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Democracy as an International Issue

Author(s): Kofi A. Annan


Source: Global Governance, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Apr.–June 2002), pp. 135-142
Published by: Lynne Rienner Publishers
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Global Governance 8 (2002), 135-142

GLOBAL INSIGHTS

Democracy as an
International Issue

Kofi A. Annan

Democracy as an international
issue goes far beyond its direct
connection to international peace. Where domestic peace has
broken down, the international community must be able to assist
in its restoration. In this work, democratic governance, and the realiza
tion of human rights, are essential. The United Nations (UN) not only
can offer essential help in repairing democratic breakdowns in domestic
peace but also must explore democratic principles at the global level.

Democratic Peace

Many associate connections between democracy and international peace


with Immanuel Kant, whose essay of 1795, "Perpetual Peace," argued
that "republics"?which meant essentially what today we call liberal or
pluralistic democracies?were less likely than other forms of state to go
to war with one another. Broadly speaking, the last 200 years have
proved him right.During that time there have been many horrible wars,
which technology has made ever more destructive. Liberal democracies
played a big part in those wars. But almost always they fought as allies.
Dynastic states have fought each other throughout history?as have re
ligious states, totalitarian states, and military dictatorships. But liberal
democracies have generally found other ways to settle their disputes.1
Let me qualify that observation to avoid building too many hopes
upon it! Until recently only a few liberal democracies existed. So we
lack enough case histories to justify sweeping generalizations or confi
dent predictions. Also, democracies often have behaved aggressively
toward nondemocracies. These wars are not always the fault of non
democracies, as the history of colonialism illustrates. Sometimes democ
racies argue that their opponents are illiberal, autocratic, or undemocra
tic. They may be right, but saying so does not justify war.

135

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136 Democracy as an International Issue

Nonetheless, the peace among democracies is supported by credible


evidence and has substantial foundations. The most convincing explanation
is that liberal democracy is essentially an open, transparent system with
built-in safeguards against military adventurism.
Democratic rulers cannot mobilize their countries for war without
convincing most citizens thatwar is both just and necessary. This means
convincing them that vital national interests or principles are involved and
that there is no peaceful way to achieve the same objective. That ismuch
easier if the government on the other side can be portrayed as evil, ag
gressive, and not open to rational persuasion or reasonable compromise.
People in a democracy find it easy to believe the worst about an
other country with a closed political system.When decisions are made
behind closed doors, it is difficult to tell whether the reasons given are
the real ones, or indeed whether something quite different from what
has been announced is being planned. Regimes that are not accountable
often can control or manipulate themass media. They find it easier to
mobilize a society for war, whether against a similar regime or against
a
democracy.

By contrast, it is much harder to convince people in a democracy


thatwar is necessary against another country with an open and trans
parent political system. In such cases, the two peoples can engage, not
just through war and diplomacy, but on a much broader front. They can
see into each other's political processes and also influence them. The
more open and accountable governments are to their fellow citizens, the
less likely they are to use force, at least against other states whose sys
tems are similarly open.
Democracies are least true to themselves when their governments
pursue covert policies. Even the greatest democracies have worked to
undermine the stability of other elected governments, by means that
they would probably not have dared to use if decisions had been open to

public scrutiny. Kant himself understood this danger, which was why he
considered "publicity" a necessity.
With those qualifications, we may share Kant's view that a world
composed entirely of "republics"?or, let us say, of states with open and
accountable systems of government?would be a more peaceful world
than the one in which we live.

