Prescriptions for Peaceful Transitions: Is Democracy Mandatory?
This was the title of the panel discussion I went to tonight at SAIS (the John’s Hopkins School for International Relations). The panel included two SAIS professors, a woman who worked for the State Dept, a woman who worked for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the President of the National Endowment for Democracy. What I wouldn’t give to be as smart, experienced, and successful as any of those people. They each had a few decades on me though, so there is still time!
In answering the above question, each of the panelists gave a resounding “Yes, but….”. The truth is that it depends. In every instance of transition, what is necessary for that transition to succeed is dependent on the context, on the conditions on the ground. The reason each panel member said that, yes democracy is mandatory for a successful transition is because it is. Of course a government that is based on free and fair elections and that respects fundamental human freedoms is necessary for peace. However, the specific conditions of each case determine what kind of democracy is best suited for that country and the pace that democracy should be built. Democracy is not one-size-fits-all, it is not easy, it is not quick, it is not easily measured, and it is a not a one time project. Democracy is a messy, complex process that has taken most countries hundreds of years to develop. Our own democracy is filled with crippling partisanship, ugly smear campaigns, bureaucratic inefficiency, allegations of voter suppression, etc., yet we expect other countries with histories of violent conflict and corruption to develop democratically overnight. The panelists made several very interesting points, but two of them really stood out to me.
1) Democracy must be both the cause and effect. In other words, can building democratic institutions birth democratic norms or do norms have to exist before those institutions can be successfully built? On the one hand it seems obvious that states must be built/re-built before democracies can be because people need to be safe before they can vote, but too often the conditions for peace are not the same as the conditions for democracy, especially when power needs to be consolidated quickly to create stability. If states are not rebuilt by those with a desire for democracy or on the foundation of choice and the constraint of power, then those institutions seem doomed to fail and repeat former mistakes. But can these norms and desires, this true demand for democracy, exist in places where it has never existed? This ‘demand for democracy’ is related to point number two.
2) Democracy cannot be externally imposed. Successful, lasting democracy needs to be built by the people who will use it. It needs to come from a true desire to build a government built on equality, freedom, human rights, and choice. That desire, that demand cannot be built from the top down. Not to say that external parties aren’t helpful/necessary at times, rather that those actors must acknowledge and support local social systems, networks, actors, and ideas. What’s ironic about American democracy building is that we tend to promise the fastest, most robust results in situations when we have the least possible control over the outcomes and in an attempt to produce fast, measurable results (how do you even measure democracy?) we produce many unintended consequences that end up making matters worse, be it immediately or in the long-run. But I truly believe America is–and can continue to be–a force for peace, democracy, and human rights. We just need to tread lightly, humbly, and intelligently, stop thinking about everything from a national security perspective, and see our initiatives through.
So the “it depends” answer is both frustrating and exciting to an aspiring peacemaker. It means that finding answers is going to be difficult (if there even are any answers to discover), but it also means that there is room and a need for creativity and change.
Also, this is what I made for breakfast:
Turkey Egg Bake
Adapted from a Trader Joes recipe, this egg bake includes:
- .3 lbs of lean ground turkey meat (cook in skillet before adding to egg mixture)
- 6 eggs
- ¼ cup skim milk
- ½ cup cheese of your choice (I used part skim mozzarella)
- A lot of rosemary (definitely my favorite spice to use with eggs)
- 2 slices of whole wheat bread ripped up and scattered (This is optional, but it gives it a little more texture. I used Nature’s Own Double Fiber.)
It’s like a quiche, but without the hassle of making (or in my case—buying) a crust. It’s super simple, quick, and healthy. Serves about 6-8 depending on how big you cut your squares.
1) Preheat oven to 350° and grease baking pan with fat free cooking spray.
2) Scatter bread in pan.
3) Beat the eggs, milk, and spices together and pour in.
4) Scatter in the meat and cheese.
5) Bake for 25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.
Enjoy this flavorful protein and fiber filled breakfast as you contemplate America’s position in the world!
Here are some links to other egg recipes I love: