Robert Cooper: Democracy cannot be imposed on a nation by force of arms

From a speech by Tony Blair's former foreign policy adviser to the Foreign Policy Centre in London
Click to follow

Voices in the US administration are sometimes heard explaining that they're going to "export democracy" to Iraq like they did in Japan and Germany after the war. This misunderstands both Japanese and German history. Germany was a country with very deep democratic traditions - there have been Burgomeisters there for centuries - where democracy was waiting to emerge. The Weimar constitution was highly liberal, one of the first in Europe to give women the vote. So the idea that democracy arrived in Germany in 1945 is a mistake. Equally, the Japanese state had progressively liberalised under the Taisho period, when there was a certain flowering of democracy. The US should take credit for its extraordinary land reform that redistributed wealth to tenant farmers, but to take credit for the flourishing of democracy after the war is a bit much.

Can democracies develop without outside intervention? South Korea moved from a military dictatorship to democracy on its own, not as a result of great encouragement from anyone outside, in spite of the presence of American troops. Thailand has been more of a success story: there have been a couple of opportunities recently for the army to intervene in Thailand and they didn't take them, which shows, although it's imperfect, democracy is pretty well established. In Indonesia you could say that the IMF brought democracy - I don't think that was intentional, but it had that effect. In South Africa, it was the international business community that forced change.

The most reliable systems of government for capitalists are probably democratic because people don't like investing in places where they don't trust the court and the law. In Spain, Portugal and Greece no external forces were responsible: those countries did it themselves, but the European environment certainly helped. In Central and Eastern Europe it was the non-intervention of Russia that brought democracy.

I would be tempted to conclude that democracy is not on the whole brought by armies.

  • More about:
  • USA