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Mansfield/Snyder, Electing to Fight (XXI)

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Matt Domsalla

SAASS 632/7


Electing to Fight Precis



In Electing to Fight, University of Pennsylvania Professor of Political Science Edward Mansfield and Columbia University Professor of International Relations Jack Snyder argue “no mature democracies have ever fought a war against each other.” (1) They further argue while not all democratic transitions are dangerous, the “chance of war arises mainly in those transnational states that lack the strong political institutions needed to make democracy work (such as an effective state, the rule of law, organized parties that compete in fair elections, and professional news media).” (2) While democratic transition is one of many causes of war, it is a potent cause. Mansfield’s and Snyder’s research shows “incomplete democratic transitions – that that get stalled before reaching the stage of full democracy – increase the chance of involvement in international war in countries where governmental institutions are weak at the outset of transition.” (4) The countries most likely to experience a smoother transition to democracy had, before the transition, well-developed state institutions, benefit of past experience with independent legal and journalistic institutions, and powerful elites who did not feel threatened by a successful transition to democracy. When a gap between rising demand for political participation and inadequate institutions to manage those demands emerge, political leaders turn to ideology or charisma to bolster their rule. National is often exploited during this process. Mansfield and Snyder argue the sequence matters – build institutions first and then encourage mass political participation and electoral competition after these institutions have taken hold. The authors use 6 case studies: the Nagorno-Karahakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Equador-Peru conflict, the Ehtiopia-Eritrea War, the Kargil War between India and Pakistan, Kosovo War, the Central African wars beginning with Rwanda and Burundi, and Russia’s wars in Chechnya.



The Perilous Path to the Democratic Peace

· “No mature democracies have ever fought a war against each other. Consequently, conventional wisdom holds that promising the spread of democracy will promote world peace and security.” (1)

· “Over the long run, it is probably true that the further spread of democracy will promote global peace and stability. In the short run, however, the beginning states of transitions to democracy often give rise to war rather than peace.” (2)

· “Not all democratic transitions are dangerous;… the chance of war arises mainly in those transitional states that lack the strong political institutions needed to make democracy work.” (2)

· “Incomplete democratic transitions – that that get stalled before reaching the stage of full democracy – increase the chance of involvement in international war in countries where governmental institutions are weak at the outset of transition.” (4)

· “Institutional weaknesses during early democratization create both the motive to use this strategy [inflaming nationalistic passions] of rule and the opportunity to doge accountability for its high costs and biased rhetoric.” (9)

· “The most promising sequence for democratization in such settings begins with reforms of the state and the economy, together with limited forms of democratic participation, rather than a headlong jump into popular elections before the strengthening of the institutions.” (14)

· “Our most general rule is to state the process by building the institutions that democracy requires, and then encouraging mass political participation and unfettered electoral competition only after these institutions have begun to take root.” (17)

Reconciling the Democratic Peace with Accounts of Democratization and War

· “War has never happened between mature democracies, yet countries undertaking a transition toward democracy are quite war-prone toward regimes of all types.” (21)

· “Democratizing states are disproportionately war-prone when the lack the coherent political institutions needed to manage intensified domestic political competition and to prevent it from provoking foreign conflicts. Mature democracies behave differently because they have stronger institutions ensuring democratic accountability.” (21)

· “The most straightforward explanation for the democratic peace is that effective democratic institutions make the government accountable, through regular elections, to the average voter who bears the costs and risks of war.” (23)

· “Democracies choose their wars more wisely, tend to win them and suffer fewer casualties, are less likely to initiate crises, tend to prevail in the crises that they do initiate, rarely fight preventive wars, and are more astute than their non-democratic counterparts about pulling back from imperial overstretch.” (24)

· Common misperception – voters in a democratizing state are unusually bellicose. “In many cases the public in a democratizing state does not start off desiring war or domination over other nations. Rather, widespread nationalist belligerence arises only later, in the context of the unregulated politics characteristic of early democratization.” (26)

· Common misperception – democracies do not fight wars against each other because they share a common liberal democratic identity and common norms that govern appropriate political behavior. “States in the midst of democratic transitions are the most war-prone type of regime, substantially more so that authoritarian states, which should be even less constrained by norms.” (29)

· Common misperception – democracies are not more pacific, but rather just better at signaling their intentions credibly to foreign adversaries. “Democracy goes only so far in making a state transparent, and transparency goes only so far in preventing conflict.” (31)

· Emerging democracies disproportionately the victims of attacks? No. “Incomplete democratizers are at the greatest risk of war not at the very outset of the transition, when the military institutions of the state might be expected to be in the most chaotic condition, but a few years later, after nationalist politics has succeeded in mobilizing mass adherents.” (33)

· Do all regime transition, whether democratizing or not, increase the risk of war? “Transitions toward autocracy do little, if anything, to increase the risk of war… the instability of the political elite, which may be characteristic of various kinds of transitions, combines with the expansion of mass political participation in democratizing states in distinctively explosive ways.” (35)

Explaining Turbulent Transitions

· “War has never happened between mature democracies, yet democratizing states are disproportionately war-prone toward regimes of all types, when they lack the coherent political institutions that could manage the intensified domestic political competition that characterizes the transition to democracy.” (39)

