India Takes to the Polls: An Interview with Matthew Rudolph

matt_oakvilleMatthew Rudolph, Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Georgetown University, sat down with the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs to discuss his recent research and insights into India’s nationwide 16th Lok Sabha general election, which began on 7 April 2014 and continues through 16 May 2014.

GJIA: What factors set Indian election cycles apart from other global democratic processes, and what specifically makes the 16th Lok Sabha elections unique from previous elections in Indian history?

MR: We often think of India less frequently because it is a younger democracy than many European and American ones, but 870 million voters—the largest democratic exercise on the planet—make it a serious point of gravity in global democracy. The electoral process in India is countrywide and top-down. It is not regulated at the state level like it is in the United States, and it has been all-electronic since 2004. We think of India as a poor, developing country and— rightly—as having challenges to infrastructure and modern amenities from the household level all the way up to ports, roads, and rails, but in the exercise of the democratic franchise, it is far ahead of the United States. In India, the poor vote in much greater numbers than the middle class and the rich, the reverse of what we see elsewhere, particularly the United States. Very high voting percentages compared to the United States and other places, and a very active election commission, help ensure the integrity of the voting process. People sometimes note instances of violence or vote-rigging in Indian elections, but when you have an electorate of that size, the outcomes are less likely to be tainted by a few of these instances. Given the difficulty of regulating anything in India, from traffic to food safety, the fact that elections go as well as they do is a testament both to the political culture of the country—the fact that people are committed to elections, take them seriously, and consider them legitimate—and to the efficacy of the election commissions.

GJIA: You recently returned from a trip to India. What was the nature and intent of your visit?

MR: The main purpose for the trip had to do with an award my parents were getting, but since I was there I thought I would do some research of my own. I had several meetings, the most interesting of which was at the Secretariat of the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of the Indian Parliament. The Rajya Sabha is akin to the United States Senate, but much less consequential in its legislative role and indirectly elected [rather than] by voters. I am doing a research project on political symbolism in the parliament building itself, which is associated with a larger project on the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), so I went to the Secretariat to get information, access to their archives, and permission to do photography and interviews. I also went to the informal campaign headquarters of the Congress Party, where we actually have a Georgetown student on leave this semester working in a hands-on and consequential role on the campaign. I spoke for 45 minutes with the Minister of Rural Development, a loyalist of the Ghandi-Nehru family and Congress Party member who is also an independent thinker—you could think of him as the Nancy Pelosi of India. We talked about campaign strategy and priorities for the Congress Party, and it is an unusual fact of his personality that he could be cheerful discussing this because the situation for the Congress Party [going into the election] is pretty grim.

GJIA: How has India fared economically, politically, and socially under the coalition government the Congress Party has headed since its election in 2004 and reelection in 2009? How has this recent political history shaped the issues most important to the current election?

MR: The Congress Party probably would not have done well in this election even if it had managed to keep the economy going at pre-2008 levels. Two rounds of incumbency [have led to] voter fatigue. However, it probably would not have suffered as much as it is likely to. In terms of economic policymaking and its effect on overall economic performance and how that plays into the election, recent slow growth has meant fewer jobs, less satisfaction, and more grievances, and those are piling onto other issues. The most consequential issues hurting the Congress are accusations of corruption and an inability to respond to [both] these accusations and actual instances of corruption in a way that suggests the party has internal dynamism and resilience. The corruption itself, of course, has a secondary effect of dampening domestic and international investment enthusiasm and economic dynamism, hurting the credibility of the government and threatening the sense that it is accountable. Even during the United Progressive Alliance, the first Congress-led coalition running from 2004 to 2009, there was not as much dynamism and economic policymaking as there should have been. The main reason for this is that in the first two or three years the Congress was supported by a group of left-wing Marxist and Communist parties that were opposed to energetic reform. The Congress should have jettisoned those partners, and they probably could have. They should have called a snap election in 2005, a year after they were voted into office, when they were very popular, and gotten rid of those coalition partners. But the tactical and strategic mindset of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, the prime minister and head of the party, respectively, were too conservative. Once you hit 2009, the global economic crisis, a slowdown of global demand, and problems with the domestic Indian business cycle became external to India and the party’s ability to control them. There are always going to be shocks in the global economy and oscillations in the business cycle, and that is why you need dynamic economic policymaking. The prime minister is an economist himself and should know that. In that sense, the Congress Party is guilty of not doing things that it should have known to do. In much of the media, people forget that when the BPJ coalition was in power between 1998 and 2004, they too had many corruption scandals, and they too—in some cases—failed to make crucial economic reforms. It is easy to see the failings and errors of the most recent office holders and incumbents as the most consequential ones, but the fact is that their predecessors had many of the same kinds of problems.