Helping Democracy Take Root

The reluctance of democracies to fight or to take risks can sometimes be a


handicap, when action in a just cause is really needed. Much of the carnage

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KofiA. Annan 137

ofWorld War II might have been avoided if democracies had been more
decisive about standing up sooner to Nazi Germany.2 And even today,
the United Nations, in its efforts tomaintain peace and security, often
finds that affluent democracies are unwilling to provide troops for
peacekeeping.
That is all themore paradoxical when one considers how many UN
missions over the last fifteen years or so, in different parts of theworld,
have involved efforts tomake democracy work. For democratic inter
national peace to grow, democracy must be restored where it has broken
down, or cultivated where it has yet to take root. These activities have
much to do with the domestic affairs of states, and especially with the
resolution or prevention of internal conflict.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, theUN helped organize or super
vise elections from El Salvador toMozambique toCambodia. These were
not classic peacekeeping missions, where lightly armed forces are inter
posed between two regular armies and maintain a cease-fire while the
search for a political settlement goes on.3 They were more complex op
erations, deployed in countries emerging from long and bitter civil wars.4
The mission was not so much to keep the peace as to help build it,
by assisting people who had fought each other find ways of living to
gether again. This objective ismuch more typical of most contemporary
operations. Moreover, in such cases as Kosovo and East Timor, the
UN's mandate has expanded to providing a transitional administration,
or overseeing the entire political process.
Usually our efforts are more modest, but they still involve provid
ing assistance to local authorities for a wide range of tasks. These in
clude humanitarian relief; de-mining; the disarmament, demobilization,
and r?int?gration of soldiers; the training of the police and judiciary; the
monitoring of human rights; and the rebuilding of not only physical in
frastructure but also the institutions through which a society organizes
and regulates its collective life.
Inevitably, that includes political institutions. At the center of virtu
ally every civil war is the issue of the state and its power?who controls
it, and how it is used. No armed conflict can be resolved without re
sponding to those questions. Nowadays the answers almost always have
to be democratic ones, at least in form.
Of course, there are other, more traditional sources of legitimacy for
political power: divine sanction, dynastic succession, the charismatic au
thority of a strong leader, or the force of history as represented by a
highly organized ruling party. Quite a few states still derive their success
and stability from an appeal to one or another of these, or to some com
bination. But they can do so with confidence only so long as they rule

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138 Democracy as an International Issue

with their people's consent. Once consent has broken down, or conflict
has broken out, stability has to be restored by negotiation. Normally, the
only source of legitimacy all parties can accept, at least in principle, is
the will of the people.
A big part of the peacemaker's task is to help find a consensus on
the mechanisms by which the will of the people can be ascertained?
and by which, once ascertained, it can be implemented. We therefore
find ourselves having to organize elections, or at least ensure that they
are organized, in a way that all parties accept as credible. Often we also
help design the constitutional framework within which those who have
been elected will exercise power.
An election by itself can seldom, if ever, resolve a conflict about
which people feel strongly enough to shed blood. We learned that the
hard way in Angola in 1992. We held elections that were generally
agreed to have been free and fair, but the conflict promptly resumed.
The losers were unwilling to accept the authority of a government con
trolled entirely by the winners. Arrangements that protect the rights of
minorities from being trampled by themajority have been part of the
solution in almost every case where civil war has been ended through
negotiations. All citizens need to feel that their rights and views are re
spected and that they have some say in decisionmaking.
In other words, what happens between elections is at least as im
portant for democracy as what happens during them. Opposition parties
must have the chance to build coalitions and tomake their case over
time.When an election comes, voters must be in a position tomake ma
ture and informed choices.
"Fig-leaf democracy" occurs when rulers attempt to legitimize or
perpetuate their power by holding flawed elections. Truly free and fair
elections are held in a peaceful atmosphere, in which all parties can
compete on equal footing, with a chance tomake their case through the
mass media?including, of course, any media that are owned or con
trolled by the state. Itmust be an atmosphere in which unpopular opin
ions can be voiced; in which facts embarrassing to those in power can
be exposed; and in which peaceful campaigning and political meetings
are not only permitted but also protected from violence. In short,
democracy requires the rule of law, administered without fear or favor,
by independent courts and impartial police.
All these things are necessary if conflicts are to give way to lasting
peace?or, even better, if they are not to happen in the first place. A
study by Frances Stewart for theUnited Nations University shows that
conflicts are more likely where social inequalities coincide with the di
vide between different ethnic and religious communities.5 In many parts

