This topic asks debaters to question the value of democracy as opposed to other systems, and whether democracy is so important that it ought to be required. Although hypothetically the motion could be interpreted as a government imposing democracy on its own country, recent history points to what is probably a more reasonable interpretation: whether governments ought to impose democracy on other nations. The use of the verb "impose" suggests that such nations would be at least somewhat opposed to this action; Affirmatives might be able to argue that the resolution implies that the imposition is successful, but absent a strong justification for this interpretation, it would not be difficult for a Negative to claim abuse.
What exactly constitutes democracy is quite controversial. At the most basic level, a democratic system is one in which the government is formed by the people. Generally this is taken to imply universal suffrage. However, a government could also be formed by the people through consensus, and still qualify as a democratic government. Furthermore, most democratic theorists argue that there is more to democracy than the electoral system: democracy is predicated on the notion that every individual has worth, and thus in order for a government to be democratic it must protect its people's rights. Consequently, perhaps the first thing a debater ought to do is determine exactly what type of democracy they advocate imposing.
In addition, it is very important to understand the context in which this motion has been raised. As of 2010, according to the Democracy Index, an index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 26 nations are classified as full democracies, 53 as flawed democracies, and 32 as hybrid regimes, leaving 56 authoritarian regimes. Many of the countries which are not full democracies are countries in which other nations have intervened and attempted to establish democracy: for example, Iraq and Afghanistan. On the other hand, some of the full democracies were in fact subject to forced democratization, such as Japan and Germany post World War II. Examining why some impositions have been more successful than others is important to constructing cases on either side of this debate. It is also worth comparing them to the current youth movements in the Middle East, where pushes for democracy are occurring within nations such as Egypt and Libya.
Debaters should be sure to consider both theoretical arguments -- e.g. about the possible conflict with national sovereignty posed by imposition or the possibly contradictory notion of "imposed democracy" -- as well as more practical ones -- e.g. about whether imposing democracy is the most effective way to obtain it, or whether impositions generally violate rights. On the Affirmative side, debaters must defend both the value of democracy, and either the efficacy of imposing it, or absent solvency claims, the moral justification for attempting to do so. They should be sure to clarify -- at least among themselves-- whether they are arguing that nations have an obligation to impose democracy, and/or simply whether they would benefit from doing so (either in the sense of self-gain, or achieving some humanitarian objective). On the Negative side, it is possible to argue both that democracy should not be imposed, and/or that imposing it (either altogether, or in the way advocated by the Affirmative) leads to negative consequences. However, debaters should ensure they have a clear stance as to whether they concede that democracy is the most preferable state, or whether they are willing to defend other forms of government as having some legitimacy.
Certain factors may increase the chance of success: for example imposing democracy on a nation with which there were once colonial relationships increases the expected lifespan of the democracy. Democratic transitions in general also tend to be more successful if economic conditions are better. Obviously we are not advocating imposing democracy on every country which does not have it, but if there are strong enough institutions and conditions, imposition can work and there have been past successes like Germany and Japan post WWII that show the worth of imposing democracy1/2.
Interventions are far more likely to fail than to succeed. As explained further in Opposition Argument 2, empirically and logically imposed democracy is likely to fail. Governments can try and minimize the risk of failure, but it is inherent to the nature of imposition that a government is being instated against the country's will. It is consequently very unlikely to generate support and remain stable.
If the people within a nation want democracy, it is not wrong -- indeed it may even be morally required -- for us to assist them by imposing democracy against the will of the governing class. Often internal movements lack resources, weapons, or organization, making the fight for democracy very difficult. When individuals seek to defend their rights against an oppressive regime, other nations do them a disservice by allowing evil to win out. Thus NATO's intervention in Libya was in support of rebels often seen as part of the 'Arab spring' wave of democratization but the internal movement even if it had large amounts of support was being suppressed and would have been destroyed without outside intervention1.
First, it is not clear whether such a position is topical. Second, it is better to support protesters in this case, rather than taking the lead.
To begin with, it is not clear that assisting individuals in the fight for democracy is a valid interpretation of the phrase "imposing democracy": if the majority of people want it, perhaps it is not really an imposition. But second and more importantly, if internal movements exist, foreign nations should seek to strengthen and support those movements rather than impose a government. Democratic governments gain legitimacy through popular support: both in origin and in survival. A government chosen and filled by the citizenry is far more legitimate, and thus more likely to command respect and maintain order, than one enforced by a foreign regime.
