Democracies stumble as autocratic ideology trumps economics

putinA quarter-century after the fall of the Soviet Union, authoritarian rulers such as Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad are showing they can and will defy international norms, suppress dissent and use military force. American policymakers are struggling with how to respond, Reuters reports:

“It’s a big philosophical question about how to deal with a strong state with anti-Western and autocratic proclivities,” said Michael McFaul, the most recent U.S. ambassador to Moscow and a former NED Reagan-Fascell fellow. “I would say on that score we are kind of confused as a country.”

A 16th-century Machiavellian truism is re-asserting its dominance: The party most willing to decisively use force will prevail over a noncommittal opponent, analyst David Rohde asserts.

“What we’ve seen with Assad and Putin is a willingness to smile at international norms and pursue power politics regardless of the cost,” said Andrew Weiss, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment. “And if the West is not united and America’s interests are not immediately threatened, the response immediately becomes attenuated.”

Putin outlined his ideological paradigm in a newspaper article published on New Year’s Eve of 1999, notes analyst Jonas Grätz in a paper for the Center for Security Studies:

The Russian idea should be some combination of patriotism, “great power-ness” (derzhavnost), statism, and solidarity rather than individualism. But his key proposition was that no political campaigns should be allowed to destroy this “nascent consensus”. Thus he had to rein in rival power centres at any cost in order to turn Russia into a strategic actor again.

Fiona Hill, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution and a former National Intelligence Council official, said those who believed the Soviet collapse signified the triumph of democratic capitalism were deluding themselves as many Russians remained deeply skeptical of Western norms.

“It was only a very small elite around Yeltsin who were buying this,” she said. “Too many people (Westerners) saw what they wanted to see, rather than what was happening.”

Then the global financial crisis strengthened a perception in parts of the world that Western democracy was failing, Hill added.


Democracy support in Turkey’s foreign policy

turkey2Ankara’s attempts to make democracy promotion a focus of its foreign policy have had only limited success, in part because Turkey is losing credibility as a democratic model, say analysts Senem Aydın-Düzgit and E. Fuat Keyman.

Turkey is a newcomer to democracy promotion. Until the mid-2000s, democracy mainly figured into Turkish foreign policy as part of debates with the West, in particular the European Union, on Turkey’s own democratic transition and consolidation, they write for the Carnegie Endowment.

Ankara’s domestic democratic record was and continues to be an important issue in its relations with Western democracies. The country remains an EU candidate, and ongoing accession negotiations mean that its internal political developments are under close EU scrutiny.

But increasingly, democracy has also become a central issue in Turkish foreign relations with the non-Western world. Turkey has started to focus on democracy promotion at two distinct levels, simultaneously trying to position itself as a model of democracy in its neighborhood and attempting to advance reform in other countries by funding democracy assistance projects.

The period in which the AKP came to power in Turkey was also the time of the Iraq war, which substantially changed dynamics in the Middle East. As the United States in particular came to attach more importance to democratization in the region, the Turkish experience with democratic consolidation under the AKP emerged as a possible model for other Middle Eastern countries. Various AKP policy initiatives sought to promote the idea that Turkey could serve as an example of a successfully democratizing country for other states in the region.

To that end, Turkey increased civil society contacts and exchanges with its neighbors through a liberalized visa regime, enhanced economic and trade relations, and created scholarship programs for students from the Middle East and the Balkans to study in Turkey. The increasingly transnational activities of Turkish civil society organizations and businesses—and even Turkish soap operas, widely watched across the region—further contributed to strengthening Turkey’s soft power and visibility in its neighborhood.

However, the supposed attractiveness of the “Turkish model” masked the reality that the AKP’s initial foreign policy line at the macro political level in fact de-emphasized democratic concerns. The party’s motto, “zero problems with neighbors,” reflected its desire to use Turkey’s Ottoman legacy and its socioeconomic ties to the region to rekindle relations and avert tensions with both democratic and nondemocratic partners in the Middle East. Within this framework, Turkey initiated new dialogues with countries such as Iraq, Iran, and Syria as well as with the Kurds in Northern Iraq.

