AREU Synthesis Paper Series
5. Democracy, Security and Stability: A Problematic Relationship
Democracy is widely considered to be an inherently peaceful political system. This contention is often supported by the claim (widely made by the Clinton Administration in the early 1990s) that democracies do not go to war with one another, and thus, by extension, the more democracies there are, the more peaceful and productive the international world order will become.65
Many respondents from the first phase of this research—in which data was collected in relatively “secure” provinces—shared the main thrust of this viewpoint. They highlighted that Afghanistan could not be a democracy because democracies in other countries were peaceful and secure, as one community leader from urban Kabul explained:
In the developed world democracy is implemented by the people and the governments. There are rights for the people, they can vote freely and independently. But in Afghanistan this is not the case. Here there is force and guns...The warlords forced the people to vote for them. If they don’t vote for a particular warlord their life is in danger. This is what we see in Afghanistan in the name of democracy, this is a shame for democracy.66
For respondents who viewed democracy as a positive but unattained or unachievable goal in Afghanistan (largely those in the first phase provinces and Nimroz), the “democracy” of developed countries was thus idealised as an
Evidently, there are varying degrees of conflict and, relatively speaking, the difference in levels of security and freedom to vote without intimidation or violence between Afghanistan and a Western democracy is considerable. That said, so-called
established democracies are very much still in the process of developing their systems, changing voting procedures, and arguing over the rights and duties associated with citizenship; the relationship between citizen and state is far from fixed or static in these countries.
Views of democracy as a peaceful political system do not always take into account the messiness and violence that can often accompany democratic transitions or democratisation. Post-election violence in Cote-D’Ivoire in 2010-11, alongside the violent suppression of peaceful civilian protests pushing for democracy in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen in 2011, provide recent examples of this. In fact, certain scholars have questioned the assumption that promoting democracy would bring about peace for some time. They argue that while democratic nations may not fight each other as frequently as non-democratic ones, there is still no guarantee that they will not experience internal conflict.67 One study in particular found that existing ethnic divides in young democracies can be emphasised to varying degrees by democratic institutions and apparatuses, such as political parties and particular electoral systems.68 Furthermore, it stressed that if economic trends follow ethnic fault lines, conflict between opposing groups can be emphasised in spite of (and even as a result of) the existence of these democratic institutions.69
Data collected in the second phase of this study— especially (as might be expected) in more insecure
67 Frances Stewart and Megan O’Sullivan, “Democracy, Conflict and Development—Three Cases” (Oxford: Queen Elizabeth House, 1998), http://www3.qeh.ox.ac.uk/RePEc/qeh/qehwps/qehwps15.pdf (accessed 14 August 2008).
Stewart and O’Sullivan, “Democracy, Conflict and Development,”
comparing the cases of Uganda, Kenya and Sri Lanka.
Anthony Lake “Dialogue: The Diplomacy,” New York Times,
Reach of Democracy; Tying Power 23 September 1994. http://www.
For more on the relationship between ethnicity and conflict, see P.
Collier, “The Political Economy of Ethnicity,” prepared for the annual World Bank Conference on Development Economics, 20-21 April 1998,
Cited in Larson, “Toward an Afghan Democracy,” 13.
http://www.worldbank.org/html/rad/abcde/collier.pdf August 2008).