The Fall 2006 issue of Orbis was devoted largely to Eastern European democratization. When that volume was being assembled, many analysts – including myself – felt that the ‘‘Third Wave of Democratization,’’ described by Sam Huntington, still retained considerable momentum. In fact, as late as 2004, most of the twenty-eight postcommunist countries of Europe and Eurasia showed promising democratic trends. Since then, however, is it clear that in the postcommunist region much of this momentum has dissipated.
This edition of Orbis, thus, presents a mixed picture of the state of democratization from a more global perspective. My opening essay, documents and tries to explain the significant regression that democracy has suffered recently in several of the former communist countries—most notably in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and several other states of Central Asia and the Caucasus. Even in Central Europe and the Balkans, where reforms had seemed to be advancing steadily, democratic consolidation has proven much slower than expected, and there have been some steps backwards. Nevertheless, I am confident that forward momentum can be regained if the West can re-unite in supporting reform forces, which still remain vigorous in a majority of the region’s countries.
In his case study of Ukraine, Mykola Riabchuk describes the loss of momentum following the ‘‘Orange Revolution’s’’ initial euphoria in late 2004. Using the working hypotheses of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Project on Democratic Transitions, Riabchuk delineates the many factors that have either helped or hindered Ukrainian democratization efforts. He emphasizes the role of external players, including the antidemocratic diffusion effects emanating from Russia. He makes it clear, however, that the West has the ability to counter-act this negative influence, particularly if the United States and the European Union and its member states act in concert.
Valerie Bunce contends that there is no single road to democracy. There are, however, certain factors that have a consistently positive effect on democratic development, such as a well-developed civil society, a sharp break with the authoritarian past, stable state borders, and parliaments capable of balancing executive power and of integrating diverging interests in ethnically or religiously divided societies. Although domestic influences play a more important role than international actors do, recent history shows that external assistance can be of significant value if it is properly targeted, offered consistently over many years, and based on strong local partnerships.
Tom Ginsburg discusses the lessons learned from several Asian democratic transitions and suggests that Asia should be central to the comparative study of democracy. Ginsburg notes that democracy is either stalled or in retreat in many parts of the world. While he is encouraged by the democratic progress of five specific countries in East and South East Asia, he emphasizes the complexity of the factors affecting both the success and the pace of reform. He also stresses the important role that outside powers can play in encouraging and assisting democratization.
Alexander Cooley focuses on overseas military bases as one example of the ways that outside powers can affect prospects for democratization. Using the examples of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Cooley argues that U.S. bases risk becoming enmeshed in local political agendas even when they are intended to have a ‘‘light footprint.’’ In political environments where there is potential for democratic transition, therefore, U.S. policy planners must carefully balance their military basing priorities with America’s democratization goals.
John R. Schmidt deals with how external powers impact democracy. He asserts that most interventions by outside forces, seeking to promote democracy in post-conflict states since World War II, have failed. This is in part because the effects of the conflicts themselves make democracy promotion more difficult, and also due to the intrinsic difficulty of building democracy in societies that are poor, characterized by weak institutions, corrupt, or plagued by ethnic or religious animosities. The factors Schmidt cites pertain, of course, not only to recent U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan but also to the civil wars that ravaged formerly communist Europe and Eurasia. Schmidt provides yet another set of illustrations of these complex situations and why long-term commitment is required to successfully support indigenous democratic development.
In addition to these six articles focused on the challenge of rebuilding democratic momentum worldwide, this edition features two essays on China. The first, by Toshi Yoshihara and James R.Homes discusses how China is now using ‘‘soft power’’ to protect its sea lines of communication. In the second essay, David Lei elaborates on China’s new initiatives in its multi-faceted maritime strategy.
We hope this issue of Orbis provides substantial food for thought as we face the challenge of rebuilding democratic momentum worldwide.