Bush II had an
explicit national security strategy of spreading democracy throughout the
world. The 2006 National Security Strategy goes into this at great length.
was a close aide to Bush. He helped get the U.S. to invade Iraq. He was and
is one of the foremost exponents of the policy of spreading democracy. This Wikipedia
article, for example, is clear on Wolfowitz’s belief
that spreading democracy is a key antidote to terrorism.
democracy can be done peacefully or via war or via methods that are in
between peace and war. Bush believed in unilateral and preventive war as one
Now that Bush is
gone, is this strategy also gone? It is not. President Obama has the same
strategy. He is already applying it. He is only applying it in different ways
and with different emphases.
democracy is a standard foreign policy of American empire that goes back to
Woodrow Wilson. Obama is following this strategy in Afghanistan.
address to Congress on April 2, 1917 sought a war declaration against
Germany. He said "The world must be made safe for democracy."
Germany was at
war with Great Britain and had been at war for three years. It had announced
that it would sink any vessels approaching the ports of Great Britain,
Ireland, and other European ports. Wilson looked upon this as war against all
nations, including the U.S. He said that the U.S. had a right to the sea
lanes and a right to supply Great Britain. He said that armed neutrality is
ineffective and worse. And so he asked for and got war.
In the latter
portion of his speech, he went far beyond asking for war. He made this
is no longer feasible or desirable where the peace of the world is involved
and the freedom of its peoples, and the menace to that peace and freedom lies
in the existence of autocratic governments backed by organized force which is
controlled wholly by their will, not by the will of their people. We have
seen the last of neutrality in such circumstances. We are at the beginning of
an age in which it will be insisted that the same standards of conduct and of
responsibility for wrong done shall be observed among nations and their
governments that are observed among the individual citizens of civilized
He declared that
certain kinds of governments could not again be faced by a neutral America.
He said that states had rights that should be observed by other states. He
was declaring the existence of an international law among states. He implied
that he knew or that it was widely known what these rights and law were, and
that violations were to be met by armed force. He implied that he or America
or some "partnership of democratic nations" (such as a League of
Nations or a United Nations) would thereafter stand for securing the peace
and would secure the peace. Autocratic governments, he said, could not be
trusted. Wilson declared war on tyranny, just as Bush II did in his Second
Inaugural Address, when he said
"So it is
the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic
movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate
goal of ending tyranny in our world."
The notion of
making America (and the entire world) secure by ending autocratic governments
overseas is the opposite of George Washington’s policy of neutrality.
It involves making alliances. It involves readiness and willingness to go to
war at any time. It involves continual war for the goal of continual peace,
virtually a contradiction in terms. It involves some states identifying
others as tyrannies and seeking to change their forms of government. It
involves the notion that the world can achieve a condition of perpetual peace
through the judicious use of armed forces.
democracy involves the U.S. being policeman of the world. It involves
building up and maintaining military forces throughout the world. It involves
the U.S. entering wars in which it is not directly a combatant. It involves
the U.S. choosing favorites and enemies among other nations. It involves the
U.S. in choosing the domestic factions that it supports within foreign
nations and making itself the enemy of others.
driving umbrella strategy, the U.S. continually constructs threats where
there need not be threats. If it decides to defend Taiwan, then mainland
China becomes a threat to the U.S. and an enemy. If it decides that Iraq is
in the wrong by invading Kuwait, then it makes war on Iraq. Under this
policy, the U.S. for many years supplied arms and support to various
dictators and/or autocrats such as Suharto of Indonesia, Marcos of the
Philippines, Chun Du-Hwan of South Korea, and Saddam Hussein of Iraq.
The strategy is
open to abuse. Under this strategy, U.S. foreign policies became shaped by
domestic military, financial, agricultural, and other lobbies. States that
are entering fights to spread democracy can enter them for reasons of
self-interest and advantage to themselves. If two autocratic states like Iraq
and Iran are warring, then the U.S. still finds a way to get involved.
faces operational problems. Who is to identify the instances when states
violate rights? Who is to be the judge and jury of the suspected rights
violations, the disputes, and the conflicts arising among states? What
happens when two or more states both think they are in the right? Is any use
of armed force by any state to be taken as evidence that it is in the wrong?
