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Hard Power and Democratization

Robert Kagan throws in a very dubious claim in his paean to hard power:

And the remarkably wide spread of democracy around the world owes something to America’s ability to provide support to democratic forces under siege and to protect peoples from dictators such as Moammar Gaddafi and Slobodan Milosevic.

No, I don’t think so. Since it is hard power that Kagan is praising, he must be arguing that it is the use or existence of that hard power that partly accounts for “the remarkably wide spread of democracy around the world.” The more rapid spread of democratic government since the 1980s had far more to do with the political choices of the nations in question, but if we still want to credit the U.S. for this it was not U.S. hard power that contributed to these transitions. As Wilkinson said recently in response to Kagan’s paean to hegemony:

And America didn’t compel aspiring first-worlders to try market economies and democratic governance. The nations of the world could see for themselves what was working and, in their own ways, have mostly followed suit.

During the last thirty years, how many times has U.S. hard power been used to “provide support to democratic forces under siege”? Not many at all. Maybe you can include Panama and Haiti on the list, but I don’t think that this was a factor in other countries’ transitions to democracy. I’m not sure why Kagan would choose the Gaddafi and Milosevic examples. U.S. hard power was instrumental in detaching Kosovo from Serbia and handing it over to the KLA, and it was also essential in aiding the rebellion against Gaddafi, which resulted in his overthrow and death. Leave aside that these interventions have empowered forces whose democratic credentials are at the very least questionable. They are hardly typical examples of the uses of U.S. hard power, and they post-date the democratization of the vast majority of countries that have adopted this form of government since 1989.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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