Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Bush administration has repeatedly argued that the root cause of terrorism is political oppression, and that democracy in Iraq will result in decreased terrorism.

I'm wondering whether there is any actual evidence to support the idea that democracy results in decreased terrorism.

- Pakistan, before Musharaff's coup, was a democracy. It was also one of the most important sponsors of terrorism in the world. Its system of madrassas churned out a colossal number of extremists, and lets not forget that Pakistan is responsible for installing the Taliban in Afghanistan.

- Indonesia and the Philippines have some of the most active Islamic extremist movements in the world, and according to reports serve as the home of a large number of Al-Qaeda cells.

- We see terrorists freely operate in Afghanistan, conducting attacks on a weekly basis.

In summary, its not uncommon to see Islamic insurgencies in democratic states, and the only democratic Islamic state in recent history was one of the most succesful exporters of terrorism.

Now I believe a correlation exists between measures of terrorism and measures of political freedom. But this does not mean anything; indeed, the idea of democracy originated with a set of cultures that were not prone to terrorism (at least, not the kind of terrorism I am discussing here), so it is hardly surprising that such a correlation is there. Even if correlation did equal causation, it would not be clear from the data whether democracy results in less terrorism, or whether places not prone to terrorism are more likely to become democratic.

So I'll repeat the question: has any good evidence been provided that the spread of democracy is a good way to combat terrorism?

9 Comments:

At 3:14 AM, Blogger angela said...

youre arguing against the normative aspects of the dpt crap. i like this, alex. democracy was born in greece, or so i hear, and they had war all the time. the kind of terrorism youre talking about is a form of war that can only really exist in the present context.

 
At 12:22 PM, Blogger Rose Nunez said...

Angela's right in at least one sense: Transnational terrorism of the kind that we've been seeing in the last thirty years seems to be something specific to the present era of globalization (I mean that in the least tendentious sense of the word).

So, in that sense, it'd be hard to find "proof" of the kind you're asking for vis-a-vis al Qaeda and other terrorists with international goals. However, as far as insurgent (in-state) terrorists are concerned, there are lots of case histories that show an increase in terrorist violence during the consolidation phases of a new, legitimate democratic government, followed by a sharp decrease once the insurgents realize they've lost popular support.

Here's a cite from a white paper written by a US Military Academy fellow:

"An analysis of the Basque case highlights the challenge terrorism poses to transitioning democracies. The ETA increased its activities during the transition, with the goal of taking advantage of a vulnerable regime. It was a legitimate organization during the Franco years of repression. However, institutional steps taken during the transition bolstered the regime's legitimacy vis a vis the ETA. As the previous section demonstrated, however, the transition was not a smooth process. Violence increased and there was significant Basque nationalist sentiment. Suarez's inclusive regime-building strategy and the multi-party structure allowed for divergent views to be heard within the political system. Basque leaders, parties and people began to have a stake in the democratic system."

I think you're right, Alex, to point out that a certain amount of possibly cockeyed optimism is necessary to support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as preludes to real democracies, and hence to reductions in terrorism, both local and exported. There's no hard evidence this strategy will work; time will have to be test. Certainly what we were doing up until 9/11 wasn't working, no?

The argument that persuaded me was the one contained in that Neocon Necronomicon, the report of the Project for the New American Century from September 2000, entitled "Rebuilding America's Defenses," and the earlier letter to President Clinton in 1997, urging him to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Both documents can be found here.

 
At 1:36 PM, Blogger alex said...

Rose,

i. I'm not asking for proof; I'm only asking for fact-based evidence.

ii. "...there are lots of case histories that show an increase in terrorist violence during the consolidation phases of a new, legitimate democratic government, followed by a sharp decrease once the insurgents realize they've lost popular support."

Perhaps, but I think thats the wrong way to frame the question. Th e right question, I think, is not whether terrorism would be less than its current peak, but whether it would be less than what it was before the Iraq war.

iii. "There's no hard evidence this strategy will work; time will have to be test."

It seems to me that this statement alone is enough to oppose the Iraq war.

How can one support a policy that works under a set of optimistic assumptions, but becomes a collosal waste of lives if those assumptions are not true?

Now perhaps if there was some pretty convincing evidence for these assumptions, one might consider supporting such a policy. In the absence of such evidence, though, I can't imagine why you would support our government taking a huge gamble of this sort.

 
At 1:54 PM, Blogger alex said...

Some other pretty tangential stuff:


i. "Certainly what we were doing up until 9/11 wasn't working, no? "

Sure, but thats hardly a justification for simply picking a different course of action, without any solid ideas whether that course of action would work.

I'd say that the course of action taken by the US generally reflects ignorance of the experience of other countries in fighting terrorism.

Consider the Israeli experience. Israel's history is full of ventures similar to the Iraq war, for example its invasion of Lebanon. These ventures had significant short term successes, but proved unhelpful and painful in the long run. What has been proven to work is the separation barrier that Israel has built around Gaza and that Israel is building around parts of the West Bank.

Based on these lessons, the logical course of action after the invasion of Afghanistan was to concentrate on preventing the terrorists from entering the country.

ii. As for the project for the new american century - the crux of the argument, as it pertains to the decision to go to war five years later, contained in the letter to clinton is:

"Even if full inspections were eventually to resume, which now seems highly unlikely, experience has shown that it is difficult if not impossible to monitor Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons production."

Of course, experience has shown nothing of the kind. As we now know, this statement is false. Saddam did not stockpile WMDs, no doubt in part because of the inspections. Even without the benefit of hindsight, though, this argument for war can be discredited. If it is only "difficult" to monitor Iraqi chemical and biological weapons, the right solution is more inspectors and a tougher inspector regime, as was suggested by France and Germany before the Iraq invasion. There was no evidence whatsoever that it was "impossible" to monitor Iraqi WMDs.

As for the report on American defenses, its 90 pages. If there are some bits on Iraq there that you consider convincing, please point them out to me.

 
At 12:39 AM, Blogger angela said...

i know all about tangents

 
At 9:48 PM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

This Max Boot editorial mentions two studies that might be of interest:

http://www.writersreps.com/live/catalog/extras/boot/52.html

 
At 11:24 PM, Blogger alex said...

"This Max Boot editorial mentions two studies that might be of interest..."

Both of which only offer us the correlations that I've discussed and discounted in the above post.

You really cannot go from correlation to causation. Take a look at this recent preprint for a nice illustration of how inter-national correlations can lead you down the wrong path in this stuff.

 
At 11:31 PM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

I have no idea whether the studies Boot mentions offer some proof that the relationship is more than just correlation, as I haven't read them. Have you?

 
At 12:05 AM, Blogger alex said...

"...I haven't read them. Have you?"

I've read the Kruger/Maleckova paper. I have not read The Democracy Advantage; I am going by this review in Foreign Affairs which stated,

"[Halperin and co-authors] do not establish a direct causal relationship between democracy and development but show correlations that render suspect the notion of an authoritarian advantage. "

Incidentally, I have no idea where Boot gets the Krugman/Maleckova quote on democracy which he cites in his column. Its not in their paper, as far as I can see. But perhaps Boot has an updated version of the paper that I dont have.

 

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