that no State can long remain just or free – and thus have the potential to pursue a successful and sustainable development strategy – if its citizens are prohibited from participating actively and substantially in its political processes and economic, social and cultural development” (para. 25).

By 1996, when An Agenda for Democratization was issued, the United Nations had already been involved in a wide variety of national elections and other democratization tasks. The assumption that the United Nations’ role in democratization should be deepened or expanded, however, was contentious.

There is a progression here that is worth noting. The Security Council requested An Agenda for Peace and the General Assembly An Agenda for Development, while the secretary-general “offered” An Agenda for Democratization. The different origins of the reports reflect a division of labour as well as a decrease in the level of optimism about the United Nations’ ability to pursue such broad goals as it became bogged down in Bosnia and retreated from Somalia. But they are also an indication of a declining sense of appropriateness in terms of addressing the issues, especially with respect to democracy. While peace and development are clearly within the mandate of the United Nations and are accepted as desirable goals, the promotion of democracy raises warning flags for a large number of states, some of them democratic. The idea that the United Nations should promote a particular form of government connotes an organization that is encroaching on domestic affairs in a way that is unacceptable to many. The choice of title – “an agenda for democratization” rather than “an agenda for democracy” – itself is an indication of the political sensitivity surrounding the issue. In An Agenda for Democratization the secretary-general goes to great lengths to dispel these fears, noting at the outset that:

To address the subjects of democratization and democracy does not imply a change in the respect that the United Nations vows for the sovereignty of States or in the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs set out in Article 2(7) of the Charter of the United Nations (para. 8).

The United Nations is, by design and definition, universal and impartial. While democratization is a new force in world affairs, and while democracy can and should be assimilated by all cultures and traditions, it is not for the United Nations to offer a model of democratization or democracy or to promote democracy in a specific case. (para. 10)

There is, arguably, something of a contradiction inherent in these statements, especially given that their source is the secretary-general of the United Nations. On the one hand the United Nations is impartial, yet on the other hand it argues that the principles of democracy should be assimilated by all. The secretary-general goes on to argue that there is a direct relationship between democratization and peace, citing a “deeper truth: democracy contributes to preserving peace and security, securing justice and human rights, and promoting economic and social development” (para. 16). Given that promoting and ensuring peace is the primary mandate of the United Nations, this connection between democracy and peace further entrenches the idea that the United Nations should promote democracy, in spite of the secretary-general’s caveats.

The concepts of democracy and democratization are defined at the beginning of the report:

Democratization is a process which leads to a more open, more participatory, less authoritarian society. Democracy is a system of government which embodies, in a variety of institutions and mechanisms, the ideal of political power based on the will of the people. (para. 1)

Note that democratization is defined in the negative – that is, it is framed as a process that moves away from negative situations, rather than toward something. This definition carries with it an assumption that we are all moving along a given path to an agreed target; it is just that some of us are further along than others. Inherent in the discourse of the secretary-general’s report is an assumption that permeates a great deal of the academic literature: the idea of democracy as a universal value – not as one choice of many as a form of government, or as a Western construct that could be applied to other parts of the world.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s successor, Kofi Annan, took up the cause begun by his predecessor and has pursued it with more vigour and with far less hesitation about its importance as a universal value that must be upheld by the United Nations. Much of Annan’s argument is based on individual freedoms as a foundation. In his December 2001 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Annan argued that the way ahead must be based on an acceptance of the individual as the central actor in peace and that this “vision” dictates three priorities for the United Nations: “eradicating poverty, preventing conflict and promoting democracy” (United Nations 2001b).

In later speeches Annan affirmed and expanded on this theme while also sounding warnings about inherent dangers to democracy and democratization. In particular he echoed Carothers’ analysis and warned of the need to avoid “fig-leaf democracy”: democracy in name only, where effectively authoritarian rulers maintain power under cover of elections (feckless pluralism, in Carothers’ terms).12

Speaking at the University of Oxford in June 2001, Annan argued that democracy is intimately connected to efforts to deal with conflict, because “at the centre of virtually every civil conflict is the issue of the state and its power – who controls it, and how it is used.” The United Nations, therefore, often finds itself in postconflict situations in which it is helping to design a constitutional framework as well as promoting elections. In this respect Annan suggested that there is a need to be cautious about majority-rule systems, proposing that arrangements that mix an electoral system with institutionalized power-sharing are useful in postconflict situations because they guarantee minority rights and reflect a “broader understanding” that “democracy does not mean allowing the majority to crush the minority” (United Nations 2001a).

