Iraq unlikely to remain democracy, pave way for peace in Middle East, political scientists say

Friday, October 5, 2007

Four years ago, as the war in Iraq was unfolding, American policymakers linked the democratization of Iraq with greater peace, democracy and prosperity in the Middle East. In one 2003 speech, President Bush compared Iraq to the Philippines, which became an independent republic in 1946 after it was occupied by Japan during World War II and the United States following the war. The Philippines, Bush pointed out, became the first democratic nation in Asia.

If history repeats itself, however, Iraq will not remain a democracy -- just as the Philippines has not constantly remained a democracy during the past 60 years, say two University of North Texas political scientists who examined 41 nations that have become democracies since 1838 and compared them with 60 autocratic nations.

Dr. Andrew J. Enterline, associate professor of political science, and Dr. J. Michael Greig, assistant professor of political science, note that nations can transform from autocracy to democracy through many ways -- mostly through internal changes in the governments. However, the professors focused only on nations that became democracies after other nations imposed democracy on them.

They learned that only four nations that had democracies imposed on them following a war -- Austria, Germany and Japan after World War II and Panama in 1989 after the downfall of Manuel Noriega's regime -- remained democracies for more than a few years.

Enterline pointed out that the democracy established in the Philippines came to an end when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. The country remained under turmoil until 1986, when a peaceful civilian-military uprising ousted Marcos, but democracy remains precarious in the nation, with an alleged coup d'etat plot uncovered in February 2006.

"The Philippines is a pretty good comparison to Iraq, but Iraq would also match up to Zaire,

Chad and lots of nations that had democracies a very short time before crumpling into authoritarianism," he said. "Defeat in war tends to lead to instability in a government established by the conquering nation."

Greig said ethnic divisions and economics are the two main factors that determine whether or not an imposed democracy will succeed in a country.

"Democracy tends to do well in a nation without ethnic diversity, and both post-World War II Japan and Germany had very little ethnic division," he said. "And the more prosperous the state of the economy, the less political violence the nation seems to have."

Greig and Enterline discovered that one third of all imposed democracies that they studied failed within 10 years of being established, with 75 percent of weak democracies -- those in which elections are held but lack civic institutions to support the democracy -- failing within 30 years.

"It could be that it takes 50 to 100 years to create a stable democracy," Enterline said.

In addition, only 30 percent of new democratic governments experienced any long-term strengthening of their democracies, the professors discovered. 

In a similar study, Enterline and Greig studied the impact of democracies imposed on one nation by another on neighboring nations of the new democratic governments, testing Bush's claim that the democratization of Iraq will lead to greater peace, democracy and prosperity in the Middle East. This study was published in The Journal of Politics.

Classifying 26 nations that have become democracies since 1857 as either "bright" or "dim" beacons of democracy, the professors discovered that a nation that borders a "dim" beacon is 87 percent more likely to engage in a war in any given year than a nation bordering a "bright" beacon. In addition, a nation within 950 kilometers of, but not directly bordering, a "dim" beacon is 93 percent more likely to be engaged in a war in that region than a nation outside of 950 kilometers.

"A dim democratic beacon in the post-World War II period is more than three and a half times more likely to be involved in a war than other states," Greig said. "Externally imposed democratic policies can stimulate regional peace, but only under conditions in which imposed democratic beacons burn brightly."

Based on these general findings, Greig and Enterline said, regional peace, prosperity and

democracy are unlikely to follow in the Middle East if Iraq remains a "dimly lit democratic beacon."

"The road to a fully functioning democracy on the order of Germany and Japan, which are quintessential bright democratic beacons, is likely to be difficult, given Iraq's ethnic and religious cleavages, near absence of a democratic tradition, the impact of the American occupation and the potential hostility of Iraq's neighbors," Greig said.

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