Democracy’s depressing paradox: Fukuyama’s ‘Political Order and Political Decay’


fukuyama pol order decayFrancis Fukuyama’s “Political Order and Political Decay,” a whirlwind tour of modern political development from the French Revolution to the present, is nothing if not ambitious, says Columbia University’s Sheri Berman.

“He wants to do more than just describe what liberal democracy is; he wants to discover how and why it develops (or does not),” she writes for the New York Times:

He suggests that the sequencing of political development is important, arguing that “those countries in which democracy preceded modern state building have had much greater problems achieving high-quality governance than those that inherited modern states from absolutist times.” But the cases he gives as examples do not necessarily fit the argument well (since Prussia’s state eventually had trouble deferring to civilian authorities and the early weakness of the Italian state was probably caused more by a lack of democracy than a surfeit of it). In addition, he surely understands that authoritarianism is even more likely to generate state weakness than democracy since without free media, an active civil society and regular elections, authoritarianism has more opportunities to make use of corruption, clientelism and predation than democracies do.

Fukuyama, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, leaves his readers with a depressing paradox, Berman notes:

Liberal democracy remains the best system for dealing with the challenges of modernity, and there is little reason to believe that Chinese, Russian or Islamist alternatives can provide the diverse range of economic, social and political goods that all humans crave. But unless liberal democracies can somehow manage to reform themselves and combat institutional decay, history will end not with a bang but with a resounding whimper.


Putin ‘scared witless by the idea of people power’

russia ukraineThe NATO summit meeting last week in Wales was dominated by Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. The rift with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was an extraordinary contrast to the last NATO summit in Britain, in 1990, Steven Erlanger writes for the New York Times:

A year after the Berlin Wall fell, NATO issued the London Declaration, asserting that “Europe has entered a new, promising era.” Eastern Europe is liberating itself, the declaration said. “The Soviet Union has embarked on the long journey toward a free society. The walls that once confined people and ideas are collapsing,” and those people “are choosing a Europe whole and free.”

 “I could weep for the hopes that we had in the early 1990s,” said Ian Bond, a former British diplomat in Russia, now at the Center for European Reform. “The walls that divided us were collapsing, and Putin is building them up again.”

Rather than moving toward democracy and individual liberties, Mr. Bond said, the Russian government obsesses about public uprisings like those in Ukraine in 2004 and this year.

“Putin wants to show that you can’t have a real democracy in a former Soviet state,” Mr. Bond said. “He’s scared witless by the idea of people power.”

Today, many in Moscow remain convinced that regime change is Washington’s ultimate objective. They view Western support for the revolution in Ukraine—allegedly engineered by Western spies and NGOs—as but an intermediate step toward similar actions against Putin’s government in Russia, according to Eugene Rumer, a senior associate and the director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Russia and Eurasia Program:

If none other than former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski—who is widely respected in Russia as a leading American foreign policy thinker but has also been known as a major hawk since the Cold War—has declared that supporting Ukraine is key to promoting change in Putin’s Russia, then clearly Russia is the next target for Western-engineered subversion. Western sanctions are interpreted in Moscow not simply as an instrument designed to change Russian policy in Ukraine, but as something far more sinister—to weaken Russia, to undermine its government, to instigate a popular uprising, to overthrow the Putin government, to install a puppet regime in Russia.

“In July, Putin told his security council that Russia’s foreign enemies are trying constantly to undermine Russia under the guise of democracy promotion,” Rumer writes for POLITICO. “Such ‘color revolutions,’ he said, will not work in Russia—though he probably has his doubts.”

But James Sherr, author of “Hard Diplomacy and Soft Coercion: Russia’s Influence Abroad,” believes that Mr. Putin was heading toward rupture regardless, Erlanger adds for the Times:

“Putin has had clear strategic objectives, even fixations, from the start, but he has pursued them by tactical improvisation,” Mr. Sherr said.

Mr. Putin is not just aiming to restore Russian primacy in the former Soviet Union, he said. “One of his fixations is Ukraine,” whose independence Mr. Putin regards as a crime.

At the same time, Mr. Sherr said, “we in the West had a very specific, hopeful, illusory idea about the end of the Soviet Union and the kind of Russia we’d be dealing with.” But even by 1994, Russian democrats were being called “romantics,” if not yet traitors. “I think Putin or something like Putin was almost preordained from this whole period of romanticism and illusions,” Mr. Sherr said. “That was fueled by the equally naïve projection of a Western liberal model of economic and political change on Russia.”