This conceptualization is in keeping with the secretary-general’s response to the outcomes of UN interventions in Rwanda and Bosnia. The genocide in Rwanda and similar events in Srebrenica prompted the secretary-general to argue that states should no longer be able to use state sovereignty as a shield behind which to persecute their own people. The secretary-general’s response reflected the development of a new conception of security called human security. The Canadian government has taken the lead in developing the concept of human security. Human security is based on the idea that state and international security should be connected to the security of the individual. Like the secretary-general’s argument for democratization, the concept of human security draws on a liberal base, the idea of the individual and individual freedoms at its foundation, from which flow other parameters – security, democracy.

A Canadian-sponsored international commission took up the question of sovereignty and intervention in the wake of the genocide in Rwanda. The resulting report, The Responsibility to Protect, argues that state sovereignty entails responsibility for the protection of people within the state. But the commission is much more conservative than the secretary-general regarding the role of the international community in democratization, in spite of the fact that its basic argument lays the groundwork for advocating democratization. The commission argues that when a state fails to fulfill its responsibility for the protection of its people, the international community has a responsibility to protect those people (International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty 2001). That responsibility has three elements: to prevent, to react and to rebuild. With respect to prevention, the commission discusses the need to address the root causes of conflict, suggesting that at the political level this “might involve democratic institutions and capacity building” (para. 3.21; emphasis added). With respect to responsibility to react, the commission specifically excludes intervention in situations where a population has been denied its democratic rights by a military overthrow of the government, except in situations where large-scale loss of life or ethnic cleansing may be threatened or occurring (para. 4.27). In the aftermath of intervention, when the responsibility to rebuild kicks in, the commission argues, the aim is to ensure “local ownership,” and this should involve developing a political process in which former antagonists can cooperate; it should not involve advocating anything specific in the way of a system of government.

Intervening to protect human beings must not be tainted by any suspicion that it represents a form of neocolonial imperialism. On the contrary, the responsibility to rebuild, which derives from the responsibility to react, must be directed toward returning the society in question to those who live in it, and who, in the last instance, must take responsibility together for its destiny (para. 5.31).

Nonetheless the commission does note that occupation after intervention should involve the restoration of “a measure of good governance” and that the interveners may “better accustom the population to democratic institutions and processes if these had previously been missing from their country” (para. 5.25).

The United Nations and democracy in practice

United Nations support for electoral processes is itself not unique to the post-Cold War environment, but there is little question that the end of the Cold War brought with it a tremendous upsurge in requests to the United Nations for such assistance. These requests were often part and parcel of a broader UN role in overseeing postconflict peace processes. The end of the Cold War opened up the possibility of a resolution for a number of internal conflicts that had been left unaddressed as a consequence of superpower rivalry. The peace agreements that brought those conflicts to an end almost invariably involved elections as part of the peace package and a role for the United Nations as observer of the entire process. The United Nations, therefore, experienced two new phenomena in the aftermath of the Cold War. The first was the willingness of the Security Council to engage the Organization in intrastate rather than just interstate conflict. The result was the development of the second phenomenon: a shift in the nature of UN operations, extending beyond traditional peacekeeping to multidimensional operations that oversaw postconflict transitions.13 The UN tasks in these operations tended to include disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of combatants, and the creation or reconfiguration of police and other domestic institutions as well as elections.

For the most part, the UN role in elections has been one of monitoring and observing the process and providing “technical” advice as required. There has been the odd exception, however, most notably in Cambodia, where the United Nations ran democratic nation-wide elections as part of its transitional assistance operation. As part of the Paris Accords, which established the terms of the settlement and the transition, the parties to the conflict agreed to confer on the United Nations “all powers necessary to ensure the implementation” of the settlement. With respect to the election process, the United Nations assisted in drafting electoral law, ran a massive civic program to educate the public in the principles of elections and voting, trained local staff, undertook the registration of official parties and voters, and supervised the polling. The result stands today as one of the United Nations’ most significant success stories in peace processes. Ninety percent of registered Cambodian voters turned out to vote, in spite of the threat of violence from the Khmer Rouge and from land mines as they made their way to the polls. There have been other successes – in Namibia, Mozambique and El Salvador, for example – where the United Nations has overseen (rather than run) successful election processes as part of a larger postconflict peace process.