Which disputes will be the occasion for American force to be used, and which
Even more serious
objections to the strategy are these:
itself is not an ideal form of government
can have democratic forms and still be tyrannies
can have non-democratic forms and still be peaceful
are not necessarily any more peaceful than other forms of government
can inhibit other goals like economic well-being and progress
- other forms
of government can be consistent with economic progress
of peoples does not necessarily lead them to choose democracy
The bottom line
is that the supposed link between the security of Americans and spreading
democracy overseas (as well as domestically) is tenuous and remote. It does
not really exist, as will be argued further below.
Bush was obliged
by law to publish annually a National Security Strategy document, under
the Goldwater-Nichols Act. It is supposed to be the outcome of a serious
effort by our top officials to plan strategy and make it public. Bush did
this in 2002 and 2006, but not in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2007.
hasn’t yet come out with the 2008 document, even though he has already
announced his Afghanistan strategy.
There is research
by writers on this web site that is critical of the strategy of spreading
democracy. For an outside expert source, Nicholas J. Armstrong of the
Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism has come out with an article that is highly critical of the
strategy of spreading democracy as Bush operated it. Some of what he
says may sound familiar to LRC readers, although his perspective is very
different. He says
administration’s recent strategy documents possess significant
shortcomings that led to important policy failures. A problematic rationale
for the preemptive use of force, weak justifications and inconsistencies in
democracy promotion, and a lack of strategic priorities are just a few
criticisms among others."
In other words,
the Bush team didn’t think through their methods and operated
strategic assessment of the external security environment suffers from two
significant weaknesses: the unrealistic notion that democracy promotion must
underpin the actions of the U.S. abroad, and the flawed presumption that
democracy promotion is the solution to transnational terrorism. Undoubtedly,
terrorism is a significant threat to U.S. national security, but the most
recent NSS illogically assumes that terrorism demands global
This is a much
broader criticism. It says two things. Spreading democracy is not a realistic
foundation or center point for foreign policy; and the nation should not
address terrorism by spreading democracy. He goes on:
use of force – supported by an entangled justification of
eliminating future threats while promoting democracy – creates
an imbalance in retributive justice and thereby undermines the moral
legitimacy of all U.S. democracy promotion efforts abroad, regardless of
This says that
the Bush Doctrine is morally flawed and its application works against the
mentions several criticisms of others:
of aid packages, military force, or even public diplomacy can be costly with
no guarantee of long-term success – as exemplified by the $10 billion
per month cost of the improving, yet still uncertain democracy promotion
efforts in Iraq. Critics...cite the interventions in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia,
and Kosovo as examples that any success in promoting democracy is associated
with high costs and lengthy time commitments. While the short-term missions
in Somalia and Haiti netted little gain, Bosnia and Kosovo have shown signs
of success roughly a decade later, but only after considerable time and
fiscal investment. Even so, measuring success of democratization is
troublesome due to the difficulties of quantifying democratic progress in a
Before turning to
the empirical side, let us think through some theory to analyze the question.
Why do people
want security anyway? Security is desirable so that people may enhance their
welfare. If free markets and property rights are suppressed by means of
government measures enacted in democracies, then security is reduced and, by
the same token, welfare may be reduced for many millions of persons that
comprise substantial minorities or even for most of the entire society.
question is then whether or not democracy has a positive effect on economic
growth. If it does not, then it means that democracy does not really enhance
welfare. If democracy enhanced security, it should have a positive effect on
economic growth and welfare. If democracy fails to enhance even domestic
welfare, then the notion that spreading democracy to foreign lands will
enhance domestic security and thus allow higher domestic welfare has to be
seen as very far-fetched and very unlikely. In fact, if democracy lowers welfare,
and there is evidence that it does, then by actively making foreign countries
poorer, the U.S. is encouraging foreign people to rise up and resist America.
democracies in which government’s limits are expansible, voting occurs
on more and more goods, such as health care, education, and energy use, that
once belonged to private decision-making. Under these conditions, democracy
brings increasing violation of rights and increasing democratic
totalitarianism. It brings the increasing influence of lobbies for interest
groups. This powerful process hampers economic growth. It is not easily
reversed. Under these conditions, we will observe that political democracy
and economic growth are negatively related.
On the other
hand, in democracies that are replacing rapacious autocracies that have
constricted the property rights and the economy, we may observe small and
weak states and high economic growth if the democracy is associated with
these conditions that free up the economy.
