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Erin Fitzpatrick

The Globalization of Democracy Building: A Polyarchic Dilemma


December 10, 2003
When we look at the Middle East and democratization, we must realize that
democracy in its current form is largely a Western concept. Democracy building on
the part of the US outwards is a classic example of globalization.
This paper will examine two theories of globalization: the interdependency
theory of Waltz and Robinsons view of globalization as one of power politics. It will
then move on to examine globalization theory in regards to democracy building.
Finally, this paper will seek to examine democracy building initiatives in two
countries, Iraq and Lebanon.
Theories of Globalization
Waltz contends that we view globalization at interdependence, and that
interdependence [is] again associated with peace and peace increasingly with
democracy. People, firms, markets matter more; states matter less, because it is
the economy that drives states to make decisions. As the world becomes more
interdependent on one another, decisions are made as a collective whole in the
economic field, not the independent political state.
In many ways, Waltz suggests that Globalism is really Americanism spread
around the globe. As the Cold War ended, it become clearer that the ideology that
won out, a capitalist democracy, was the winner and dominant ideology. The
theology behind it was that if a country is not transparent, with a flexible free
market, then it will crumble.
What if a country is looking to open its economy? Waltz argues that a country
wishing to join the world market must wear a golden straightjacket, a package of
policies including balanced budgets, economic deregulation, openness to
investment and trade, and a stable currency.
Because it is economies that
globalism is most concerned with, it is not a political decision by any one state or
person, rather an economic herd of investors and lenders that decide when a
country will receive investments and become a world economic player. Because it
is a herd that decides the success of a state, they do not care about who is in
government, rather whether a state has stability, predictability, transparency, and
the ability to transfer and protect its private property.
To Waltz, globalization also means homogeneity: of prices, products, rates of
interests, etc. But could this not also translate into a homogeny of culture? A strong
economy under globalization requires transparency, but then that transparency
might transfer ideologically to the social and political realms as well. Waltz argues
that this is exemplified in that latecomers imitate the practices and adopt the
institution of the countries who have shown the way.
States are differentiated from one another not by function but primarily by
capability. Capacity to change, adopt, keep power, trade, adapt. If they cannot
adapt, then Waltz argues that their failure to be welcomed into the global
community will lead to a larger poverty gap, less investment, less technology: a
stagnant economy. What globalism has brought the world, Waltz ultimately argues,

is not an increasing interdependence, but growing inequality amongst Northern and


Southern states.
Robinson focuses on economics as well, but further argues that globalization
is the spread of capitalism throughout the world. Before globalization was relevant,
power was battled through militaries and physical strength, through conflicts. The
US picked up where colonialism left off, intervening both politically and militarily in
Latin America, the Middle East and elsewhere. After WWII, this left the U.S. with the
responsibility of stability, and they often chose authoritarian regimes, whether
purposely or not.
However, these authoritarian regimes were often challenged as in Egypt and
Iran, by nationalist-oriented elites to secure greater autonomy and local control.
They were then were responded to by the U.S. , with support for the authoritarian
regimes in order to maintain stability.
This changed in the 1970s and 80s, as popular movements demanding
change became more frequent. The fall of the Shaw and the support for Nasr and
subsequent Nasrist rebellions in the Middle East are perfect examples of this. There
was a crisis with the ruling elite that the US had supported, and the authoritarian
regimes became de-stabilized. As the movements were gaining momentum, the US
could no longer ensure economic stability in the region and backing authoritarian
regimes was therefore not a way to ensure the stability that was needed.
Therefore, in the 1980s, the US changed its foreign policy to one of democracy
promotion.
As the global economy became more relevant and defined, a new elite
emerged based on capitalist strength; an elite fluent in money markets and free
capital exchange. Robinson points out that this happened in the mid-1980s before
the end of the Cold War. This is an important point, because it shows that the US
was concerned with globalization of political and economic factors before the
supposed end of the bi-polar hegemonic system.
What resulted from the switch away from supporting authoritarian regimes
was an endorsement of polyarchy. Polyarchy refers to a system in which a small
group actually rules and mass participation in decision-making is confined to
leadership choice in elections carefully managed by competing elites.
The
assumption in polyarchy is that the elite will respond to the will of the majority.
In the Middle East, populace movements are seeking fundamental social
change, not just simply a change in the electoral process. The difference between
popular democracy and polyarchy are important to note. Popular democracy means
that the majority of voters decides policy and representative outcomes, while
polyarchy implies that an elite will decide what is best for the majority. Transitions
away from authoritarianism towards polyarchy does not involve eliminating a
coercive apparatus but subordinating that apparatus to civilian elites. In other
words, whomever is elected does not have to represent all the people, simply the
ruling economic elite. The economic elite make globalization work.
The term globalization implies two processes: capitalist production and trade
replacing protectionist economies through specialization and globalization of the
process of production and an integrated market. This has led to an integration of
national economies, where uniformity results across boarders, not just economically,
but socially as well. The rule of the economies is based in the US, along with Europe
and other ruling elites.
This elite gives sway to neo-liberalism, a model that seeks to achieve the
conditions for the total mobility of capital. [It] includes the elimination of state