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KofiA. Annan 139

of the world over the last decade, political leaders have cultivated and
exploited group fears for their own selfish ends, and as the basis of ap
palling acts of ethnic and racial hatred. They are the roots of violent
conflict in every part of the world, and we must tackle them urgently.
The United Nations finds itself increasingly involved in democrati
zation, even outside the context of peacekeeping and peace building. A
growing number of countries turn to us, not just for electoral assistance
but for a wide range of governance and human rights tasks.
This work helps prevent deadly conflicts and makes a broader con
tribution to development. States that respect the rights of all their citi
zens, and allow them a say in decisions that affect their lives, are also
likely to benefit from their creative energies and to provide the kind of
economic and social environment that attracts investors. Hence, democ
racy is crucial not only to international peace but also to development
and, therefore, to the agenda of theUnited Nations as a whole.
Democracy is practiced in different ways, and none of them is per
fect. At its best it provides a method formanaging and resolving dis
putes peacefully, in an atmosphere of mutual trust. Nothing destroys
that atmosphere more than fear and intolerance, combined with injustice
and discrimination. In the past, many societies combined a degree of
democracy with racial discrimination. But today we see discrimination
as one of democracy's worst enemies. People lose faith in institutions as
soon as they feel that they are treated unfairly, and especially if they
feel that they are threatened or excluded simply by belonging to a par
ticular group or category.
In Europe today, xenophobia and its political manipulation pose the
greatest threat to democracy, or at least to the quality of democracy. In
stead of being welcomed for their potential contribution to a productive
economy and diverse society, immigrants are too often portrayed as a
threat, and procedures aimed at detecting "bogus" asylum seekers result
in the harassment and detention of bona fide refugees. Sometimes they
deter or prevent refugees from even approaching a country where they
might be safe.

Democracy at the Global Level

Democracy is crucial because it affects relations among states as well as


harmony and development within them. But we also require more
democracy at the global level, which is what the United Nations has
been about from the very beginning. Charter Article 2:1 established the
democratic principle of the "sovereign equality of all itsMembers,"

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140 Democracy as an International Issue

which are not individual citizens but sovereign states that are very un
equal in size, wealth, and power.
That is not likely to change soon, but none of us can feel comfort
able. Stability can hardly be taken for granted when the majority of
human beings are denied the economic opportunities enjoyed by a priv
ileged few. States that enjoy wealth and power have a moral obligation
and enlightened self-interest to take account of the views of those that
do not.
The United Nations does its best to bridge the gap. Its life is a con
stant, sometimes uneasy, compromise between taking account of these
inequalities, for the sake of realism, and the aspiration to redress them,
or at least to compensate for them, by making small, poor, and weak
voices more audible.
We cannot claim that there is perfect equality between member states,
but the small and powerless do, on the whole, feel less unequal at the
United Nations than in other international bodies. Many of them believe,
the same as Dag Hammarskj?ld, that theUN's essential task is to protect
theweak against the strong.6 In the long term, the vitality and viability
of theworld organization depend on its ability to perform that task.
Most member states?and probably most people?believe that the
UN would be more democratic if the Security Council were more rep
resentative of themembership as a whole. I share that feeling. Member
states must decide among themselves; and although all of them agree on
the need for reform, sadly, they disagree on the details.
We should not focus only on the Security Council. Many important
decisions, with profound effects on the lives of billions of human be
ings, are made in theWorld Bank, International Monetary Fund, World
Trade Organization, Group of 8, and the boardrooms of multinational
corporations. We would live in a better, fairer world?indeed, a more
democratic world?if, in all those places, greater weight were given to
the views and interests of the poor.
Transnational corporations also occupy a critical place in the con
stellation of actors who can contribute to democratic governance. With
this inmind, I challenged the world business community to work with
theUN in a Global Compact.7 These corporations have created the sin
gle economic space inwhich we live. Their decisions have implications
for the prospects of people and of entire nations. Their rights to operate
globally have been greatly expanded by international agreements. As we
look ahead, those rights must be accompanied by greater responsibili
ties?by the concept and practice of global corporate citizenship.
One argument that is sometimes used to resist global corporate
citizenship is that those who claim to speak for the poor are not truly

