v8n2_07 - Democratization in the 21st Century: What Can the...

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Democratization in the 21st Century: What Can the United States Do? by Arthur A. Goldsmith T he Winter/Spring 2005 issue of this journal was devoted to “Democratization in the 21st Century” in which the consensus was that the United States should assist the unfolding worldwide trend toward democracy. The president of the National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gershman argued, “that it is appropriate and desirable for the United States to provide moral, political, technical, and financial support to people who are striving to achieve democracy.” 1 Furthermore, Alan W. Dowd of the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research wrote of “America’s unique role” in the world and its “natural inclination to promote free government.” 2 Although most of the articles explicitly or implicitly encouraged the United States to promote democracy worldwide, they did not speak to the specific means available to the United States for promoting democracy. Transitions from authoritarian rule are driven by internal forces, and the United States should not take for granted that it is capable of significantly shaping political and institutional development within another state. How large an influence the United States can have on democratic transitions is an empirical question. The democratization forum in the Whitehead Journal mostly cited small-N case studies, but these studies have contrary implications depending on the cases one selects. 3 Large-N quantitative studies paint a generally more pessimistic picture of externally generated democracy than that of the forum’s contributors. Had the large-N literature been consulted, the democratization forum might have paid greater attention to the practical difficulty of changing repressive states from the outside-in. This essay synthesizes the latest cross-national academic research to highlight how problematic it is for external actors—even a powerful one like the United States—to change another country’s non-democratic political system. It needs to be understood, however, that, although the evidence challenges naïve favorable assumptions about democracy promotion, this essay is not implying the international community should reject all efforts to transform authoritarian systems as futile or counterproductive. Certain targeted activities may prove effective at supporting democratic reform in countries where conditions are ripe, but the data suggest we keep our expectations modest and be prepared to learn from setbacks. Arthur A. Goldsmith is a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where he teaches in the College of Management and is senior fellow at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies. He has published widely on international development issues and has been a consultant to international agencies. 65
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This note was uploaded on 02/01/2012 for the course INTERNATIO 101 taught by Professor Staff during the Fall '09 term at Boise State.

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v8n2_07 - Democratization in the 21st Century: What Can the...

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