GJIA: What do you consider to be the most likely outcome when polls close on 16 May 2014?

I put a greater probability on a surprise outcome than many other analysts do. Most other people seem to be putting that unusual outcome, which is either a Congress-led coalition or a third front-led coalition, in the 2-8 percent range. I put it a little higher than that, at 10 or 15 percent. The high probability outcome, a BJP-led coalition, will be historic and unique in that it will establish an oscillation between these two major parties for power. To an American audience, that is akin to the post-Civil War entrenchment of a Democratic-Republican cycle. If the BJP wins this year, we will have had two cycles of this since the late 1990s in Indian democracy as well. If this most likely outcome does come to pass, this pattern will be in place for a longer period of time—30, 40, or 50 years. It will be the beginning of the entrenchment of that cycle. It is also likely that it will force an awareness and, in a sense, a realignment, of the relationship between the national parties and the regional parties they need to court and cooperate with to secure a coalition.

GJIA: Which key demographics have been appealed to by the candidates and coalitions, and with which demographics have different coalitions experienced success? 

MR: It is risky to characterize Indian democracy as opportunistic and cynical in appealing to what are called vote banks. These are typically caste groups or religious groups—for example, the Congress Party appealing specifically to Muslim and rural poor voters and the BJP appealing to small traders, upper caste Hindus. These patterns are well established and will continue in this election. Two things in this election are unusual. One is a fight for the youth. Both parties, in a way they have never done before, are fighting for the youth vote. This is probably why Rahul Gandhi is being nudged forward as the candidate for the Congress Party. Although he also comes from the Nehru-Gandhi dynastic line and therefore has built-in name recognition with the electorate, he is also a young person. Narendra Modi, who is in his late 50s or early 60s, is younger, more dynamic, and more energetic than many prime ministerial candidates in recent years, and is trying to use that to appeal to the youth. When I was at the Congress informal campaign headquarters last week, I learned about the ways in which the Congress campaign is using data-driven approaches to access the youth vote. Strangely, despite the awareness that the youth vote is important, there is very little actual use of youthful candidates or proxies. The very small number of people under the age of 40 who are consequential figures in Indian national politics is a general pattern, and something that many Indian domestic critics and outside observers find puzzling. In India, as in many other countries that have either powerful Marxist or Communist party organizations, there are youth party organs and entities including a Youth Congress and a BJP youth. There is an organizational focus on youth prevalent inside the party but outside of the public eye, the press, and the media.

The BJP in particular is also looking for support from a group called the Other Backward Castes. These groups are in the bottom rungs of the Hindu caste hierarchy. They are above the Dalits—the formerly so-called Untouchables—have a reasonable social status, and are not generally suffering in oppressed conditions, but consider themselves to have a group identity. The BJP is targeting that group as well.

GJIA: What obstacles confront the BJP’s Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate? What criticisms have he and his party received?

MR: There are three prominent criticisms [that pose] subsidiary obstacles for him. The first is his record. As Chief Minister during the 2002 Gujarat riots, he certainly did not take as many actions to prevent violence as he should have. It is possible he was actively negligent in an effort to provide supporters, who are Hindu nationalists, an opportunity to express themselves in the violent way they did. [He faces criticism from] both the Muslim communities that were victims of that and from other sympathetic groups like the Congress Party and a prominent party in the western state of Bihar led by Nitish Kumar, who last fall removed himself from the National Democratic Alliance coalition supporting the BJP and said he would not support them in the general campaign if Modi was the lead candidate. Modi has been asked to make amends for the 2002 riots, by secular sympathizers who want him to win, and he has had opportunities to do that. Symbolic politics are consequential in India, as they are in all countries. One way he could have done this is to have worn a Muslim skullcap and gone to pray at a mosque. He has been sympathetic to other religious groups like Christians and Parsis, but he has explicitly not taken steps to make amends with Muslims.

The second obstacle is factionalism and discord in the BJP itself. Modi is younger and a Chief Minister, but he has not been a minister in the Union Cabinet. While he has been a party stalwart, he has not been active in the central party organization, and is considered somewhat of an outsider compared to the old guard. Regardless of what you think of the BJP, having outside blood and dynamism in the party is a good thing from a political science or strategic perspective. This is a classic example of patterns we see in the major parties in India. Old—70 or older—line incumbents and longtime party stalwarts who feel they deserve to be leaders of the party hold the best positions. In a sense, [Modi’s candidacy] should be a good thing for the BJP, but so far it has caused discord. It is possible that the publishing of the party manifesto and its platform is being held up by this infighting, possibly with the objective of sabotaging Modi’s prime ministerial candidature, perhaps to try to put him on the back foot in a way that would allow an older candidate to be in charge. Or it may just be that there is a lot of strategizing that has to go on because there is disagreement. It may not be quite that cynical.

The third obstacle is that political power in the country has been shifting from the north, towards the south, where there are faster growing states, higher literacy levels, and more modern sectors of the economy. Though this has been happening since the late 1980s, Modi’s status as a Hindi/Gujarati speaker whose identity is firmly northern, not necessarily pan-Indian, could become an obstacle as political power shifts south. He is not very well known in the south because he has not been a union administer or an actor—to be a Bollywood or other actor gets you well known in India, just like Ronald Reagan in the United States. He does not have any of those things, so a third obstacle is his northernness, if you will.

GJIA: In the event of a BJP-led coalition, what do you predict will be the most significant policy changes the BJP might enact?

MR: Regardless of which government or which party is in power, there are tendencies in Indian politics through the legislative process and the political culture that tend to draw all parties toward a general commonality among policies. There is not much policy difference between the Congress and the BJP, much less many of the other parties—with the exception of the Marxist and Communist parties. We will probably see a more muscular verbal expression of Indian foreign policy, which will sound more energetic than under the Congress Party, but there will not be much real policy difference. I expect to see a number of economic measures, probably in insurance, bank licenses, roads, rails, and ports, to try to jump-start infrastructure. Under the last BJP government, there were efforts to provide private use of the rail system in which the actual rails continue to be owned by the rail ministry but the rolling stock and the trains could be from private companies. This would be an important difference. There was also a push for what was then called the Golden Quadrilateral—connecting the key points within India—and I would expect to see a lot of effort on that compared to the Congress Party. One of the reasons why the BJP is more likely to do that is because its infrastructure requires a lot more displacement in rural zones, and the BJP seems willing to do that whereas the Congress has a rural base.

Dr. Matthew Rudolph is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Georgetown University.

Dr. Rudolph was interviewed by Elaine Li and Ian Philbrick on 4 April 2014.

Five Minutes

Drone Warfare: How ‘Precision Engagement’ Enhances the Legal Dialogue

Geoffrey S. Corn is Presidential Research Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law (Houston), Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired). His last position in the Army was as senior law of war adviser. He is the lead author of The Law of Armed Conflict: An Operational Approach, and The War on Terror and the Laws of War: A Military Perspective (second edition forthcoming).


Though weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles, or armed drones, have generated extensive legal and policy criticism,[1] the U.S. military considers drones to be a weapon of choice to achieve strategic, operational, and tactical objectives against contemporary non-state threats. In fact, the military is seeking to expand the development of lethal drone capability.

Electoral Politics, Erdoğan’s Ambitions, and Democratic Struggles in Turkey

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the 2006 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Photo taken during a session titled 'The New Comparative Advantages.'  Image: World Economic Forum.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a 2006 World Economic Forum panel in Davos, Switzerland, titled ‘The New Comparative Advantages.’ Image: World Economic Forum.

The local elections on 30 March 2014 show once more that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remains the undisputed master of politics in Turkey. He has won three parliamentary elections, three local elections, and two popular referenda on constitutional amendments since 2001. Even more remarkable is Erdoğan’s ability to remain domestically popular while abandoning his previously liberal political agenda for one much more authoritarian. He crusaded against corruption when campaigning for the 2002 parliamentary elections after huge bank scandals ruined Turkey’s economy. Now he fabricates conspiracy charges to cover up extensively documented corruption scandals involving his tight inner circle. He formerly declared that Turkey was no longer the country of extrajudicial executions and unsolved political murders; now he defends police brutality and the use of excessive force resulting in the deaths of a number of citizens including children. He promised to end restrictions on freedom of religion and expression; now he now bans Twitter and YouTube. He once claimed that LGBT rights should be protected; now he argues that homosexuality contradicts Islamic beliefs.