The successes stand in sharp contrast to some notable failures. In Angola, successfully run elections in 1992 came to naught when Savimbi’s group, the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), refused to accept the results and returned the country to another decade of civil war. In Liberia, the advent of democracy saw the election in 1997 of Charles Taylor, a rebel leader with a brutal record who was indicted for war crimes in Sierra Leone; in 2003 a new civil war brought about his ouster and another UN intervention.14 And in Haiti in 2004, President Aristide, who had been reinstated by a United Nations-authorized operation in 1994, was pushed from power by rebel groups and internal instability. In each of these cases, it is not the elections themselves that stand as successes or failures, but the broader peace process. Elections act as a functional indication of a milestone in the peace process, providing the international community with evidence of change. They are not, however, reliable indicators of real progress, in either democratization or the establishment of peace.

The UN experience in these cases reveals an inherent dilemma. To what extent does the United Nations, as a monitor of the peace process, bear responsibility for a situation when the process goes wrong and there is a return to conflict? To what extent, even when peace processes are successful in their early stages, is it responsible for ensuring longer-term success? As with other elements of the peace process, the fact that the United Nations keeps its distance and acts as a monitor of terms agreed by the parties means that in some situations it may be monitoring, and by extension giving its implicit approval to, an agreement whose terms are counter-productive to long-term peace.

All of this reveals the problematic nature of the connection between democratization and peace-building, and reveals that the literature and the United Nations itself have only just begun to grasp and examine the inherent dilemmas.

The United Nations now has significant experience in this field. And yet its post-operation assessment and learning procedures remain minimal. A lessons-learned process is in place (recently renamed “best practices”), but the primary focus within the Secretariat and the Security Council tends to be on addressing issues such as how to get there faster, how to ensure troops and observers are well equipped, and how to coordinate more effectively with agencies and organizations. An evaluation of past experience, with a view to determining how peace processes and external involvement in them might be reconfigured for greater potential of success, has not yet taken place. A failure to carry out such an evaluation will contribute to the undermining of an organization whose legitimacy is already in question.

Similarly, in its debate on the nature of democratization and the connection between democracy and peace, the academic literature has begun to raise questions. The work of Carothers, Chua and Zakaria represents an important first step in matching concepts with the situation on the ground. From the perspective of the link between democracy and peace-building, however, the debate has only just begun.


The foregoing is very much an overview. The literature on democracy and democratization is as extensive as it is rich. This paper was intended to provide a sampling of the nature of the debates on these issues and their main themes, along with current thinking at the United Nations. And, because the various subfields of the discussion, as well as the practical expression of these principles through the United Nations, so often function in isolation from one another, this paper was also intended to lay out the different streams of thought and practice in order to determine common themes or dissonant views, as a way of raising questions about the way ahead.

The starting point of the analysis matters at both the theoretical and practical levels. The DPP discussion is about the impact of domestic systems on interstate relations, while the debate on the nature of democratic systems and how states move toward that end is about systems of government within states. The primary concern of the United Nations is international peace and security. Traditionally, or at least in the origins of the organization, this was considered to be about relations between states, whatever their nature internally. The nature of post-Cold War conflict, however, along with the organization’s own changing conception of what international peace and security entails, has drawn it inexorably into the realm of internal state politics. It is here, therefore, that the internal (intrastate) and external (interstate and systemic) aspects of the analysis are drawn together. Ironically, it is also here that great effort is being made to keep them apart.

There is a certain level of disingenuousness in statements that refrain from advocating democracy as a system of government by arguing that such decisions must be left to the people in question. More clearly articulated, the argument is that people in a given state or society should be “free” to choose their form of government. How individuals can be free to do so in the absence of democratically based structures is left unaddressed. In the context of democratization that is a function of some form of intervention, either by the United Nations or by some state or group of states, the unwillingness to be specific is driven by an understandable concern that there should be no imposition of a system from outside. As a consequence, the emphasis is on the liberal element of the liberal-democratic equation. And the implication of the argument is that liberal values, particularly individual freedoms, are the base from which democracy might flow. What is unclear, however, is whether the argument is based on principles and experience or is driven by the need to avoid advocacy.

