Monthly Archives: October 2012

Michael W. Doyle — Democratizing World Politics

 [By Michael W. Doyle. Part of the series “Global Challenges in 2030”  (Goldstein & Pevehouse), January 2010.]

World politics has often been said to be a dangerous “jungle.” But are its dangers a product of the absence of a world policeman or the presence of rapacious state “beasts”? The most sensible answer is, surely, both. But while global governance tends to focus on creating new rules for the “jungle,” we should not neglect reforming the “beasts.” Indeed, one transformation that appears to have long-run prospects for reforming world politics into a much more governable world is changing the character of states: democratic liberalism.

Democratic liberalism embodies constitutional government, representative institutions, minority protections, human rights, and roles for private property and civil society. It is one of those great 19th-century revolutions, together with nationalism and industrialism, that is still transforming world politics. These revolutions began in Western Europe and have swept outward with revolutionary effects. Democratic liberalism grew from the handful of constitutional regimes in the early 19th century to more than 60 spread around the world today.

“Democracy is … a vital source of transformation with enormous upside and downside potential.” These citizens celebrate the narrow victory of the opposition presidential candidate in 2009 in Ghana, one of Africa’s few stable democracies.

Democratic liberalism is still a revolutionary idea. Its positive effects are profound and extensive, as this partial list suggests:

• It promotes peace and mutual respect among democratic peoples. For two centuries, democracies that are committed to the ideal of individual liberty and endowed with well-established constitutional governments have tended to maintain, and likely will continue to maintain, a reliable peace with each other.

• Democracy, at higher levels of participation, promotes human rights and decreases state repression. It also serves to protect the mass of a population from state indifference during a natural disaster, thus reducing the danger of large-scale famine.

• It tends to foster economic growth. Although there is no appreciable direct effect, democracy not only does not harm growth (as some have charged), it has robust, positive, indirect effects by increasing human capital (education, etc.), lowering inflation, reducing political instability, and enlarging economic freedom—all of which are positively associated with economic growth.

• Expanding the democratic franchise tends, overall, to reduce economic inequality as politicians respond to the majority’s demand for greater welfare. Being a democracy, however, is no cure-all. The very international respect for individual rights and shared commercial interests that establish grounds for peace among liberal democracies establishes grounds for additional conflict in relations between liberal and nonliberal societies, as they do in U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Chinese relations today. Liberal internationalism is no recipe; it needs constant, prudent vigilance to avoid crusades and misguided interventions. Liberal Britain, France, and the United States have been among the most expansionist empires, sometimes producing order and progress and at other times fostering chaos, oppression, and war. The “liberation” of Iraq is only the latest in these costly adventures.

Nor is becoming a democracy a cure-all. Globally, every step toward more democracy within countries reduces the chances of both international and civil war. That is the good news. But the good news needs to be qualified: where the rule of law and public institutions are weak, politicians will be tempted to use violence to achieve and hold office.

Democracy is thus a vital source of transformation with enormous upside and downside potential. The question remains: how to foster the first and avoid the second?

First, we need to avoid a repeat of the Bush administration’s “forced democratization.” Following the Iraq fiasco, it is unlikely to be repeated soon, but the ethical and practical lessons still need to be absorbed. Selfgovernment
should mean authentic “self” government, not laws and regulations imposed by foreigners, even if well-meaning. Democracy is not only government “for” and “of,” it is also government “by” the people. Unless the people see themselves as a people, are prepared to pay taxes, defend their borders, and abide by majority rule, democracy is not sustainable.

Second, we should also avoid attempts to replace the UN with leagues of democracies. It is a strategy of democratic association likely to do more harm than good. Few if any of the world’s major challenges can be met by dividing democratic sheep from nondemocratic goats. Effective trade negotiations and effective arms control need to include all the world’s major producers that are prepared to abide by agreed rules, whether they are democratic or not. Refusing to negotiate and shunning a potential Gorbachev or a new De Klerk is
not the best way to win their confidence.

Democratic transformation is best fostered peacefully. It spreads by good example, by incentives and assistance. Promoting democracy is best done indirectly through trade, investment, and foreign aid. These can help diversify societies. Diversified growing societies tend to demand responsive governance over the long run. Among the most powerful weapons in the arsenal for international democratic transformation—the shock troops of democratization—are students, tourists, and business investors.

For direct promotion, multilateral assistance is particularly useful because it frees the recipient organization from the taint of foreign control. The recently established UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF) has an especially significant role in this endeavor. Authorized at the 2005 World Summit in a unanimous General Assembly resolution, it distributes about $30 million per year, predominantly to civil society organizations who apply for a grant to promote measures such as voter education and mobilization.

Strategies like these are the best prospects for expanding the zone of peace among fellow democracies and reaping the benefits of democratization.


MICHAEL W. DOYLE is the Harold Brown Professor of International Affairs, Law and Political Science at Columbia University. Professor Doyle is currently one of the Secretary-General’s personal representatives and the chair of the board of UNDEF. These comments do not necessarily reflect the views of UNDEF, its donors, or the UN.

Daniel W. Drezner — Regulating Global Complexity

[By Daniel W. Drezner. Part of the series “Global Challenges in 2030”  (Goldstein & Pevehouse), January 2010.]

Outside of realists, mainstream international relations perspectives believe that the world benefits from complex interdependence. One of the biggest issues that international relations theorists will need to deal with in the coming decades, however, is dealing with the dark side of globalization.

With the end of the Cold War, the globalization phenomenon went truly global. At the same time, the number of banking and currency crises also began to mushroom. During the 1990s, the frequency of banking and currency crises rose to a level unseen since the interwar years. While most of these crises were concentrated in the developing world, with the Great Recession of 2008, instability went global as well. International markets in financial assets, food, and energy were buffeted by a series of shocks—and none of them functioned terribly well in response. This failure rattled even the most devout free market enthusiasts. Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan made headlines when he admitted that his faith in the “intellectual edifice” of self-correcting markets had “collapsed.”

With the accelerating pace of technological innovation constantly reducing the transaction costs of cross-border trade, globalization is a fact regardless of how high governments set barriers to trade. How can the benefits of greater openness and greater interdependence be realized while minimizing the costs that come from economic crises?

“Interlocking financial markets, real-time information dissemination, and just-in-time inventory systems [have] magnified … any perturbation in the global economy.” This Hong Kong container port in 2008 hints at the complexity of these processes.

Economists have been debating the best way to answer that question since the start of the Great Recession, with little to show for it beyond some very heated rhetoric. Many commentators argued that the laissez-faire, efficient markets, self-regulation approach allowed systemic risk to bubble up. Free-marketers placed the blame on government policies that subsidized home mortgages and kept interest rates too low for too long. This debate has produced more heat than light.

Here’s a truly subversive thought—perhaps the problem with this debate is the extent to which the rest of the world listens to economists. Keynesian or monetarist, all economists preach the virtues of maximizing economic efficiency. For all economists, the be all and end all of their policy prognostications is “Pareto optimality”—a world in which no one can be made better off without making anyone worse off.

If one looks at the globalized economy through the lens of organizational theory, however, then one’s perspective begins to shift. Globalization has transformed the world economy into a complex, tightly coupled social system. A globalized economy is hideously complex, with interactions between different sectors that become clear only after the fact. For example, U.S. government officials did not anticipate the ways in which the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers would ripple across financial markets; other governments failed to understand how Lehman’s collapse affected their own financial sectors.

A globalized economy is also a tightly coupled organism—changes in one component of the economy have immediate effects on other sectors of the economy. The proliferation of interlocking financial markets, real-time information dissemination, and just-intime inventory systems has accelerated and, at times, magnified the impact of any perturbation in the global economy. The way in which the subprime mortgage crisis spread across national economies and from financial markets to the real economy demonstrates the speed with which a minor accident can metastasize into something far more serious.

Complex, tightly coupled systems are prone to what some scholars have labeled “normal accidents”—cascading catastrophes that grow naturally in the system. These systems also tend to have actors with a vested interest in avoiding change in the status quo. Unlike loosely coupled or less complex systems, the creation of safety mechanisms to try to prevent such a catastrophe often has unanticipated or debilitating effects.

Some counterintuitive notions come from thinking of the global economy as a complex system. For example, faith in regulatory solutions might be just as misguided as faith in efficient markets. Efforts to regulate capital markets might be well intentioned, but they might also have unanticipated effects precipitating an even bigger economic crash. This does not mean that no actions should be taken—but it does mean that the potential costs of regulation have been underestimated.

Another counterintuitive point is that because of complexity, sham agreements might actually be a good thing for the global economy. The natural political instinct is to “do something” in the wake of a crisis. A normal accidents perspective,  however, would argue that periodic financial crashes are something the world must live with. Politicians do not do terribly well with a “do nothing” message—so symbolic pledges on a number of issue areas can alleviate political pressure without bollixing up the global financial system.

Debates over how to regulate a complex global economy will persist for decades. An organizational lens leads to some unconventional thoughts. In addition to maximizing economic efficiency, policy makers will also want to think about robustness as a desirable outcome. Any regulation of a complex global economy should be concentrated on making a tightly coupled system more robust to shocks. This means adding some friction to markets that react quickly, in the hopes that contagion does not spread as quickly in the future. There are limits to this strategy—the world really does benefit from financial globalization—but that’s why something like a minimal tax on international capital movements makes some sense.


