Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: Humanitarian Intervention, Egypt’s Economy, and More

by Isobel Coleman
September 2, 2011

An Afghan girl carries a pail of water fashioned from a U.S. government aid agency can while crossing a busy street in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 26, 2002 (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters).

After a two-week hiatus, Charles Landow offers an expanded selection of articles and other materials in this Labor Day version of Missing Pieces. I hope you enjoy the reading and the long weekend. Please let us know what you think, and visit the blog often as CFR begins its new programming year after the holiday. Enjoy!

The Humanitarian Impulse: As the United States and its allies begin to draw down from Afghanistan, Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus have published a book on a question that is far easier to ask than to answer: Can Intervention Work? Stewart, a British member of parliament famous for his walk across Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion, and Knaus, the chairman of the European Stability Initiative, take a bulldozer to the theoretical underpinnings of humanitarian intervention–the idea that the international community can save lives and transform societies if only it applies the proper resources and plans. The authors criticize Western nation-builders for an inflated sense of their own power and an inadequate appreciation of local actors, and they paint a devastating portrait of Westerners’ isolation and ignorance in Afghanistan. The book does not eschew intervention but recommends a modest approach. Intervention, Stewart and Knaus write, “should aim to provide protection and relief at a specific time and place,” not to remake entire societies. It is a sound premise, though not exactly a revelation after the experiences of recent years. CFR’s Stewart Patrick tackles the related question of when to intervene in a recent ForeignAffairs.com article. He considers the Libya intervention a success for the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, but cautions that the United States and its allies will not–and should not–apply the doctrine universally in the future.

Egypt’s Economic Imperative: Michael Schuman had a compelling piece in a recent Time magazine on Egypt’s struggle to boost economic growth in the wake of its revolution. Schuman chronicles the bureaucratic tangles, educational failures, and other ills that have stymied broad economic growth in Egypt and the Arab world for decades. There is now an urgent need for reforms to encourage investment and job creation, especially given the region’s massive youth population. The danger, of course, is that the young people who pushed so courageously for political change will grow disillusioned if economic opportunity does not quickly follow. The World Bank’s 2011 “Doing Business in the Arab World” report offers a comprehensive look at steps to encourage private-sector activity. The report notes progress, but there is clearly work to do: the region has the third-lowest average ranking in the world on the ease of doing business. Among the CFR resources on this issue are pieces by Elliott Abrams and Isobel Coleman and a CFR.org interview with Jane Kinninmont of Chatham House.

Democracy and Oil: There has been considerable talk about the obstacles facing a democratic transition in Libya: a lack of national institutions, splintering among rebel factions, and the status of Muammar al-Qaddafi and his powerful sons. But what about the country’s oil? Michael L. Ross argues in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs that no country with as much oil wealth as Libya has ever completed a transition to democracy. Oil, he writes, protects autocrats by allowing them to do three principal things: give citizens benefits without charging taxes, keep national finances secret, and ensure the loyalty of their armed forces through generous funding. To make enduring democracy more likely in oil-rich states, Ross urges the United States to reduce its consumption and advocate more transparency in oil markets. A post on the New York Times Economix blog by Casey Mulligan in March also explores the effects of Libya’s oil on its hopes for democracy. The conclusion is overly pessimistic–even fatalistic–but the post links to useful studies by Ross and others. Finally, I highlighted other new work on the development challenges of oil in the August 5 edition of Missing Pieces.

Political Change in China? Modernization theory, first advanced by Seymour Martin Lipset in 1959 and explained in modern form in this 2009 Foreign Affairs article, holds that economic development causes societal changes that make democracy more likely to emerge. Observers have long wondered whether China, which has posted decades of spectacular growth, will follow this path. The question has only intensified since the Arab uprisings. James Fallows takes a look in the September issue of The Atlantic. He writes that since the Middle East revolutions, Beijing has forcefully tightened its grip on political activity even though there is no evidence that the Chinese people are primed for revolt. Does the government know something that outsiders don’t, or is it acting out of paranoia and taking steps that might only foment revolution? We do not yet know, Fallows suggests. For another interesting take on this issue, see this 2009 CFR.org interview with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. He expresses a modernization-like view of democracy’s prospects in China, saying that people who “get to choose among ten kinds of coffee and choose the schools they send their kids to” will ultimately want to choose their leaders.

Jobs for Insurgents: With the United States and its allies struggling to quell uprisings in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, the doctrine of counterinsurgency has received substantial attention. A new paper from the National Bureau for Economic Research tests one strategy for stopping insurgents: offering more jobs to their communities. The authors examine job-creation programs implemented by the U.S. military in Iraq. The central finding is that a 10-percent increase in spending on labor-intensive reconstruction projects was associated with a 10-percent reduction in insurgent violence. Reconstruction projects appear to draw off the least-committed fighters, who are just as happy to earn their money from U.S. forces. The danger highlighted by the study is that this leaves behind a hard core of insurgents, who mount fewer but deadlier attacks. Indeed, when reconstruction spending went up, violence against civilians declined but attacks on coalition forces rose. Civilian deaths per attack rose slightly as well. But there were far fewer fatal attacks, so lives were still saved. All this suggests that job-creation programs are a valuable tool for counterinsurgency (and, when done well, presumably for development as well).

African National Contest: An intra-party battle is brewing in South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC). Party youth leader Julius Malema has been facing disciplinary hearings for bringing the party into disrepute with his extreme positions, including backing the nationalization of the country’s mines, calling white South Africans “criminals,” and supporting the overthrow of Botswana’s democratically elected government. Malema has become a serious irritant for President Jacob Zuma. The problem, as this blog post by CFR’s John Campbell and this article in the Guardian explain, is that Malema’s huge base of loyalists makes it dangerous for ANC officials to suspend him. Indeed, Malema’s supporters have clashed violently with police surrounding the hearings this week. The outcome of the struggle may determine whether Zuma can remain the leader of the ANC, and therefore of South Africa. As this New York Times article notes, the ANC leader is automatically the party’s presidential candidate–and no other party has won the presidency since the end of Apartheid.

Marriage in Asia: Asia is home not only to impressive economic growth but also to important demographic trends. The Economist offers a detailed look at one of them: the decline of marriage. In an article and longer briefing, the magazine chronicles several startling facts. In some wealthy Asian countries, the mean age of marriage is higher than in the United States, and larger percentages of women in their 30s are unmarried in Taiwan than in the United States or Great Britain. China and India are not as far along, but even there, marriage ages and divorce rates are increasing. In some ways, the Economist argues, all of this is good: changing marriage patterns reflect improved education and job prospects for women. But there are negative implications as well. With marriage in decline, families may no longer be able to care for older relatives. Birth rates are also falling quickly, which means a smaller labor force in the future. And there is the related issue of sex-selective abortions, which have created a massive surplus of men in China and India who will have trouble finding brides. All of this stands to exercise huge economic and social effects on the world’s most populous and dynamic continent.

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