Waves of democratization are not over?

JODIn the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy, (PDF), Marc Plattner makes the provocative claim that “the era of democratic transitions is over, and should now become the province of the historians,” notes political scientist Jay Ulfelder. By that, he seems to mean that we should not expect new waves of democratization similar in form and scale to the ones that have occurred before. I think Plattner is wrong, in part because he has defined “wave” too broadly, he writes on his Dart Throwing Chimp blog.

In his essay, Plattner implicitly adopts the definition of waves of democratization described by Samuel Huntington on p. 15 of his influential 1991 book:

A wave of democratization is a group of transitions from nondemocratic to democratic regimes that occur within a specified period of time and that significantly outnumber transitions in the opposite direction during that period of time.

Much of what’s been written and said about waves of democratization since that book was published accepts those terms and the three waves Huntington identifies when he applies them to the historical evidence: one in Europe from the 1820s to the 1920s; another and wider one in Europe, Latin America, and Asia from the 1940s to the early 1960s; and a third and so-far final one that began in Portugal in 1974, has been global in scope, and now appears to have stalled or ended…..

I think we can make out at least five and maybe more such waves since the early 1900s, not the three or maybe four we usually hear about.

First, as Plattner  (p. 9) points out, what Huntington describes as the “first, long” wave really includes two distinct clusters: 1) the “dozen or so European and European-settler countries that already had succeeded in establishing a fair degree of freedom and rule of law, and them moved into the democratic column by gradually extending the suffrage”; and 2) “countries that became democratic after World War I, many of them new nations born from the midst of the European empires defeated and destroyed during the war.”

The second (or now third?) wave grew out of World War II. Even though this wave was relatively short, it also included a few distinct sub-clusters: countries defeated in that war, countries born of decolonization, and a number of Latin American cases. …. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to split the so-called second wave into two clusters (war losers and newly independent states) and a clump of coincidences (Latin America), but there are enough direct linkages across those sets to see meaning in a larger wave, too.

As for the so-called third wave, I’m with Mike McFaul (here) and others who see at least two separate clusters in there. The wave of democratization that swept southern Europe and Latin America in the 1970s and early 1980s is temporally and causally distinct from the spate of transitions associated with the USSR’s reform and disintegration, so it makes no sense to talk of a coherent era spanning the past 40 years. Less clear is where to put the many democratic transitions—some successful, many others aborted or short lived—that occurred in Africa as Communist rule collapsed. Based partly on Robert Bates’ analysis (here), I am comfortable grouping them with the post-Communist cases. …

So, based on that definition and its application, I think it’s fair to say that we have seen at least five waves of democratization in the past two centuries, and perhaps as many as six or seven….

Nearly two-thirds of the world’s countries now have regimes that most observers would call democratic, so the pool of potential democratizers is substantially diminished. As Plattner puts it (p. 14), “The ‘low-hanging fruit’ has been picked.” Still, if we look for groups of authoritarian regimes that share enough political, economic, social, and cultural connections to allow common causes and contagion to kick in, then I think we can find some sets in which this dynamic could clearly happen again. I see three in particular.

The first and most obvious is in the Middle East and North Africa, the region that has proved most resistant to democratization to date. In fact, I think we already saw—or, arguably, are still seeing—the next wave of democratization in the form of the Arab Spring and its aftermath. So far, that cluster of popular uprisings and state collapses has only produced one persistently democratic state (Tunisia), but it has also produced a democratic interlude in Egypt; a series of competitively elected (albeit ineffective) governments in Libya; a nonviolent transfer of power between elected governments in Iraq; ongoing (albeit not particularly liberal) revolutions in Syria and Yemen; and sustained, liberal challenges to authoritarian rule in Bahrain, Kuwait, and, perhaps, Saudi Arabia. …

Beyond that, though, I also see the possibility of a wave of regime breakdowns and attempts at democracy in Asia brought on by economic or political instability in China. Many of the autocracies that remain in that region—and there are many—depend directly or indirectly on Chinese patronage and trade, so any significant disruption in China’s political economy would send shock waves through their systems as well. I happen to think that systemic instability will probably hit China in the next few years (see here, here, and here), but the timing is less relevant here than the possibility of this turbulence, and thus of the wider wave of democratization it could help to produce.


Putin’s ‘good cop claim rings hollow’ as NATO plans new bases

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko promised on Wednesday to work on a ceasefire plan to end the separatist conflict in the east of the country following talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, the FT reports:

After two hours of bilateral talks in the Belarusian capital Minsk, the leaders gave no details of what the plan might look like and there was no indication on how the pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine might respond.

