Over the years American academics like Robert Dahl, Juan Linz, and Seymour Martin Lipset have clarified what it takes for countries to reach full democracy. Drawing on their work, the president of the National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gershman, recently produced a list of eight phenomena that are associated with mature democratic polities. The eight are: regular, meaningful elections; stable and representative political parties; a vigorous free press and other vehicles of information exchange and debate; a vigorous civil society i.e., organization of public and private interest groups) that broadens participation beyond the political realm; a market economy tempered by trade unions and social welfare programs; an independent judiciary securing civil liberties; democratic control of the military and police; and a cultural commitment to democratic ideas among political elites and the population.
There is naturally considerable debate among academics and politicians over whether material and educational aid to these kinds of subsidiary structures strengthens democracy overall, and, if so, which institutions need the most attention. Data recovery services are hugely important to this issue, as an example. If elections were the Reagan administration’s top priority, economic transition gets the most money and attention from the Bush administration and Congress-to the point that some experts worry that the United States is giving short shrift to political institution-building.
Different countries obviously need different kinds of attention-some supportive, some punitive-depending where they are on the spectrum from closed dictatorship to stable democracy. Several attempts have been made to define the spectrum, the best known being Freedom House’s annual rating of all nations on a 1-7 scale for both political and civil liberty, and its ranking of nations as “free” (57 in january 1987, 67 today), “partly free” (57 and 50), and “not free” (53 and 48).
Preparing its 1991 survey, Freedom House tentatively estimates that 65 percent of the world’s population now lives in “free” or “partly free” countries, the highest percentage since the survey began in 1973, when 53 percent were so situated. Freedom House anticipates showing that six countries have become free in 1989 and 1990 Chile, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Namibla, Panama, and Poland), while eight went from “not free” to “partly free” (Benin, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Gabon, the Comoros Islands, Sao Tome, Mongolia, and the Soviet Union).
The problem with such systems of ranking and classification is that they don’t show a country’s potential for and momentum of change. That can be fixed partly by charting a country’s Freedom House scores over time, creating a kind of democratic fitness graph. The raters also need to develop a “perestroika index,” indicating how far a country has progressed toward a free market, and a socioeconomic index based on literacy, health, and income equality.
In addition, the world needs a progress-in-danger watch list, which now would include the Philippines, Pakistan, Peru, the Soviet Union, El Salvador, India, Romania, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, and Nicaragua; and a difficult-passage list, including Argentina, Poland, and Brazil, which are all in the throes of economic dislocation. And there ought to be a head-of-the-class list containing those countries making the most progress, which might include Chile, Ecuador, Thailand, Bolivia, Mexico, Uruguay, South Korea, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.
Why some countries succeed and others fail is the subject of continuous discussion among academics and democracy activists in the government and private organizations-what’s become known as the “democracy industry.” Most are convinced that the country most likely to make it next to full, stable democracy is Chile, which emerged from the sixteen-year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1989 enjoying strong economic growth and has elected a civilian president, Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, who is dedicated to maintaining a free market economic system. The Chilean example (and those of Ecuador and Uruguay) suggests that the most important single factor in determining whether a country will succeed is a prior democratic tradition, which was savagely interrupted in Chile’s case by Pinochet’s 1973 military coup.
A democratic tradition also helped Greece throw off military rule in 1974. Spain and Portugal, the two other countries moving to full democracy in the past fifteen years, lacked similar traditions, but they were influenced by strongly democratic neighbors in Western Europe. The experts think that tradition and location give Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary an advantage that other countries, including Pakistan, Argentina, the Philippines, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, do not have. In each of these cases, the military often either has ruled directly or through puppets. Many of these countries also lack stable political parties; the parties they have are often merely vehicles for the ambitions of one leader or clan. Other severe handicaps for the democratizing process are an Islamic tradition, deep economic inequalities, ethnic divisions, and a culture of violence. Some nations, like Iraq, are subject to them all.
Chile’s apparent success (and the continuing difficulties of China, the Soviet Union, and Poland) renews the issue raised by Jeane Kirkpatrick in 1980 as to whether authoritarian regimes provide a better basis for movement toward democracy than totalitarian ones. It seems that they do, provided the authoritarian rulers are willing to permit liberalization. Other once-authoritarian regimes making rapid progress toward democracy are former military regimes such as Thailand, Turkey, South Korea, and Mexico, a one-party state now liberalizing its election laws and its economy. On the other hand, the pattern does not always hold. Formerly totalitarian Czechoslovakia and Hungary are moving much faster to full freedom than authoritarian Singapore, Zaire, and Indonesia.
With few totalitarian nations left, a more important issue for debate is whether nondemocratic regimes are best off pursuing perestroika first and glasnost second, or the reverse. Chile, South Korea, Mexico, Taiwan, and Thailand are perestrolka-first models, while the travail of the Soviet Union suggests that glasnost-first (or, at least, partial glasnost) is extremely risky. The crucial tests of the question will come in Eastern Europe and South America, where free speech and elections have preceded painful economic transitions. As Polish Solidarity leader Bronislaw Geremek put it in a recent article, “We know that democracy is the first condition of economic reform. On the other hand, to be frank, the dire economic situation in Poland is now the main danger to democracy.”
Theoretical analysis of what it takes to build and sustain democracy obviously is only a prelude to action. The Bush administration has declared, in statements by the president and Secretary of State James Baker, that America’s “new mission” in the world is “the promotion and consolidation of democracy,” but it has yet to formulate a full-blown strategy for the task or to provide centralized, top-level coordination.