The distinction between liberal and democratic values is the strongest theme that emerges in the various theories and experiences discussed above. Indeed, I would argue that the primary conclusion of the preceding overview is the need to make a distinction between liberal and democratic values when considering the role of democratization in peace-building. Why does the distinction matter? With respect to peace-building it matters because it forces us to ask questions about what we emphasize as founding principles and what methods to use when engaging in postconflict situations. It may be, for example, that our instinctual view that democratization is necessarily a good thing, and should be undertaken as soon as possible in the peace-building process, may not be appropriate in all situations. Perhaps we should be giving more emphasis to liberal values relating to individual freedoms and the rule of law in the initial phases of postconflict recovery.15 Greater care must also be given to understanding how these mechanisms are designed, so that they counteract rather than exacerbate ethnic or other conflict-prone divisions in society. The foregoing does not provide any clear guidance on specific choices, but it does indicate that it is important, even critical, for us to engage in new thinking and research on the role and sequencing of both democratic and liberal values in postconflict situations.

The second conclusion is a practical one. Individual states and the United Nations both need to develop better, more nuanced, understandings of the process of democratization and its impact on postconflict societies. And they need to build those nuanced understandings into policy so that governments and the United Nations alike are able to tailor their efforts to each situation.

The advent of peace-building as an international activity, both under UN auspices and outside the organization, has brought a recognition that peace-building, like sovereignty, involves responsibility. With that recognition has come an understanding of the interconnectedness of democracy, development and peace. The increase in the scale and scope of state and international involvement in peace-building in the aftermath of the Cold War has generated a steep learning curve. We have discovered that peace-building in the wake of peacekeeping and peace-support operations is vital and requires a long-term commitment. We now know that elections do not equal democracy, and that initially successful elections are not a guarantee of peace in either the short or the long term. The United Nations’ own process of debate, as indicated in the three “Agenda” reports and the increasingly definitive views expressed by the secretary-general, is evidence of both the learning curve and the extent to which there is now broad acceptance of the notion that peace-building entails and must recognize the inextricable interconnectedness of democracy, development and peace.

The idea that outside actors should advocate for particular ways of doing things within a state raises questions, by those on the receiving end, about the true intentions of the interveners. In addition to determining the balance between liberal and democratic values in pursuing peace-building tasks, therefore, new thinking and research should address the rationale behind our advocacy of democratization and liberalization. There is an inherent tension, in each of the theories and debates discussed here, between democracy as a value in and of itself and democracy as a particular form of government most closely identified with Western states. For both the United Nations and Western states, a sharper focus on democratization has come in the context of a stronger linkage between peace and security and democracy. For the United Nations, this has transpired in the context of greater involvement in peace-building within states. For the United States and other Western countries, including Canada, the connection is made through increased attention to the concept of weak and failing states, intensified by the events of 9/11 and, for the United States, now crystallized in the depth of its involvement in Iraq. In all cases, the “securitization” of democracy policy accentuates the inherent tension. For those on the receiving end, it is inherently difficult to distinguish between attempts to remake institutions and processes in the image of the intervener and altruistic attempts to provide access to systems of government based on universal values. In truth, every effort contains an element of each motivation, but the development of more effective, carefully crafted policies and efforts must have an awareness of this tension built into the equation.

In many ways, the debate and the learning process outlined in this paper have only just begun. That is a remarkable statement in itself given the wealth of experience now behind us, not just in the post-Cold War context but in the lengthy “waves” of democracy and liberal principles associated with a number of states. One of the most important lessons of Zakaria’s analysis is that we need to beware of using the existing liberal-democratic product as the model and to give greater attention to the process that produced it. By extension, we need to take into account the temporal aspects of democratization and peace. As is evidenced by this overview, the learning curve may be erratic and occasionally steep, but with patience and greater attention to the complexity and specificity of the issues it will become less so.

