“It is time for the democracy-promotion community to discard the transition paradigm”, Thomas Carothers wrote in 2002.
Analyzing data from countries democracy advocates had labeled “transitional”, Carothers posited that it was no longer appropriate to assume, for example, that:
- … countries moving away from authoritarianism tend to follow a three-part process of democratization consisting of opening, breakthrough, and consolidation;
- … the establishment of regular, genuine elections will not only give new governments democratic legitimacy but foster a longer term deepening of democratic participation and accountability;
- … a country’s chances for successfully democratizing depend primarily on the political intentions and actions of its political elites without significant influence from underlying economic, social, and institutional conditions and legacies;
- … state-building is a secondary challenge to democracy-building and largely compatible with it.
A year later the United States invaded Iraq and set about creating a model democracy out of the rubble of a dictatorship. At the same time, the international community, the U.S. included, sat on its laurels in Afghanistan, congratulating itself for a job well done, while the Taleban prepared for the next war.
Of course, this is ancient history, but clearly Carothers hasn’t been read enough. His seminal paper “The End of the Transition Paradigm” can be found here. Highly recommended.