This policy was no longer tenable after the onset of the Arab Spring, which radically changed Turkey’s foreign policy calculations. Although Ankara initially hesitated on whether or not to support the burgeoning democracy movements, particularly in Libya and Syria, it eventually aligned itself with the popular revolts.

Still, Turkey continues to enjoy close relations with a number of its nondemocratic neighbors. It refrains from bringing up democracy and human rights concerns with some of these regional partners, including Azerbaijan and the Gulf states.

While Turkey was careful not to project the image of being a sectarian actor in the initial stages of the Syrian conflict, the government abandoned this caution as Assad clung to power. The AKP has also used anti-Shia discourse to discredit its domestic opposition, which has further exacerbated this problem.

The Turkish government’s response to the July 2013 military coup in Egypt that overthrew Mohamed Morsi, the country’s Muslim Brotherhood–backed president, also eroded its image as an impartial actor. Turkey was highly critical of the coup and expressed strong support for the Muslim Brotherhood both at home and abroad. Its backing of Morsi’s government and subsequent outrage at his ouster appeared to many to be more an act of solidarity by the AKP with the Muslim Brotherhood than a principled stance in favor of liberal democracy. The AKP seemed to be drawing direct parallels to its own historical struggle against the Turkish military and the secularist establishment. But Turkish citizens who expressed caution about the country’s strong engagement in the Egyptian crisis were quickly branded by the government in Ankara as undemocratic coup supporters.


The question of inclusiveness in democracy promotion policies has also proved problematic for Turkey. The AKP has tended to exclude liberal and secular NGOs from the state’s official democracy promotion efforts, instead privileging organizations with religious values that mirror its own. This pattern is a reflection of Turkey’s own internal tensions between religious and liberal identities.

These tensions are now posing serious challenges for Turkey’s incipient profile in the field of democracy support. While the AKP government has succeeded in making democracy a focus of Turkey’s foreign policy, at least at the micro level, serious issues remain. Until it addresses these shortcomings, Turkey’s efforts at democracy promotion will remain limited.

Senem Aydın-Düzgit is associate professor and Jean Monnet Chair in the Department of International Relations at Istanbul Bilgi University. E. Fuat Keyman is director of the Istanbul Policy Center and professor at Sabancı University.

This extract is taken from a substantially longer article. RTWT

U.S. strategy after Ukraine: balancing democracy and realpolitik

putinThe fundamental problem that Ukraine poses for Russia is a crisis in internal legitimacy, says a leading analyst.

President Vladimir Putin has spent his time in power rebuilding the authority of the state within Russia and the authority of Russia within the former Soviet Union. The events in Ukraine undermine the second strategy and potentially the first, says Stratfor’s George Friedman.

“If Putin cannot maintain at least Ukrainian neutrality, then the world’s perception of him as a master strategist is shattered, and the legitimacy and authority he has built for the Russian state is, at best, shaken,” he contends.

“Whatever the origins of the events in Ukraine, the United States is now engaged in a confrontation with Russia,” he argues:

A failure to engage at this point would cause countries around Russia’s periphery, from Estonia to Azerbaijan, to conclude that with the United States withdrawn and Europe fragmented, they must reach an accommodation with Russia. This will expand Russian power and open the door to Russian influence spreading on the European Peninsula itself. The United States has fought three wars (World War I, World War II and the Cold War) to prevent hegemonic domination of the region. Failure to engage would be a reversal of a century-old strategy.

The United States needs a strategy that is economical and coherent militarily, politically and financially. It has two advantages. Some of the countries on Russia’s periphery do not want to be dominated by her. Russia, in spite of some strengths, is inherently weak and does not require U.S. exertion on the order of the two World Wars, the Cold War or even the Middle East engagements of the past decade.

The U.S. needs to forge a new alliance along the Estonia-Azerbaijan line.