  1. For an excellent discussion of these factors, see Lyons (2002).
  2. See also a summary reprint in Diamond and Plattner (1996, 3-25).
  3. O’Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead edited four volumes covering different aspects of and different case studies from O’Donnell and Schmitter’s (1986) Transitions from Authoritarian Rule. (All are published by Johns Hopkins University Press.) See also the earlier study edited by Linz and Stepan (1978), which draws on European and South American cases.
  4. See some of the responses to the Carothers article disputing this conclusion in Journal of Democracy 13, no 3 (July) 2002.
  5. He later elaborated on this thesis in a book (Zakaria 2003).
  6. See also their earlier work (Mansfield and Snyder 1999).
  7. An excellent overview of the debate, with reproductions of the seminal articles, can be found in Brown, Lynn-Jones, and Miller (1999).
  8. For an excellent discussion complete with relatively recent case studies, see MacMillan (2004).
  9. Chua’s case studies include examples from every region.
  10. See, for example, United Nations Development Program (2002, 2004).
  11. A/RES/47/181, December 22, 1992.
  12. See, for example, his address to the international conference “Towards a Community of Democracies” (United Nations 2000).
  13. Sometimes called second-generation peacekeeping.
  14. The Charles Taylor example perfectly illustrates one of the inherent problems in democratic elections: What do you do when the population elects a fundamentally undemocratic leader?
  15. For example, Zakaria found that the strongest characteristic of the Western liberal-democratic model was an impartial judge. The development of a strong judicial system may be more important in the early stages, therefore, than a full-fledged democratically elected government.

Boutros-Ghali, Boutros. 1992. Report on the Work of the Organization from the Forty-Sixth to the Forty-Seventh Session of the General Assembly. DPI/1289, September. New York: United Nations.

–––. 1994. An Agenda for Development. A/48/935, May 6. New York: Department of Public Information, United Nations.

–––. 1996. An Agenda for Democratization. A/51/761, December 17. New York: Department of Public Information, United Nations.

Brown, Michael E., Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller. 1999. Debating the Democratic Peace. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Carothers, Thomas. 2002. “The End of the Transition Paradigm.” Journal of Democracy 13, no. 1 (January): 5-21.

Chua, Amy. 2003. World on Fire. New York: Anchor Books.

Diamond, Larry, and Marc Plattner, eds. 1996. The Global Resurgence of Democracy, 2nd edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Doyle, Michael. 1983. “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs.” Part 1. Philosophy and Public Affairs 12, no. 3 (summer): 205-235. Part 2. Philosophy and Public Affairs 12, no. 4 (fall): 323-353.

Farber, Henry S., and Joanne Gowa. 1999. “Polities and Peace.” In Debating the Democratic Peace, edited by Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1991. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman, Okla: University of Oklahoma Press.

International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. 2001. The Responsibility to Protect. Ottawa: Global Issues Bureau, Foreign Affairs Canada.

Linz, Juan J., and Alfred C. Stepan. 1978. The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes: Crisis, Breakdown and Re-equilibration. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Lyons, Terence. 2002. “The Role of Postsettlement Elections.” In Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements, edited by Stephen John Stedman, Donald Rothchild, and Elizabeth M. Cousens. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner.

MacMillan, John. 2004. “Liberalism and the Democratic Peace.” Review of International Studies 30, no. 2: 179-200.

Mansfield, Edward D., and Jack Snyder. 1999. “Democratization and the Danger of War.” In Debating the Democratic Peace, edited by Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

–––. 2002. “Democratic Transitions, Institutional Strength, and War.” International Organization 56, no. 2: 297-337.

O’Donnell, Guillermo, and Philippe C. Schmitter. 1986. Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Russett, Bruce M., and John R. O’Neal. 2001. Triangulating Peace. New York: W.W. Norton.

United Nations. 2000. “One of Greatest Challenges to Humankind in New Century Will Be Struggle to Make Practice of Democracy Equally Universal, Secretary-General Says.” Press release SG/SM7467, June 27. New York: Author.

–––. 2001a. “War Less Likely Between Mature Democracies, Says Secretary-General in Lecture at Oxford University.” Press release SG/SM/7850, June 19. New York: Author.

–––. 2001b. “”˜We Can Love What We Are, Without Hating What – and Who – We Are Not,’ Secretary-General Says in Nobel Lecture.” Press release SG/SM/8071, December 10. New York: Author.

United Nations Development Program. 2002. Human Development Report 2002: Deepening Democracy in a Fragmented World. Accessed February 23, 2005.

