Debating Covert Intervention and the Democratic Peace

10 August 2015, 1528 EDT

One reason that Patrick I stepped down as a permanent contributors to the Duck of Minerva was to develop ISQ Online as a forum for intellectual exchange surrounding International Studies Quarterly pieces.  I think readers of the Duck will find the exchanges there interesting, and so I’ll be using (abusing?) my ‘standing guest’ privileges to call attention to them.

ISQ recently published—on early view—a piece by Michael Poznansky entitled “Stasis or Decay? Reconciling Covert War and the Democratic Peace.” In the final round of review, two of the referees proved very enthusiastic but one still expressed significant reservations. So we offered him the opportunity to have ‘the debate’ in public by authoring a rejoinder. The result, Tarak Barkawi’s “Scientific Decay.”

ISQ Online offers us the opportunity to continue these sorts of exchanges. Hence, we now have a symposium, “An Extended Debate on the Utility of the Democratic Peace Thesis.” In it, Poznanski and Barkawi go another round.

This is an important exchange. The fact of US cover interventions in democratic polities—including participating in the overthrow of democratically-elected governments—remains an ‘artifact’ of the democratic-peace hypotheses in need of explanation. Poznansky argues that:

Expectations surrounding a regime’s future status as a democracy determine the conditions under which democratic states will target their counterparts with covert force. If decision makers expect an existing democracy to break down—what I term an expectation of “democratic decay”—the restraints of democratic peace will atrophy, rendering these states susceptible to covert forcible regime change.  Conversely, if decision makers anticipate that a regime will remain democratic—generating an expectation of “democratic stasis”—the constraints of democratic peace should obtain.

Barkawi, in contrast, argues that such explanations offer a “get out of jail free” card for the democratic peace. The crux of his objection: of course policymakers saw regimes such a Allende’s as a threat to the Washington-based order, but this misses the point. As he writes:

Poznansky winds up reinscribing the very ideological categories that American leaders used to justify often brutal and bloody anti-democratic projects as somehow “pro-democracy”. Rather than supporting democratic-peace theory, Poznansky’s article instead calls attention to the Cold War ideology and American exceptionalism that underwrites it.

This kind of exchange, even if sometimes heated, reflects the kind of thing that I think we ought to encourage. It juxtaposes the views of scholars who ‘come at the world’ differently but nonetheless can productively argue about matters of political and historical significance.

The original articles are ungated, thanks to Wiley, for a few more weeks. Go read them… and the extended debate!