“There are those who would criticize this alliance for including members who do not share all the democratic values of the U.S. State Department,” notes Friedman:

This may be true. It is also true that during the Cold War the United States was allied with the Shah’s Iran, Turkey and Greece under dictatorship and Mao’s China after 1971. Having encouraged Ukrainian independence, the United States — in trying to protect that independence and the independence of other countries in the region — is creating an alliance structure that will include countries, such as Azerbaijan, that have been criticized. However, if energy does not come from Azerbaijan, it will come from Russia, and then the Ukrainian events will dissolve into tragic farce. The State Department must grapple with the harsh forces its own policies have unleashed. This suggests that the high-mindedness borne of benign assumptions now proven to be illusions must make way for realpolitik calculations.


The Almost Revolution: Development Aid Confronts Politics

carothersDevelopment efforts and the discourse that surround them often take place within a vacuum that ignores the political realities that can help or hinder their implementation. In his new book with Diane de Gramont, Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution, Thomas Carothers traces the rising belief in the assistance community that development is an “inherently political process and development aid must necessarily be politically informed and politically engaged to be successful.” He examines how aid actors are attempting to turn this insight into changed aid practice and whether it constitutes, as some adherents hope, a revolution in development work. Prior to joining Carnegie, Mr. Carothers practiced law at Arnold & Porter and served in the Office of Legal Adviser at the State Department. He is currently the chair of the Open Society Foundation Think Tank Fund and is an adjunct professor at Central European University in Budapest.

Development Aid Confronts Politics: the Almost Revolution

with Thomas Carothers,

Vice President for Studies

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

12:30-2:00 PM

Rome Building, Room 200

1619 Massachusetts Ave NW


Obama ‘adopts wary stance’ on Ukraine crisis, promoting democracy?

ukraine“While George W. Bush was inspired by the Orange Revolution of 2004 and weeks later vowed in his second inaugural address to promote democracy, Barack Obama has approached the revolution of 2014 with a more clinical detachment aimed at avoiding instability,” Peter Baker writes for the New York Times:

Rather than an opportunity to spread freedom in a part of the world long plagued by corruption and oppression, Mr. Obama sees Ukraine’s crisis as a problem to be managed, ideally with a minimum of violence or geopolitical upheaval. While certainly sympathetic to the pro-Western protesters who pushed out President Viktor F. Yanukovych and hopeful that they can establish a representatively elected government, Mr. Obama has not made global aspirations of democracy the animating force of his presidency.

“I just think this president is not going to lean forward on his skis with regard to democracy promotion,” said Yale University historian John Lewis Gaddis. “If anything, he’s going to lean back and let natural forces take us there, if they do.”

Turned off by what he saw as Mr. Bush’s crusading streak and seared by the dashed hopes of the Arab Spring, Mr. Obama, aides said, was wary of being proactive in trying to change other societies, convinced that being too public would make the United States the issue and risk provoking a backlash. The difference, aides said, was not the goal but the methods of achieving it, Baker adds…. Mr. Obama privately told aides he admired Mr. Bush’s second inaugural as a piece of writing and expression of values, but thought it overpromised, raising expectations that could never be met.

“These democratic movements will be more sustainable if they are seen as not an extension of America or any other country, but coming from within these societies,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “For the longer term, it is better to let the people within the country be the strongest voice while also ensuring that at the appropriate times you are weighing in publicly and privately.”

To some critics, though, that justifies a policy of passivity that undercuts core American values, Baker continues.

“The administration’s Ukraine policy is emblematic of a broader problem with today’s foreign policy — absence of a strategic vision, disinterest in democracy promotion and an unwillingness to lead,” said Paula J. Dobriansky, an under secretary of state for Mr. Bush.

Mr. Obama waited until last week, three months into the crisis, to make his first statement in front of cameras. ..Critics saw that as too little, too late, Baker reports.

“Regrettably, the West viewed the situation as a crisis that needed to be tamped down rather than an opportunity for positive change,” said David Kramer, president of Freedom House.

Yet others said caution might be justified.

“It doesn’t seem to me that the Obama administration is so invested in that democracy theme,” said Brookings analyst Steven Pifer, a former ambassador to Ukraine, but that “may not be a bad thing.” He added: “Given how fluid things are in Kiev, I’m not sure it would be wise to jump in there with advice, and I’m not sure the advice would be welcome. This may be a time where a little restraint on our part is a good thing.”