–––. 2004. Human Development Report 2004: Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World. Accessed February 23, 2005.

United Nations Secretary-General. 1992. “An Agenda for Peace: Preventive Diplomacy, Peacemaking and Peace-Keeping.” A/47/277, S/24111, June 17. Accessed February 23, 2005.

Zakaria, Fareed. 1997. “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy.” Foreign Affairs 76, no. 6 (November/December): 22-44.

–––. 2003. The Future of Freedom: Liberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. New York: W.W. Norton.

Pour diffusion immédiate – Le lundi 11 avril 2005

Montréal – La promotion de la démocratie est devenue un élément important de la politique étrangère et de l’aide extérieure du Canada, comme l’ont souligné dans des déclarations récentes le ministre des Affaires étrangères, Pierre Pettigrew, et la ministre de la Coopération internationale, Aileen Carroll. Vu l’importance accrue attachée à ce principe, l’Institut de recherche en politiques publiques publie aujourd’hui deux études consacrées aux liens entre le développement démocratique, la croissance économique et la consolidation de la paix.

« Democracy and Economic Development », de David Gillies

Dans la première étude, David Gillies, présentement en détachement de l’ACDI et affecté au ministère des Affaires étrangères, passe en revue les travaux de recherche portant sur les liens entre la démocratie et la croissance, souvent cités par les donateurs d’aide. Il souligne notamment que la qualité de la gouvernance exerce une profonde influence sur la performance économique.

Selon Gillies, « il n’y a pas de règle inexorable définissant les rapports entre la démocratie et la croissance économique. Ces effets, lorsqu’on peut les démontrer, sont plus subtils et plus indirects. » L’auteur illustre son propos en attirant l’attention sur l’impact positif de la démocratisation sur certains des facteurs qui influent sur le développement économique, tels le niveau d’instruction, la formation du capital humain, l’inflation, l’investissement et les disparités de revenu.

En l’absence d’un lien direct entre démocratie et croissance économique, l’auteur croit que les donateurs internationaux devront peut-être se tourner vers d’autres éléments, tels les valeurs qui sont rattachées à la politique étrangère, pour faire valoir les mérites intrinsèques des principes de la démocratie libérale. Gillies invite les donateurs à se concentrer sur les conditions propres à favoriser la croissance et le développement, par exemple en encourageant la responsabilisation, la transparence et la présence de règles prévisibles régissant les interactions économiques et la politique publique.

« Democracy and Peace-Building », de Jane Boulden

Dans la seconde étude, Jane Boulden, qui occupe une chaire de recherche du Canada en études de la sécurité et des relations internationales au Collège militaire royal du Canada, observe que, depuis la fin de la guerre froide, la démocratisation est un élément central des accords de paix et des programmes de consolidation de la paix entrepris sous les auspices des Nations Unies à la suite d’un conflit. Elle croit qu’il faut examiner plus en détails les liens entre la démocratisation et la consolidation de la paix.

Selon Boulden, les décideurs devraient s’employer à assurer un meilleur équilibre entre les principes du libéralisme et ceux de la démocratisation. C’est là  une distinction importante, dit-elle, car « elle nous amène à nous interroger sur ce que nous considérons comme des principes de base et sur les méthodes qu’il faut employer lorsqu’on est confronté aux séquelles d’un conflit ». La démocratisation, dont on dit souvent qu’elle est un élément nécessaire et urgent du processus de consolidation de la paix, n’apporte peut-être pas une réponse définitive dans toutes les situations. Il peut arriver que les premières phases d’un redressement après un conflit nécessitent qu’on mette davantage l’accent sur des valeurs libérales comme la liberté de l’individu et la primauté du droit.

L’auteure estime par ailleurs que « les États et l’ONU doivent peaufiner et améliorer leurs analyses du processus de démocratisation et de ses effets sur les sociétés qui sortent d’un conflit ». C’est là  une condition importante si l’on veut s’assurer que les interventions de consolidation de la paix soient pleinement adaptées à une situation donnée.

« Democracy and Economic Development » et « Democracy and Peace-Building » sont les plus récentes études de la collection Enjeux publics à paraître dans la série Développement démocratique international publiée par l’IRPP. Elles sont maintenant disponibles en ligne, en format Adobe (.pdf), sur le site Web de l’Institut au


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