By: Tomas Penfold Perez
With the Western-led liberal order in question, it may be time to debate the international actions that Western democracies took to raise unmannered support for their post-WWII vision. The Bretton Woods institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Bank (WB), were established by the United States and its allies to transgress to a more free-flowing liberal order. Their liberal vision and eagerness to implement such policies worldwide may have been the very variable for their eventual demise.
Implementing democratic institutions worldwide has been a policy objective for progressive administrations for centuries. They are those who believe a representative democracy is the best way to rule and who prelude that a democratic transition in volatile states is the best way to preserve world order, even if it means intervening. Take Vietnam, for example, which former United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower undertook to intervene in South Vietnam by to halt the spread of communism, or intervention in Latin America in the 1970-80s where the Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush administrations urged and often facilitated the departure of autocratic leaders in Chile and El Salvador, respectively. The most notorious example may be the intervention into Iraq by the George W. Bush administration in 2003, when he claimed that the universal appeal of freedom and democracy will ultimately triumph over the totalitarian ideology of radical Islam. Such external interventions should be assessed as a vital reason to the increased international sentiment towards protectionism and sectarianism in 2017.
F.W. de Clerk, son of a prominent Afrikaner political figure and former President of South Africa (1989-94) during apartheid, claimed that well-established countries should refrain from trying to impose their model on countries that are wracked by conflict. The citizens of countries trying to resolve conflict should be allowed to work out solutions that are in step with their traditions and with religion, where religion plays a part. In 1859, John Stuart Mill had a similar understanding, stating that “to go to war for an idea, if the war is aggressive and not defensive, is as criminal as to go to war for territory over revenue; for it is as little justifiable to force our ideas on other people, as to compel them to submit our will in any other respect.”
Co-authored by M.I.T. economist Daron Acemoglu and Harvard political scientist James A. Robinson, “Why Nations Fail” argues that nations thrive when they have inclusive political and economic institutions and they fail when these institutions become extracted, or concentrated in the hands of a few. Most importantly, however, is the underlying thesis which states that democracy cannot be exported; it has to instead emerge from a grassroots movement.
A grassroots movement that aims to build an inclusive political environment can be enhanced through foreign intervention and aid, but it is wrong to create a political entity in a sovereign nation, especially if it is against the nation’s own will. A grassroot movement is essential in establishing a base for a democratic transition. The 2011 Arab Spring movement syndicated the unnerving will of the people in the Middle East and North Africa region, forcing many authoritarian rulers to abandon their respected governing positions. While not definitive in implementing democratic institutions, the historic movement was an organic approach in allowing people to voice their craving for inclusive political and economic institutions, as the ordinary people who are active in the struggle for democracy are often the real agents of change.
Defying sovereignty at the expense of instilling a democracy is a decision that should be assessed with great reason, as it is a difficult task to implement a democracy in a destabilized country that has no historical democratic reference. In other words, it is almost impossible to democratize a country that historically does not have an inclusive structure within its government. Having a historical reference, as Acemoglu and Robinson mention, is imperative. The violent American-backed coup d’état that overthrew the democratically elected Socialist Party in 1973, led by General Augusto Pinochet in Chile, threatened the Chilean democratic structure of government for nearly 15 years. The historically embedded democratic practices within government that had been evident since Chile’s independence allowed them to transgress to a more implicit government through a political movement within the country, free of international intrusion.
Although intervening for the purpose of implementing a democratic regime is often applauded by those who fear authoritarianism, communism or socialism, its effects are often misunderstood. While the liberal democracy may be more appealing to the Western world, its constituents garner support from the opposition as the long-term effects of a failed democratic state through international intervention are costly. Take Nouri al-Maliki’s appointment as Iraq’s prime minister in 2006 as an example. Because the U.S. military intervention was not sufficient in instilling an inclusive democracy there, the Bush administration believed it to be in their best interest to use their soft power in supporting a candidate who they thought could bridge Iraq’s sectarian divides through his leadership qualities. But since Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, announced his plan to withdraw troops from Iraq in 2010, Maliki’s Shiite-led government has pivoted to sectarian rule, often at the expense of the Iraq’s Sunni population, which has only intensified with the emergence of ISIL.
The dangers accompanied with imposing a democratic transition on a country that chooses not to be responsive are dire. Whether it is through soft power, as was the case with Maliki and Pinochet, or hard-power which is evident through the U.S. intervention in Vietnam, it must be understood that forcing a state to become democratic has tangible consequences that have become ever-more apparent. It is imperative that those who profess the world liberal order be reflective on the mistakes that have been made, and the reasons for the increased authoritarianism and populism we are experiencing in today’s political climate. Although it takes many years to comment on whether or not an administration’s policy has worked, it cannot be denied that liberal intervention around the world has led to global discontent regarding the liberal order.
Tomas Penfold Perez is a communications consultant for the EastWest Institute. He is a Fordham University graduate who majored in International Political Economy and Communications & Media Industries.