The key variables
in economic growth are not democracy per se. They are such things as
personal responsibility, respect for private property rights, private
solutions to private problems, not collectivizing the economy and creating
commons problems, low taxes, low barriers to entry, small government, and low
regulation. If a state is weak and democratic, it may be conducive to
economic growth. If it is strong and democratic, it may suppress growth.
A society does
need security so that investment will be encouraged, including investment in
human capital, but democracy is not a form of government that necessarily
So much for
theory. What’s the evidence? In 1983, Erich Weede (in the journal Kyklos)
examined the impact of democracy on economic growth. The time period studied
was 1960–79. He examined data for 124 countries. He found
"There is a
clearly significant (at the 2% level) negative effect of political democracy
on economic growth, however measured."
Weede went on to
look at those countries in which "government revenue as a percentage of
GDP exceeds 20%." His findings are remarkable:
nations, many of the control variables lose most of their importance, in
particular for GDP growth rates. Truly staggering, however, are the results
in the democracy row of Table 4. Here it is obvious that political
democracy is a major barrier to economic growth in those countries where the
state strongly interferes in the economy."
is not harmful in weak states or states that are small relative to the economy,
it is clearly harmful in strong states or states that are large relative to
the economy. (This includes the U.S.) Where democracy entails
collectivization, it slows down economic growth. Where government is large,
there is pooling of resources and control of them by government. This creates
commons problems (see here and here).
Economic growth slows.
In 1992, John F.
Helliwell (in an NBER article) again looked at democracy and growth.
His study covered 98 countries between 1960 and 1985. He uses several
sophisticated methods. The first one leads him to write
experiments suggest that the results showing a positive effect flowing from
income to democracy are not due to a positive effect flowing from democracy
to growth. Indeed, whatever feedback there is seems to be negative..."
that higher income tends to lead to more democracy, but that the higher democracy
then leads to lower future income. Democracy’s effect on income growth
His second method
led him to conclude
equation is re-estimated...the effect turns fairly large and negative, but is
still not significantly different from zero...The fact that the estimated
effect turns negative...is, however, what would be expected if there were a
positive effect of income on democracy and a negative reverse effect from
democracy to subsequent economic growth."
Other studies of
this question have mixed results. Some of them have known flaws and
shortcomings. Those who believe that democracy helps economic growth can find
some support for their hypothesis in earlier but less well-done studies. A
1990 review of a dozen or so studies by Larry Sirowy and Alex Inkeles (in the
journal Studies in Comparative International Development) concludes
there is no robust evidence, one way or the other. Unfortunately, this study
does not conduct a meta-analysis, but it singles out Weede’s paper as
one that more properly uses control variables. Given that and the Helliwell
findings, a reasonable conclusion is that the empirical evidence does not
support the hypothesis that democracy enhances economic growth, and there is
some good evidence of the opposite.
Those who, like
Paul Wolfowitz, think that spreading democracy overseas enhances American
security and welfare should come forward and present their theory and
evidence that it does.
Where is there
evidence that America is even capable of accomplishing this goal, much less
that the goal makes any sense? The American occupation of Haiti from 1915 to
1934 certainly did not help Haiti or the average American. American
imperialism seems often enough to be the American goal.
The rhetoric of
our leaders is not enough. They have had their way for 100 years, the latest
instance being in Iraq. Not only is the theory of spreading democracy to
promote American security subject to many severe criticisms to the point that
it makes no sense, but in practice it runs afoul of many difficulties. Iraq
provides a good illustration of this. Vietnam provides another.
A foreign policy
of non-neutrality has several truly major inherent and severe problems.
- inability to
recognize politically dynamic forces as they are occurring
- inability to
forecast the path of politically dynamic forces
new political forces by interfering in another nation
- being held
hostage to events initiated by political forces in another nation
policy captured by domestic and foreign interest groups
- being drawn
into the fights of others
- having to
deal with the actions and reactions of neighbors who have interests in
the country being interfered with
The leaders of a
nation that is intent on interfering with other nations and supporting
movements that it deems anti-autocratic face all these problems and more.