· Three categories of regimes: (1) autocracy – state authorities accountable only to themselves or a group of elites, (2) democracy – state authorities are accountable to the bulk of the population, and (3) mixed regime or anocracy – accountable, formally or informally, to political organized factions or to groups outside the unified ruling elite but political competition falls short of full democracy because of restrictions on who can participate, how they can participate, or what issues they can raise. (40 – 41)

· “Autocratic regimes fight wars with foes of any regime type. Overall, they are as likely to go to war as democracies but they do so less often than democratizers.” (45)

· Democratic regimes “fight and initiate wars about as often as non-democracies, but they do so more prudently, winning more of their wars at lower cost.” (49)

· “By far the greatest risk of war stemming from the politics of mixed regimes comes during an incomplete transition from autocracy toward democracy.” (54)

· “Nationalism is an ideology that allows elites to exploit the rhetoric of popular sovereignty without submitting to its reality… Nationalism also offers a built-in justification for curtailing the civic rights of potential opponents.” (62)

· “Incomplete democratization increases the danger of war when political institutions are especially weak and when elites are especially threatened by it.” (65)

· Six hypotheses (67)

o Countries undergoing incomplete democratization with weak institutions are more likely than other states to become involved in war.

o Countries undergoing incomplete democratization are more likely than other states to initiate war.

o Incomplete democratization where institutions are weak is especially likely to lead to war when powerful elites feel threatened by the prospect of a democratic transition.

o Countries undergoing complete democratization have a moderately higher risk of involvement in war shortly after the transition, but no elevated risk once democracy is consolidated.

o The increased risk of war for countries undergoing complete democratization mainly applies to states already involved in enduring rivalries whose nationalist and militarist institutions and ideologies were forged in earlier phases of democratization.

o Politics of democratizing states that initiate war are likely to exhibit some or all of the following characteristics: exclusionary nationalism, pressure-group politics, logrolling among elite factions, weak brokerage of political bargains by the ruling elite, contradictory and unconvincing signaling in foreign affairs, the use of aggressive foreign policies by declining elites gambling for domestic political resurrection, the use of media dominance to promote nationalist ideology, and nationalist bidding wars between old elites and rising mass groups.

Tracing Trajectories of Democratization and War in the 1990s

· Examine six international wars between 1992 and 2000. The authors found “the causal mechanisms of democratization specified in [their] theory were significant contributors to war in all of them: the Nagorno-Karbakh War between Armenian and Azerbaijan, the Ecuador-Peru conflict, the Ethiopia-Eritrea War, the Kargil War in the context of previous wars between India and Pakistan, the Kosovo War in the context of the breakup of Yugoslavia, and the recent Central African wars, beginning with the conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi.” The authors also examine Russia’s war in Chechnya. (229)

· “In many cases, incomplete democratization sets up a trajectory that affects the likelihood and pattern of a number of future conflicts.” (230)

· Armenia and Azerbaijan: “democratization widened and intensified the conflict.” (230 – 233)

· Ecuador-Peru: “public opinion in both countries opposes concessions on territorial issues, but the publics also want to avoid hugely costly wars, and that is exactly what they get when their leaders are accountable to the people.” (233 – 236)

· Ethiopia-Eritrea: “The war was caused by the difficulties that each side’s strategy for preserving the unity of its multi-ethnic state posed for the other.” “Incomplete democratization was a factor that complicated this problem.” (236 – 240)

· India-Pakistan: “Pakistani civilian and military leaders were viewing their strategic options through the kaleidoscopic prism of a domestic political process that had been shaped for decades by endemic nationalist rivalry.” See page 245 about distinct causal mechanisms liking early phases of democratization when institutions are weak to nationalist politics and war relating to causes for 1971 war. “The use of force in Kashmir… had become the common denominator of Pakistani politics and a tempting source of legitimacy for the country’s political and bureaucratic factions.” (241 – 249)

· Kosovo War: “The nationalist strategy served not only to mobilize a base of popular support for threatened elites of the erstwhile one-party state, but also to demobilize support for their liberal foes.” (249 – 253)

· Central African War: “This conflict was nonetheless set in motion by the misguided Burundian elections of 1993 and the rise of perverse pluralism in Rwanda in 1994, both under the aegis of international pro-democracy influences.” (253 – 257)

· Russia’s Wars in Chechnya: Manifested a number of the causal mechanisms. (257 – 258)

· “Choices and class alignments made in the early stages of democratization significantly affect the options that are available at later stages. Ideologies, capabilities, and enmities tend to get locked in cognitively and institutionally, so that a country’s second experiment with transition is affected, for better or worse, by what happened the first time.” (263)

Conclusion: Sequencing the Transition for Peace

· “In cases where the institutional requisites for successful consolidation are not yet in place, it is best to try to see that they are developed before encouraging mass political participation. In cases where powerful potential spoilers are threatened by a democratic transition, it is best to find ways to assure them a soft landing under the anticipated democratic regime.” (265)

· “It is indeed wise to approach the task of promoting democracy abroad with a healthy dose of wary skepticism.” (279)

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