DANIEL W. DREZNER is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is the author of All Politics Is Global (Princeton, 2007) and The Sanctions Paradox (Cambridge, 1999), and keeps a daily blog at

Andrew Moravcsik — Affirming Democracy in International Organizations

[By Andrew Moravcsik. Part of the series “Global Challenges in 2030”  (Goldstein & Pevehouse), January 2010.]

Are international organizations undemocratic? Many activists, politicians, and political scientists believe that globalization and global governance are reducing citizens and their elected politicians to rubber stamps. Decisions are made behind closed doors by networks of unelected diplomats, technocrats, and judges. Neither individual citizens nor national parliaments exercise meaningful oversight. Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld has contrasted international organizations that are “bureaucratic, diplomatic, technocratic—everything but democratic” with the U.S. Constitution’s “process of popular deliberation and consent.”

In the United States, international organizations elicit complaints from left and right alike. Conservatives criticize activist lawyers, judges, and NGOs for seeking to import interventionist foreign standards—the death penalty, global warming standards, and gay rights—without running the gamut of the normal legislative process. Progressives worry about the unchecked influence of corporate interests, which appear to use multilateral organizations such as the WTO to protect profits at the expense of social, health, safety, and  environmental standards.

Many Europeans share sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf’s view that internationalization “invariably means a loss of democracy.” The European  Union’s recent and contentious effort to promulgate a “constitution” was launched in order to bring it “closer to its citizens” and provide “better  democratic scrutiny.” Yet the impression of illegitimacy was bolstered by referendum defeats in France, the Netherlands, and Ireland before a  watered-down version finally passed in 2009 as the Treaty of Lisbon.

“Even in the European Union, the world’s most ambitious international institution, around 90% of lawmaking remains under national control.” French laws mainly govern the owner, crew, and cargo of this barge passing the European Parliament building in Strasbourg.

Critics propose two remedies.  “Sovereigntists” would reassert national  sovereignty, reinforce  domestic control, and block multilateralization of  new issues. “Cosmopolitan democrats” would establish elections, parliaments, and other popular democratic institutions at the global and regional levels. While these criticisms seem intuitively plausible, closer scrutiny reveals important counterarguments.

National institutions impose tight control over international organizations. National governments decide most important questions by consensus,  affording each member government a role in either approving or blocking an action. In nearly all bodies, international officials remain weak and secretariats are small. Each government remains responsible to its population in accordance with domestic law. Citizens in democratic societies can reward or punish their governments for the decisions they take in international organizations, just as they would for any other decision. Issues such as payment of UN dues in the United States, compliance with IMF programs in Argentina, or ratification of a new EU constitution in Britain spark spirited domestic debates.

International institutions expand the scope of democratic choice. In an increasingly interdependent world, the advancement of one country’s national interest increasingly depends on policies adopted by foreign governments. If citizens wish to defend themselves against external enemies, set an effective environmental standard, or protect human rights at home, they must increasingly do so in cooperation with foreigners. International cooperation offers governments a chance to exchange unilateral policy discretion at home for expanded influence over the policies of foreign governments, thereby realizing vital domestic policy objectives that would otherwise be unachievable. A blanket refusal to delegate authority to multilateral institutions, as sovereigntists recommend, would not only be self-defeating, but would also arbitrarily restrict national democratic choice.

International institutions can improve domestic democratic processes. International institutions may be distant, but critics of multilateralism go to the opposite extreme: They idealize local democracy. National elections and other forms of political representation often contain serious biases and flaws, which international institutions can help correct. Even in European countries, where human rights standards are well established, international courts have imposed higher human rights protection in matters such as the death penalty, gay rights, and the right of asylum. Many international institutions help promote democracy. The WTO helps overcome special interest dominance of unilateral trade policy making.

Governments reserve the issues most salient to voters to themselves. Even in the European Union, the world’s most ambitious international institution, around 90 percent of lawmaking remains under national control. These include the most salient issues to citizens: taxing and spending, social welfare provision, health care, pensions, education, law enforcement, local infrastructure, and defense spending. Even at home, we often choose to delegate issues handled by international institutions—such as human rights protection, financial and regulatory policy, nuclear proliferation—to more independent and expert officials and judges. This is as it should be.

If international decisions remain under tight democratic control, why are multilateral institutions so widely perceived as “undemocratic”? In part, this perception reflects the relative unfamiliarity of such institutions and the latent nationalism of publics. But also, many criticisms of “undemocratic” international organizations are advanced by those who are seeking a rhetorical edge in domestic debates about the content of specific decisions. At least critics seem equally divided. The fact that such criticisms appear to come equally from both the left and the right suggests that international organizations are doing something right.