The positive spin from Russia and Ukraine doesn’t amount to much, according to Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Center for International Political Economy in Brussels. All the talks produced was an agreement to hold more meetings, he told Bloomberg.

“The Kremlin’s long-term strategy is to destabilize Ukraine — not to take over its territory but to keep it weak,” Erixon said by phone. “The notion that you reach a compromise deal with Putin through more talks, well, I just don’t see that.”

NATO’s secretary general announced that the alliance will deploy forces at new bases (Guardian) in eastern Europe for the first time as it responds to the Ukraine crisis, a move that will likely trigger a strong reaction from Moscow, says the Council on Foreign Relations:

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko agreed during talks in Minsk (NYT) on Wednesday with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that he will work on a cease-fire plan (FT) to end the separatist conflict in the east of the country, although he gave no details of what the plan may entail. Separatist rebels shelled a town in southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday (AP), raising fears of a counter-offensive on government-controlled areas of the region.

ukrainesolidarnoscStanford University’s Michael A. McFaul, President Obama’s former ambassador to Moscow, said Mr. Putin had frequently shifted between more pragmatic calculations and a nostalgia-tinged commitment to reviving Russian power, particularly over former Soviet territories like Ukraine.

“Putin has always had dual impulses, lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union but also recognizing that Russia has to integrate in the wider world,” Mr. McFaul told the New York Times in a telephone interview.

What’s the end game for Putin here? PBS asked Steve Sestanovich, a Council on Foreign Relations fellow (above):

There’s a range of possibilities. He could be looking at a kind of permanent ferment in Eastern Ukraine, something like the support that Russia’s given over many years to separatists in Moldova, in Georgia and elsewhere. That’s not a really good outcome because it doesn’t get him off the hook with The West, it means a lot of these sanctions will probably stay in place for a long time.

A better outcome would be one in which he gets some kind of concessions from Poroshenko about the structure of Ukrainian politics, some kind of acknowledgement that there has to be decentralization. Poroshenko has offered all of that, but he hasn’t offered to do it in a way that looks enough to Putin like a real victory.

Putin ‘gone too far to back down’?

“Moscow’s policy towards Ukraine in the past year has been a disaster in its own terms, giving Ukrainian identity and self-respect a boost as never seen before. Mr Putin is counting on other world leaders staring aghast at this brutal intra-Slav trial of strength, and deciding to stay well clear of it,” says Charles Crawford, formerly British Ambassador in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Warsaw, and a founder member of The Ambassador Partnership:

The eternal problem for diplomacy in situations like this is trying to talk about a deal on the level of pragmatic principle while both sides strain to create new facts on the ground. Any outcome that freezes the military situation in eastern Ukraine as it is today amounts to a win for the Kremlin: all Ukrainian territory not controlled by Kiev turns into “something other” and becomes the basis for eventual separatist claims.

“However, President Putin in turns knows that any outcome that allows Kiev to reassert control over all its territory other than Crimea is a Kremlin defeat,” he writes for the London Telegraph. “President Putin has not stepped into open illegal warfare just to lose.”

Putin’s ultimate goal – to bring Ukraine under Russian influence – “has moved further from his reach,” said Sestanovich, a National Endowment for Democracy board member.

And right now, he has to decide whether he is ready to settle for a lesser goal, because he has lost the opportunity to dominate Ukraine in the way that he once aimed for,” he told Deutsche Welle. “Now he has to decide whether he is prepared to live with a Ukraine that has significant institutional ties to the West.

CFR Analysis

“In looking to negotiations to end the crisis in Ukraine, the West should first make clear what steps NATO and the EU will undertake to support Ukraine and, if required, how sanctions on Russia will be intensified if it is unwilling to reach a fair settlement. Without this clarity, Putin may be reluctant to accept that the endgame has begun,” writes the National Interest.

“Ukraine doesn’t belong to NATO, so the alliance is not obligated by treaty to deploy ground troops or air support. NATO could provide weapons, but the fight would be the Ukrainians to win,” writes David Francis for Foreign Policy.

“Russia’s conflict with the West over Ukraine will grow more dangerous. Tougher US and European sanctions won’t change Russia’s approach to Ukraine, because President Vladimir Putin is determined that this country will remain in Russia’s orbit and eventually become the crucial addition to his “Eurasian Union”, an economic alliance that now includes Kazakhstan and Belarus,” writes Ian Bremmer for the Straits Times.

