Study Contradicts Bush Rationale on Democracy

The Bush administration maintains that spreading democracy to places such as Iraq and Afghanistan is a reliable means of securing peace for the future, assuming democracies are less likely to go to war. But a new study has a different theory.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

President Bush maintains that promoting democracy in places like the Palestinian territories and Iraq will ultimately help bring peace, because democracies are less likely to go to war. A new study argues that is not necessarily true.

NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.

COREY FLINTOFF: Professors Jack Snyder and Edward Mansfield have written a book, called "Electing To Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go To War."

JACK SNYDER: Our research has shown that countries that are going through the transition from authoritarian regimes toward democracy often go through an intermediate stage where it's actually more likely that they'll get into wars rather than less.

FLINTOFF: Jack Snyder teaches International Relations at Columbia University. He says when a country begins to go democratic, old leaders sometimes try to recast themselves as nationalists in an effort to hold onto power.

SNYDER: So, for example, in Serbia, the communist leader, Slobodan Milosevic, decided that the communist regime was breaking apart, so he had to switch to something more popular, namely, Serbian Ethnic Nationalism.

FLINTOFF: And that, Snyder says, led to years of bloody ethnic conflict in the Balkans. Carl Gershman disagrees with Snyder and Mansfield's basic definition of what constitutes a democratizing state.

CARL GERSHMAN: I don't consider Yugoslavia under Milosevic to have been an emerging democracy.

FLINTOFF: Carl Gershman is president of the National Endowment for Democracy, and he says Snyder and Mansfield are too loose in their definitions of an emerging democracy.

GERSHMAN: Where dictatorships or old authoritarian systems have fallen, you enter into a process of trying to establish some new authority; but very often some very bad elements come in and take over that process. I don't consider those to be democratizing countries.

FLINTOFF: Snyder and Mansfield say another example of their thesis is happening right now in Iraq. They say that when elections take place too soon, before a country has democratic institutions such as the rule of law and a free press, parties will tend to form around devisees factors that are built into traditional society, such as ethnicity and religion. Edward Mansfield.

EDWARD MANSFIELD: Because elections were held so quickly, the most obvious way for parties to organize were along ethnic and nationalist lines, particularly Kurdish, Shi'a, and Sunni lines.

FLINTOFF: Mansfield, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, says that if the elections had taken place later, political parties might have formed around issues that would be less polarizing, reducing the possibility of war.

But Carl Gershman says a vote was necessary in Iraq because it was the only way to establish a legitimate government after Saddam Hussein was deposed, and that the United States couldn't manipulate the result.

GERSHMAN: The December 15th elections were a disappointment to many Iraqis who wanted to see voters transcend voting according to religious and ethnic identities. But it's their choices to make, you know, and the United States can certainly try to influence that situation, but we don't control it like a puppeteer pulling strings.

FLINTOFF: Snyder and Mansfield say countries in the early stages of democratizing, with weak democratic institutions, are four times more likely to go to war than countries that aren't in transition. Still, now that Iraq and Afghanistan have held their elections, they say the United States should do everything possible to smooth their transitions.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Washington.

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