ANDREW MORAVCSIK is Professor of Politics and International Affairs, and Director of the European Union Program, at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. He has authored over 100 academic publications on European integration, transatlantic relations, international organizations, global human rights, international relations theory, and Asian regionalism. He is Non-Resident Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution, Contributing Editor of Newsweek magazine, and Book Review Editor (Europe) of Foreign Affairs magazine. His policy experience includes service as an international trade negotiator for the U.S. Department of Commerce, special assistant to the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, and assistant in the press office of the European Commission.

Charli Carpenter — Securing the Seas

[By Charli Carpenter. Part of the series “Global Challenges in 2030”  (Goldstein & Pevehouse), January 2010.]

Forget Johnny Depp. Real-life maritime piracy is no laughing matter. According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 78 vessels were boarded and 39 hijacked worldwide in the first half of 2009—an increase of nearly double from the previous year. Unlike the pirates of yore, today’s sea bandits use satellite technology to track their prey; sneak up alongside ships in speedboats; are armed with machine guns, rocket launchers, and grenades; and board vessels with grappling irons. Once aboard, pirates plunder or ransom cargo and terrorize crews.

All kinds of ships—yachts, freighters, cruise ships, supertankers—fall victim to attack. In 2008, a Ukrainian cargo ship laden with Russian tanks, ammunition, and other military equipment was captured by pirates and later ransomed for $3.2 million. Humanitarian shipments to famine-ravaged lands are favorite targets off the Horn of Africa, meaning piracy is not just bad news for maritime crews and arms merchants but also for hungry civilians—not to mention the entire system of international trade, since 90 percent of what consumers use travels by water. And there are significant concerns about the connections between piracy and international terrorism.

“Ultimately, action at the global level is necessary to protect shipping lanes and empower legitimate international actors to stamp out piracy.” Here, Turkish commandos in 2009 arrest pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Commentators have different views as to what drives this problem: grinding poverty that makes piracy look like easy money, technological changes that make it easy for non-state actors to take on states and corporations, the collapse of state governance in many parts of the world. But an important contributing factor is the simple lack of global coordination to address the problem. States are responsible for policing their coastlines, but much piracy occurs on the high seas—outside of any one state’s jurisdiction. Because the  oceans are a radically transnational, ungoverned space, no one state has the power or authority to quell piracy on its own.

Governments acting in concert in specific contexts have shown that maritime piracy can be controlled. Four years ago, the Straits of Malacca were the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world. Then a coordination regime between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore reduced piracy markedly. But piracy hotspots move. At the same time that piracy declined in South Asia, it spiked off the Horn of Africa as marauders sought a more lawless region to ply their
trade. A coalition of 45 nations is now policing East Africa. But Somalia is not the only hotspot today: piracy remains a problem in South Asia and off the
coast of Nigeria.

Ultimately, as with other global problems, a global response is required. Unfortunately, no international organization exists whose responsibility is to protect shipping lanes globally or punish offenders once caught. The UN has no global police force, and was primarily designed to prevent territorial aggression among middle powers, not solve transnational security threats. In fact, the UN Charter is part of the problem: ships on the high seas cannot  legally pursue pirate boats into the territorial waters of sovereign countries. On a case-by-case basis, the UN Security Council can authorize exceptions to this rule, but this approach has not worked well in Somalia, partly because governments also need to be required to do the actual policing. And Security Council resolutions regarding Somalia cannot be transplanted to other  contexts.

The international community is also missing global rules about how to punish or deter piracy. As a crime of universal jurisdiction, piracy on the high seas is in theory punishable by any state that captures a pirate. But such trials are rare: no country wants to set a precedent for trying pirates in domestic courts, and be faced with a backlog from others bringing their own captured pirates to its jurisdiction. The International Criminal Court offers a potential venue for trying and punishing pirates, but at present its jurisdiction includes only the other universal jurisdiction crimes—genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Given this political and legal vacuum, shippers are fending for themselves these days with acoustic weapons and private security personnel, in some cases arming merchant crews in their own self-defense. But these remain band-aid solutions—and they create additional risks to human life and  maritime security. Ultimately, action at the global level is necessary to protect shipping lanes and empower legitimate international actors to stamp out  piracy.

International institutions have been created to solve other global problems: nuclear proliferation, ozone depletion, pandemic disease. What might a “regime” for combating piracy look like? Whatever the means chosen, governments will need to seriously rethink the governance of the ocean over the next two decades if they are to stem the rising tide of high seas brigandry.


CHARLI CARPENTER teaches international relations at the University of  Massachusetts-Amherst, and blogs about war law and human security issues at Duck of Minerva and Current Intelligence. She is the author of Innocent Women and Children: Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate  Publishing, 2006).