By most accounts, there has not been a war between two democracies in the past 200 years. Immanuel Kant argued in Perpetual Peace (1795) that a) democratic governments are more constrained by their people's opposition to war and b) that a democratic culture of negotiation, as well as the checks and balances inherent in such a system, make war less likely. Thus by promoting democracy through imposing it, we increase the chance of a peaceful world. Furthermore, terrorism may be less likely to arise in democratic countries, where people are allowed to air their views and human rights norms prevent feelings of marginalization. This is good for human rights worldwide, including the rights and safety of individuals in our own country.1
First, democracies are not necessarily more peaceful than other governments. Second, imposition of democracy is likely to fuel terrorism. First, it is not entirely clear that democracies have not gone to war: for example the Central Powers in WWI, although not classified as democracies per se, did have elected parliaments just like the Allies. Further, just because democracies have not gone to war in the past does not mean they will not in the future: a culture of negotiation within the democracy does not necessarily translate into a lack of aggression externally. Second, even if democracies are more peaceful, the imposition of democracy can threaten to world peace by fuelling terrorist movements. Invasions, particularly by Western nations, increase East-West tensions, galvanize terrorist groups by validating their claims that Western nations pose a threat. Indeed, in Osama bin Laden's public "letter to the American people," he cited interventions in Somalia, Palestine, India, Chechnya, Lebanon and Iraq as reasons for the 9/11 attacks1/2.
Democratic regimes are the best form of government, and it is our obligation to try and provide that to others. Democracy is the only form of government which upholds the value of political self-determination: that each individual has a right to form his/her government, and to vote out governments s/he does not like. To deny this right is to deny the inherent worth and freedom of the individual. Political autonomy also has instrumental value insofar as it allows individuals to check abusive governments which may seek to violate other human rights. Thus it is certainly not wrong -- and may even be our humanitarian obligation -- to bring democracy to those who do not have it, just as we would intervene in other situations in which serious rights were being abused1.
There are two problems: democracy is not necessarily the best form of government, and even if it is that does not mean it is our obligation to impose it.
First, just because we believe that political self-determination is an important value, it does not mean that it is logically more important than other values. If, for example, a society places great value on stability, it may not want a government that changes every few years. If a society is very religious, its people may prefer to be ruled by a government claiming divine authority. Second, even if democracy is objectively better than other governments, that does not mean we must or should intervene in other countries to impose it. Perhaps we should intervene in the case of serious rights abuses-- such as genocide-- but the lack of complete political freedom is not a life-threatening issue.
Democratic government is not only government for the people, but also government by and of the people. A foreign-imposed government is not a government established by the people which it rules, meaning that it lacks the legitimacy necessary to claim democratic status. It is wrong to force a government upon people, and imposers of 'democracy' do just that. This is exacerbated by the fact that foreign-imposed democracies often have a great deal of trouble governing themselves independently (like the Iraqi and Afghani governments, which are still very much reliant on the United States), thus de- legitimizing the government even further1.
Imposed democracy is better than no democracy. Ideally, every democratic government would be created by the people. However, given that this is often not possible -- corrupt governments are too powerful, populations lack the unity to organize, the lack of democratic tradition precludes effective transition without external guidance-- it is surely better to have imposed democracy than no democracy. Even if theoretically a democratic government is formed by the people, practically speaking that may not be a possibility, and we should not let abstract philosophical ideas prevent us from effecting real positive change.
The motion suggests that a particular government is imposing democracy, but in fact it is far better to try and encourage democracy multilaterally. Multilateral assistance, like the UN Democracy Fund which seeks to "strengthen the voice of civil society, promote human rights, and encourages the participation of all groups in the democratic process"1, is better, because it makes the support seem less political and colonial, and more honest. By using the international community to encourage democracy in a given country, we increase the chances of the people in that country respecting and supporting our attempts, rather than viewing them with suspicion2.
To rely on multilateral action is utopian. First, the motion does not exclude multilateral cooperation; this house may impose democracy with the support of others. But second, the UN doctrine of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of independent nations means that unilateral or bi-lateral actions are often the only realistic possibilities. This is especially important given that China has a veto on the Security Council and other Security Council regular members are not themselves democracies. If other countries are not willing to help us impose or fight for democracy, why should we not try ourselves?