As an example, I
point to Woodrow Wilson’s strong support of the Russian revolution in
the spring of 1917. In his speech to Congress cited above, he said
every American feel that assurance has been added to our hope for the future
peace of the world by the wonderful and heartening things that have been
happening within the last few weeks in Russia? Russia was known by those who
knew it best to have been always in fact democratic at heart, in all the
vital habits of her thought, in all the intimate relationships of her people
that spoke their natural instinct, their habitual attitude toward life. The
autocracy that crowned the summit of her political structure, long as it had
stood and terrible as was the reality of its power, was not in fact Russian
in origin, character, or purpose; and now it has been shaken off and the
great, generous Russian people have been added in all their naive majesty and
might to the forces that are fighting for freedom in the world, for justice,
and for peace. Here is a fit partner for a League of Honor."
incredible passage, Wilson managed to condemn the czarist form of government
as un-Russian. He managed to affirm the Russian Revolution as democratic. He
did not understand the forces and divisions within Russia at that time. He
did not foresee the imminent overthrow of the provisional government by Lenin
and the Bolsheviks a short six months later.
Are Obama’s strategic positions any
better on Afghanistan and Pakistan than Bush’s on Iraq? Are they any
less intent on spreading democracy? Not at all.
The White House
calls for "realistic and achievable objectives." Their first
objective is not unreasonable as these things go. It is to disrupt the
terrorists in the region and stop them from conducting terrorist attacks. The
next objective is Wilsonian. It is
more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan that
serves the Afghan people and can eventually function, especially regarding
internal security, with limited international support."
It is one thing
to go after terrorists, as Jefferson went after pirates, although going after
them on land has certain difficulties of territory and sovereignty that need
to be ironed out. But putting those things aside, it is entirely another
matter to get involved with building a government for Afghanistan. That
continues the same old policy of spreading democracy that has no sound basis.
It’s the Bush policy all over again. Mixing that up with hunting down
terrorists is strategic confusion. It is in fact quite amazing to read the
White House’s explicit intention to bolster the legitimacy of the
Obama is also
aiming to strengthen "Afghan security forces." These forces do not
necessarily represent the interests of various warlords in Afghanistan, which
means that Obama aims to interfere in this way again in Afghanistan politics.
That is not all.
Obama also aims at
efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in
Pakistan and a vibrant economy that provides opportunity for the people of
involvement in the domestic politics of a second large and turbulent country.
Neighboring countries like Iran, India, and China have interests in Pakistan
and Afghanistan. This means involvement with the reactions of these nations.
empire has had a consistent policy for 100 years: national security via
spreading democracy. Obama is adhering to this policy. However, overseas
democracy is neither necessary nor sufficient for security in America.
that democracy has a negative relation to economic welfare, especially as
states get larger and infringe more greatly on property rights. Empirical
studies over a hundred countries and several decades do not support the
hypothesis that democracy enhances economic growth. If anything, they support
a negative relation. To the extent that economic growth is a form of security
and enhances security, domestic democracy reduces security.
If a foreign
democracy has reduced economic growth, why would that enhance U.S. security?
There is no good reason. One might expect that less prosperous nations might
have a greater tendency and incentive to become trouble spots.
When the U.S.
actually goes about the practical business of enhancing democracy in foreign
lands, it runs into a host of problems that necessarily arise from the nature
of interfering in the politics of others. The costs are high, often very high
and long continued. They fall on the average American. Any benefits are
showered upon specific interest groups, like Lockheed Martin, farmers,
consultants, and Halliburton. It may also have appeal to those who mistakenly
think they are doing God’s work through the State.
If there is no
known general benefit to the average American from this strategy and high
costs, the strategy of promoting national security through spreading
democracy appears to be irrational from their point of view.
It is my guess
that Obama has not thought through the meaning of the strategy any more than
he has thought through his Keynesianism. I think that our elected government
officials do some thinking and questioning and shaping of positions so that
they can get elected, but that, by and large, they unthinkingly accept the
main assumptions of American strategies. They tinker around the edges but
they do not really alter anything. Even when their rhetoric suggests
something more radical, their actions retreat to the status quo. A Kennedy
will send more advisers to South Vietnam and attempt to control its
government. Domestically, they go about their usual business of making the
democracy more and more totalitarian. Occasionally a Nixon will go to China,
but it won’t matter much because at home he and the American leadership
will ignore the kinds of policies that might liberalize the economy and
instead promote those that destabilize it and slow it down. And in foreign
policy, they will stick to the same old Wilsonianism that should be
thoroughly discredited and that has not served America well.
Michael S. Rozeff is a retired Professor of Finance
living in East Amherst, New York. He publishes regularly his ideas and
analysis on www.LewRockwell.com .
Copyright © 2009 by LewRockwell.com. Permission
to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is