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KofiA. Annan 141

representative. Not always used in good faith, global corporate citizen


ship cannot be dismissed offhand. Its validity, however, is declining as
democracy spreads through the developing world. Already the Organi
zation of African Unity has courageously declared that itwill no longer
admit at its summit meetings leaders who come to power by unconsti
tutional means.

I look forward to the day when the General Assembly follows this
fine example. Its authority will be greatly strengthened when all the
governments represented in it are themselves, clearly and unmistakably,
representative of the peoples of the world, in whose name the United
Nations was founded.
Whether operating at the national or global level, in a globalizing
world our touchstone more than ever must be thewill of the people. Three
questions must have answers ifwe are to identify thatwill and respond:

1.How can we recognize the voices of people with legitimate com


plaints about globalization?about decisionmaking and inequality, for
example?without favoring those bent on violence and destruction?
2. How can we address the limits of markets?in areas such as the
environment and human rights?without stifling the creativity, innova
tion, and dynamism thatmarkets can bring to the fight against poverty?
3. How can we reconcile the urgent needs of today with the require
ments of future generations, and find a sustainable path forward? ?

Notes

Kofi A. Annan is secretary-general of theUnited Nations. This essay is based


on theCyril Foster Lecture he delivered at Oxford University, 19 June 2001,
and an address he gave at theUniversity of Oslo, 20 August 2001.
1. For a collection of articles evidence for and against the "dem
discussing
ocratic see Michael E. Brown, Sean Lynn-Jones, and Steven
peace" hypothesis,
E. Miller, Debating theDemocratic Peace (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996). See
also Bruce Russett, Grasping the Democratic Peace (Princeton: Princeton Uni

versity Press, 1993), and Michael Doyle, Ways ofWar and Peace (New York:
Norton, 1997), especially chap. 8.
2. See Winston Churchill's account, The Second World War?The Gather

ingStorm (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948), chap. 12.


3. An overview of traditional peacekeeping operations is Paul F. Diehl,
International Peacekeeping (Baltimore: JohnsHopkins University Press, 1994).
4. For case studies of theUN's effortsin the 1990s, seeWilliam J.Durch,
ed., UN Peacekeeping, American Politics, and theUncivil Wars of the 1990s
(New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996); and Elizabeth Cousens and Chetan
Kumar, eds., Peacebuilding as Politics (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2001).

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142 Democracy as an International Issue

5. The United Nations University/World Institute forDevelopment Eco


nomics Research program, 'The Wave of Emergencies of the Last Decade," has

explored the economic and social causes of civil wars, alongside political, eth
nic, religious, and cultural factors. Itsmain findings are summarized in Jeni
Klugman, "Social and Economic Policies to Prevent Complex Emergencies:
Lessons fromExperience," Policy Brief No. 2 (Helsinki: UNU/WIDER, 1999).
Also see Frances Stewart, "The Root Causes of Conflict: Some Conclusions,"
Queen Elizabeth House Working Paper Series No. 16, June 1998; and "Crisis
Prevention: Tackling Horizontal Inequalities," Queen Elizabeth House Working
Paper Series No. 33, February 2000.
6. In 1960, Dag Hammarskj?ld observed, "The United Nations has in
creasingly become themain platform?and themain protector of the interests?
of those many nations who feel themselves strong as members of the inter
national family but who are weak in isolation." See Introduction to theAnnual
Report of theSecretary-General on theWork of theOrganization 1959-1960.
7. See http://www.unglobalcompact.org.

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