Monday, May 08, 2006

Democracy and Foreign Policy

One of the new heresies in Washington is to suggest that that a country's internal political developments (degree of democracy) and its external policies (degree of alignment with the United States) are not always going to be in sync. In other words, that the more a country becomes democratic, the more friendly it becomes to the United States.

That is true in some circumstances and under the right set of conditions. For a country like Poland, with a menacing neighbor to its east, the pattern has been that greater democratization in Poland over the last 15 years has led to an alignment with the United States.

It is not true for other states. A more democratic Pakistan, for example, would not be as close of an ally in the war on terror.

This belief is now being used as the basis for U.S. policy toward Russia as well.

There is a clear authoritarian trend in Russia. Whether a less authoritarian Russia, however, would be more supportive of the U.S. on Iran and other issues, is highly questionable. The U.S. may be concerned about shrinking pluralism, transparency and competition in Russia for very valid reasons--but I think it is a real stretch to argue that if Mikhail Khodorkovsky were to be released and all charges dropped against him, or a BBC-style charter of governance created for State Channel 1, that this in and of itself would produce a closer U.S.-Russia alignment.

Certainly, if opinion polls are any guide, a more responsive Russian government would have no incentive to move closer to U.S. positions. And unless the U.S. were to offer some very lucrative economic concessions, it is difficult to see why Russia would want to change its economic behavior to suit our preferences.

So the argument that promoting more pluralism in Russia advances the U.S. foreign policy agenda--that is not clear. We have good incentives for a more pluralistic Russia--among them greater transparency in decision-making--but in terms of getting support for matters like Iran we will have to appeal to Russian interests--and that is a separate matter.

(My thoughts on the vice-president's speech in Vilnius can be found at National Review.)

A somewhat different (but not unrelated) question is the extent to which democracy is a function of foreign relations rather than the other way around. There is no question that NATO membership has helped stabilize democracy in Portugal, Spain, Greece, and above all Germany. If Russia's relations with the United States involved belonging to a common alliance (NATO or a bilateral treaty such as we have with Japan), democratic sentiment might be stronger in Russia. Of course, Russia has to want closer military ties. But I think a case can be made that domestic democracy and external relations are mutually reinforcing.

If we encourage democratic regimes to come into existence but do not offer them treaties of mutual defense, we are signaling that our support for democracy has limits. We should not be surprised if people in new democracies then feel the same way.
Mearsheimer has made a similar point concerning China, that even if China is a democracy its interests will still clash with those of the United States. Perhaps the point is that if states are democratic they will seek to resolve or minimize differences in a peaceful fashion but sharing democracy alone will not mean that there are no differences of interests.
Kaiser's Germany & the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire were 2 of the most democratic states of Europe before WWI. Yet, they fought against a number of other democracies Great Britain, France, Italy, US.

Prior to 1914, one had the US-Canadian War, the US-Mexican War, the Civil War; all among so-called democracies.

This line of thinking (democracies do not fight with each other) is just the latest kistsch in US. It has nothing to do with the real world of power politics. It also encourages intellectual laziness and lulls people into a false sense of security.
I for one don't trust the US to do what is necessary. Rhetoric is no substitute for real action. Ukraine needs the same commitments the Baltic States got that their integration into the West would take place. As long as there is doubt, then this gives Moscow the leverage it needs.
Bohdan, the support of Washington might not be in the best interests of Ukraine. What Washington will do for Ukraine is fight for Ukrainian independence to the last Ukrainian.

And it's working. There used to be 51 million Ukrainians. There are now 46 million, and deaths exceed virths there by ~350,000/year.

OTOH, Belarus has maintained close ties to Russia, and it shows. There used to be 10 million people in Belarus.

And there still are.
And George and "Dead-Eye" Dick, and Rummy, and Condi all don't want people to know that.
They, and pretty much the rest of the foreign policy elite in the United States are far more interested in Ukrainians dead 70 years than Ukrainians dying now.
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