Track II initiative

In the interest of promoting greater dialogue between Americans and Russians about the crisis, the Carnegie Endowment’s Andrew Weiss recently joined a group of senior experts and former officials at a meeting in Finland. The preliminary results of this Track II initiative—specifically, a framework for a possible high-level discussion about a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Ukraine—are published online today by the Atlantic and by Kommersant in Russia.

The joint document emphasizes that both Russia and Ukraine will need to make significant compromises to ensure a lasting peace. Among other things, it calls for a UN-authorized peacekeeping mission under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, a redoubled effort to halt the illegal transfer of military equipment and personnel across the Russian-Ukrainian border, and agreed limits on the concentration of Russian and Ukrainian troops along the border.

Is the Ukraine crisis the West’s fault?


ukraine euromaidanJohn J. Mearsheimer’s article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault,” shows his contempt for democracy, national sovereignty, and international law, says a leading analyst.

His thesis is that Russia has the right to decide the fate of the countries in its neighborhood in its own interest, the Petersen Institute’s Anders Aslund observes:

Mearsheimer invokes the role of popular will in two instances in his article. In one case, he claims that most of the people in Crimea “wanted out of Ukraine.” But the evidence is missing. Opinion polls before the “referendum” under Russian military control showed nothing of the sort, and the referendum was a blatant fake.

The other case is when Mearsheimer, again without evidence, claims that Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted through a “coup.” He lost his parliamentary majority on February 20 after having ordered the killing of 100 citizens, and he was voted out with a constitutional majority of two-thirds. One may complain that a more complex impeachment procedure should have been applied, but Mearsheimer’s hero Putin is not even democratically elected.

Aslund might also have noted that Mearsheimer exhibits a rather mechanistic conception of political change in his suggestion that the National Endowment for Democracy and similar democracy assistance groups are able to foment regime change through some form of political engineering. Similarly, his suggestion that the popular mobilization which led to Yanukovych’s resignation was a ‘coup’ effectively delegitimizes any citizen action to counter government corruption, misgovernance or authoritarian rule.

Indeed, Mearsheimer misrepresents the NED’s Carl Gershman’s reference, in a Washington Post op-ed last fall, to Ukraine as “the biggest prize,” when it was clear that the phrase referred to Russia’s proprietary attitudes towards its neighbor.

Mearsheimer also defends Putin’s rationality, which is a tall order, Aslund continues:

Putin clearly believes, as former US Ambassador Michael McFaul has so eloquently put it, that no popular uprising can happen anywhere, and that everything is instigated by security services, notably the US services. Therefore, it could not have been the Ukrainians who ousted their corrupt dictator Yanukovych—it had to be the Americans. Only a conspiratorial and paranoid mind like Putin’s can take that at face value, but Mearsheimer bolsters him.

With Mearsheimer’s arguments, any crackpot military aggression anywhere in the world could be defended. He could use the same arguments to justify Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, or Saddam Hussein, which suggests that these arguments in defense of Putin might not be of much value.

UKRAINE POLLUkrainians’ attitudes toward Russia have changed significantly (July 2014 NYT). In 2011, which was the last time Pew conducted a poll there, more than eight in 10 Ukrainians had a favorable opinion of Russia. Now only 35 percent of respondents have a positive view. Within Ukraine, there are deep divisions based on geography and language. Residents of the western part of the country were most unfavorable toward Russia, while Russian-speakers in the east were less unfavorable.

According to a recent poll from the International Republican Institute, a majority of Ukrainians support closer ties with Europe:

Fifty-two percent of respondents now favor joining the European Union over the Russian-led Customs Union, up from 41 percent in February.  Although divisions remain between the east and west of Ukraine, 53 percent said they would vote to join the European Union if a referendum were held.  When asked the same question about joining the Customs Union, 28 percent said they would vote to join.

According to the principal findings from the latest survey in Ukraine (above) by the Pew Research Center:

Ukrainians are far from satisfied with the involvement of foreign powers to date. The European Union fairs best in the eyes of Ukrainians, with a 45%-plurality describing its influence in Ukraine as good. Meanwhile, assessments of the U.S. impact on Ukraine are split: 38% positive, 38% negative.

Russia is viewed with the greatest suspicion. Three times as many Ukrainians say Russia is having a bad influence on their country as say it is having a good impact (67% vs. 22%). At the same time, overall confidence in Putin’s handling of world affairs has plummeted from 56% in 2007 to 23% today.