The CSS Blog Network

Defending Democracy in Latin America…but Which Democracy?

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This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 15 February 2017.

Since the early 1990s, political elites have enthusiastically embraced the values and practices of democracy in the Americas. At the international level, this enthusiasm translated into collective commitments to defend democracy against its enemies, through specific instruments added to the legal frameworks of the regional organizations existing in the region. The tendency has continued in the new millennium as new organizations such as the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) have also committed themselves to assist and, if necessary, to sanction those countries in which democracy is breached.

Liberal intellectuals and politicians were quick (maybe too quick) to interpret these regional developments as further proof of the consolidation of democracy in the Western Hemisphere. Yet, it is worth taking a more careful look at this phenomenon, especially in a phase in which illiberal democracies, competitive authoritarian, and truly authoritarian regimes seem to be coming to stay, at least for a while, alongside traditional democracies in the Americas and in Europe.

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The Road Ahead: What the Death of Islam Karimov Means for Uzbekistan and Central Asia

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This article was originally published by Harvard International Review on 7 February 2017.

On August 29, 2016, the president of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Four days later, the country lost its first and only president. Karimov had been exerting his influence in Uzbek politics since 1989 as the last secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, which later became the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDP). It may not come as a surprise that his rule was often mired by reports of human rights violations and declarations of autocratic powers to squash any political opposition.

Though the transition of power to the new provisional government may be relatively smooth, Uzbekistan remains fraught with challenges. For now, the Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev has assumed temporary control until elections are held later this year. The new leadership of Uzbekistan must address the late Karimov’s legacy grappling with a fragile economy, the separatist movement in Karakalpastan, increasing interest of foreign powers in exerting influence over Central Asia, increasingly complex water allocation amongst Central Asian states, and backlash from the previous government’s repressive stance towards Islam.

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The Consequences of Politicized Forces in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

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This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 19 January 2017.

The politicization of the Kurdish military and security forces has a diverse and severe impact on human security, and stability in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The lack of a nationalized armed force in Kurdistan remains the biggest threat to its future. The Iraqi constitution allows the Kurdistan Regional Government to form its local force and legalize the existence of the Peshmerga, but Baghdad does not intervene in the details of the formations and the recruitment process. The ruling parties in Kurdistan have the ultimate power over mobilization, recruitment, and financing of the security forces.

Kurdistan has been an autonomous region since 1992. It emerged as a quasi-state after the establishment of the no-fly zone in northern Iraq by the United States – along with the United Kingdom and France – which put an end to Saddam Hussein’s murderous attacks on the Kurds. From this time onwards, The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been predominantly ruled by two major parties; the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Mustafa Barzani, established the former in 1946 while Jalal Talabani had founded PUK in 1975 when he split from Barzani’s KDP. Although the two parties have fought the Iraqi regime in the 1980s, they also fought one another.

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Unholy Alliance: Kleptocratic Authoritarians and their Western Enablers

Blood money

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This article was originally published by World Affairs in July 2016.

It is widely understood that corruption is a pervasive problem in many societies and undermines public confidence in the political system and government institutions. The scourge of corruption is generally viewed as a symptom of a larger problem of the failure of judicial, media, and other institutions of accountability in new or developing democracies. In kleptocracies, which is the term used to designate “government by thieves,” corruption is the lifeblood of the system and therefore the heart of the problem.

Karen Dawisha, the author of Putin’s Kleptocracy and one of the foremost experts on this issue, makes the observation that “in kleptocracies risk is nationalized and rewards are privatized.” Participation in the spoils of kleptocracy is organized and controlled by top political elites, who raid state resources with immunity and impunity. Whistleblowers, investigative journalists, and others who seek to expose corrupt practices become targets of law enforcement and are treated as enemies of the state.

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Four Trends That Could Put the Democratic Peace at Risk

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This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 14 October 2016.

Political scientists generally agree that democracies have a foreign policy advantage, particularly when it comes to conflict. Democracies – at least when compared to autocracies – make more credible threats, fight less, and win more.

There’s a lot more debate about why this might be the case, but in research with Matt Baum I argue that it comes down to institutional constraints. Free and fair elections are fine and well, but unless political opposition and an informed public are up to the task of forcing leaders to be responsive, the democratic advantage fades away. Driving the point home, some autocracies are so institutionalized that they effectively constrain leaders and, when they do, those countries look more like democracies in their conflict behavior and outcomes.

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