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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .


Democracy By Force: US Military Intervention in the Post-Cold War World
Karin von Hippel

Cambridge, University of Cambridge Press, 2000
224pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: 35.00/$49.95; ISBN 0-5216-5051-8. Pb.: 12.95/$18.95; ISBN 0-5216-5955-8



This book examines military intervention and state building in Panama, Somalia, Haiti and Serbia. In the first case study, the point is developed that whilst military planning was the core of US strategy, plans for the development of civic institutions for 'democracy building' ran side by side with this. Von Hippel identifies obstacles to reforming the Panamanian police, and argues that the under emphasis on the civilian and governmental role compounded the overemphasis on the military's early civic duties. Through ensuing studies of Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia, Von Hippel outlines how US approaches have accommodated 'lessons learned' from Panama. The emphasis on military centrality has reduced in some cases whilst the role of civilian and civic institution building has advanced to reflect the challenges of post-invasion state building. Von Hippel notes, but does not really discuss, her observation that states that reject democracy can no longer expect sovereign impunity from direct intervention to 'democratise' them. Her conclusion is that to restore a state after military intervention, three elements are essential: security, a safe civil society with democratic safeguards, and co-ordinated external aid. This is both logical, and also already well established in the Development Studies literature. However, while it is impossible to include everything, something important is lacking. It has long been understood that 'peripheral' societies have developed socially, institutionally, politically and economically in different ways to the West. As a consequence, notions such as decentralised authority or specific methods of conflict resolution have different origins and therefore require different approaches to those that rest on Western assumptions. The absence of the rule of law may be attributable to the lack of an economic and political bourgeoisie, itself derived from capitalism. The installation of the democratic institutions identified by Von Hippel would not necessarily result in the outcomes she predicts. Some contemporary examples suggest that increased tensionor violence may be the result, as traditional and modern clash without the gradual replacement over time of one with the other, in conjunction with concomitant changes in the local socio-economic and political order. Whilst Von Hippel has exposed those tensions as they relate to military development of democracy, she has unfortunately left unexamined a complicated but crucial element to the debate on democratisation.


Andrea Bartoli, Columbia University



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