Unless the people within a country want democracy, they will not respect it. Unlike military dictatorships, democratic governments do not rely solely -- or even mainly-- on force to enforce the law. Rather, most people obey the law at least in part because they believe those laws are legitimate, as the result of free and fair elections. If citizens do not want such an electoral system, then there is no reason for them to obey the law, pay taxes etc. and the government will be unable to maintain order. Indeed, foreign-imposed democracies often slide back into authoritarian regimes because they find that they cannot uphold the law (at least without foreign support). Enterline and Greig found in a 2007 empirical study that half of imposed democracies fail within 30 years, and that this failure reduces the likelihood of democracy being successfully established in the future1/2.
Even if individuals within a nation do not overtly support democracy, that does not mean that democracy does not serve their interests, and that they will not support it once it exists.
There are two reasons this might be true. First, individuals may be too scared to show support for democracy, for fear of repercussion. Second, individuals may not realize that they want democracy, but come to understand and appreciate it once it is there. Power analysis theory helps us understand how individuals are manipulated into supporting systems that work against their interests: for example anti-feminists during the early and mid 20th century, who accepted male dominance as a necessary and desirable fact of life. Thus, it may take some foreign intervention to create support for democracy. And, despite the fact that imposed democracy often does fail, there have been success stories (as well as Germany and Japan, less oft-cited examples, like Sri Lanka), suggesting that democracy can be imposed with the right strategy and under the right conditions.
Countries have a right to choose the form of government they want, and we do not have the right to violate this right by imposing the form of government we think is best. Nations may want to be ruled by, for example, religious or tribal law, or a Communist system which aims to remove government altogether. We can encourage nations to adopt democracy if we think it is better, but ultimately nations are self-directing entities which can only be interfered with in extreme situations. The United Nations has states as equals no matter their government and only authorises force in the case of an act of aggression towards another state1.
It is wrong to suggest that the rule of law, or protection of civil rights, is less important in different regions. The fact is that democracy is the only form of government which respects every individual's right to political self determination (as explained in Proposition Argument 1). States may have the right to self-direct, but they do not have the right to deny their citizens basic political freedoms.
Intervening in a country, and attempting to impose a different government, is likely to a) result in backlash and b) destabilize the country by destroying infrastructure and disrupting services. Both these things make it far more likely that violent conflict will emerge, either between the country and the imposers, or within the country, as rival factions are forced to compete for scarce resources and rights protection. Iraq is a prime example of intervention causing a civil war. The previous gulf war combined with sanctions and weeks of bombing destroyed Iraq's infrastructure resulting in what General Odierno called 'societal devastation'1 and the disbanding of the army and debaathification forced the experienced administrators who ran the country out of their jobs.(Kane, 'Don't repeat the mistakes of Iraq in Libya', 2011) The result was the attempt to impose democracy was bloody and only partially successful.
Governments can take actions to help reduce conflict. Most people agree that the strategy behind the Iraq War was extremely weak. Furthermore, it was clear that the American government had ulterior motives and that establishing democracy was not the only -- or even the most important -- goal, thus reducing the American government's legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis and the international community. Alternately, in nations where backlash against dictatorships causes violent conflict -- like in Syria or Libya -- imposing democracy could bring a chance of stability and a government that people actually trusted.
bin Laden, Osama. "Full Text: bin Laden's 'Letter to America.' The Guardian. November 24, 2002. Accessed August 11, 2011.
"Do Democracies Fight Each Other?" BBC. November 17, 2004. Accessed August 11, 2011.
Doyle, Michael. "Promoting Democracy is Not Imposing Democracy." The Huffington Post. February 22, 2011. Accessed August 11, 2011.
Economist Intelligence Unit."Democracy Index." 2010. Accessed August 11, 2011.
Fish, Stanley."Why Democracy?"The New York Times. October 7, 2007. Accessed August 11, 2011.
Kane, Sean., 'Don't repeat the mistakes of Iraq in Libya', ForeignPolicy.com, April 27, 2011, Accessed August 16 2011
Traub, James. "Stepping In", foreignpolicy.com, March 11, 2011, accessed August 15 2011
United Nations Democracy Fund, 'About UNDEF', 2010, accessed August 16 2011
United Nations, Charter of the United Nations, 1945, accessed August 16, 2011