intervention in the economy and the regulation by individual nation states over the
activity of capital in their territories.
In the Middle East, the elite is seeking
stability in the economic policies of the state, so that the structures of the global
economy can operate. This requires price and exchange rate stability, etc. for
markets and capital to flow freely.
Polyarchy is basically defined as:
Nothing more than the holding of elections. Equality of conditions for electoral
participation is not relevant, and these conditions are decided unequal under
capitalism owing to the unequal distribution of material and cultural resources
among classes and groups, and the use of economic power to determine political
outcomes. Political rights are most importantly the judicial right, not the material
ability to become a candidate and participate in elections. The outcome is
unimportant.
The transnational practices of globalization are on three levels: economic, political
and cultural. Economically it is transnational capital that is most important to the
globalized elite. Politically, it is the success of the economic elite, and culturally,
globalism is a system of consumerism.
According to Robinson, US aid programs target the stability now of polyarchic
systems. These systems must respond to dissent. The change cannot be from
above, but must be from below, changing civil society, organizations at the
grassroots level. Therefore, US aid programs target women and student groups, as
well as labor unions and political parties in democracy building programs.
Democracy Building
Kriesberg was right when he said, When parties do not agree about the system
they constitute, the conflicts are particularly contentious and difficult to settle.
This is particularly true when controversies over institutionalized systems are
created in the political and social sphere. But people have to be largely discontent
with the party in charge. That discontent within the political arena, democracy
advocates claim, can be solved with more democratization.
It is important to understand however that regimes will only become democratic
when they are significantly challenged from within. Unfortunately, those that are
most able to form a collective majority are the Islamic parties and such opposition
does exist.
Since the Kennedy administration, the US has been sending aid to countries around
the world under the guise of democracy building. As part of his Cold War strategy,
Kennedy linked democracies to peace, arguing that democracies lead to more
economic stability and friendly relations to the United States. Otherwise known as
the Democratic Peace Thesis, the idea that democracies dont fight other
democracies was fundamental to the Kennedy Administration.
However, aid until the early 1990s went primarily to Latin America and Asia.
After the Gulf War, Bush started to increase aid to the Middle East to around $250
million over the decade with the majority of those funds going to Egypt and the
Occupied Territories in Israel (West Bank/Gaza). The US did not challenge other
countries. The money that went to the Middle East was primarily for institutional
reform in Egypt: to court efficiency, tort reform and decentralization of government.
The U.S. defined its role in the Middle East as that of helping to prepare the
countries for the day when political change would become possible, rather than
making change happen.
The Middle East Policy Initiative, launched at the end of 2002, harolled the
Bush administration as stepping up its funding to democracy building in the Middle

East. In reality, the funds allocated for this goal was $29 million for 2003, an
insignificant increase from the 1990s.
Market Linkage
There are many that agree with Robinson, who argue that the institutionalization of
US aid towards democracy is not whole-hearted, with democracy as its only goal.
Vitalis contends that, beneath the latest fashionable rhetoric, democracy in the
hands of AID serves as an instrument for the pursuit of other ends specifically,
more market-friendly economies.
These market- friendly economies are important for US exports, price controls
and stable currencys that will allow foreign direct investment (FDI). As a country
becomes more open to trade and reforms the government sector, the private
sector becomes more open for firms to operate on a more level playing field with
state owned banks and institutions. This means that the US and other marketeconomies can have a slice of the pie, in any country that becomes more
capitalistic.
Countries may allow democracy building companies such as the National
Democratic Institute, or USAID into their countries, because of what Vitalis terms
rent-seeking. Rent-seeking is when a country seeks aid of any kind that can bring
in additional income to the state, including money from licenses or permits. These
activities require employment of citizens in the home country as well.
What USAID then accomplishes is dominance by both the US- in domestic markets,
and the home country who is rent-seeking, not looking to employ democracy
building for democracys sake. What AID [then] exemplifies the parasitic
relationship Springborg describes between a self interested and embattled public
authority and the array of clients it serves.
USAID argues alternatively that AIDs democracy project would
operationalize a strategy for supporting processes of democratic institutional
reform that will further economic liberalization objectives.
Institutional reform
does not simply imply legislative or judicial branch reform, but economic-market
reform as well. If transparency is a bi-product of market reform that seeps into the
private sector, then that is a worthy bi-product.
What market reform accomplishes in the democracy building front is a
justifi[cation] sociologically and politically as the best way to reduce the impact of
nepotistic networks. The wider the scope of market forces, the less room there will
be for rent-seeking by elites with privileged access to state power and resources.