Lessons in forced democracy

A key tenet of current U.S. foreign policy is to export democracy to other countries. So, how well does that really work? What are the critical success factors for one nation imposing democracy on another?

The Washington Post (17 September 2007) reports on new research by political scientists Andrew Enterline and J. Michael Greig that sheds light on this. Enterline & Greig studied 41 cases over the past 200 years and came up with four critical success factors (ingredients) for imposing democracy:

  • large occupation forces early on to stamp out nascent insurgencies;
  • a clear message that occupation forces were willing to spend many years to make democracy work;
  • an ethnically homogeneous population, where politics was less likely to splinter along sectarian lines; and,
  • the good fortune to have neighboring countries that were also democratic, or least didn’t interfere.

The two most successful “forced democracies” — West Germany and Japan — had all four ingredients. They’re in the category of “strong democracies,” which tend to survive at least 15 years and perhaps indefinitely.

Then there are the “weak democracies,” such as The Philippines, which tend to fail within the first 10 years.

Iraq, unfortunately, has none of the four ingredients.

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