Although Erdoğan is abandoning his commitments to liberal democracy and other campaign promises, his sustained popularity is no puzzle. Turkey has achieved sustainable economic growth under his rule after a decade of unstable and incompetent coalition governments. GDP per capita in Turkey increased by close to 50 percent from 2002 to 2013. Erdoğan remains credible and irreplaceable in the eyes of many voters, even if his image as an incorruptible leader has been tarnished. Moreover, his power is built on a solid demographic primarily composed of pious Muslims who felt like pariahs in the secular Turkish Republic. They now are rallying behind a Prime Minister who has lifted the ban on headscarves among university students and public servants, increased the scope and influence of religious education, and made Islamic symbols much more visible and assertive in public sphere just less than a decade after the military ended an Islamist-led coalition government.

As Erdoğan defeats his political opponents, he seeks to monopolize power. In early 2013, he sought a deal with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned Kurdish nationalist leader, to deliver a sustainable cease-fire between the Turkish security forces and the Kurdish militants after a period of intensified armed clashes. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ensured the partial rehabilitation of Öcalan and made some limited administrative and policy reforms demanded by the Kurdish nationalists. The quid pro quo of the deal was Kurdish support for Erdoğan’s initiative to establish a presidential system through a constitutional referendum. While the cease-fire has received widespread support, Erdoğan was unable to muster enough public support to push for presidentalism. The Gezi protests in June and an anti-corruption operation orchestrated by the Gülenists, who formerly supported Erdogan in his initial fight against the military, in December completely derailed Erdoğan’s plans. While Erdoğan solidified his support among his core supporters, his confrontational and polarizing reactions to these crises greatly undermined his ability to reach broader segments of the society. Consequently, the AKP’s public support dropped from 54 percent in early 2012 to the mid-40s by March 2014.

Nonetheless, the AKP’s performance in the recent local elections just after a series of potentially damaging leaks was impressive. These results bolster chances that Erdoğan will run for president in the popular elections in August. Erdoğan will likely seek alliances with other political forces (either with the Turkish and Kurdish nationalists) both to increase his presidential powers and guarantee his own election. His choice will also have a decisive influence on the sustainability of the fragile truce with the Kurdish insurgents.

The public perceives Erdoğan as a visionary leader and builder of a model of “Muslim democracy” in an era of popular democratic aspirations in the Middle East. Erdoğan is not inherently authoritarian, but the Turkish political system, which is still based on a constitution established in 1982 during military rule, is not designed to tame his ambitions. As Erdoğan rides a wave of populism, he is skillfully exploiting the institutional weaknesses of the system while ignoring calls for a new constitution. By amending the system to his will while continuing to win elections, he will have fewer incentives to compromise. Paradoxically, then, an economic downturn would contribute to Turkish democratization by weakening Erdoğan’s hold over power. Economic discontent will not only make the electorate less tolerant of his authoritarian and corrupt tendencies but also encourage critical voices within his party to speak up. The emergence of a less asymmetric distribution of political power would necessitate political coalition-building and cooperation, thus paving the way for a new liberal constitutional order.

Güneş Murat Tezcür is an Associate Professor at Loyola University Chicago. He is a scholar of political violence, democratic struggles, and electoral politics in the Muslim world with a special focus on Iranian, Turkish, and Kurdish politics. More information is available at his website.

The Front Page_new

Venezuela: The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted


Protests in Caracas, Venezuela. February 2014.

After over a month of violence explicitly aimed at ousting the Maduro government, major media outlets and governments in the North Atlantic are blind to the bad faith of the opposition. Comparisons by right-wing think tanks of contemporary Venezuela to the “Dirty Wars” of the 1970s in the Southern Cone obscure past and present U.S. support for some of the most reactionary elements in the Americas and trigger easily accessible scripts of Latin American politics and societies. Global citizens in the digital age readily identify with the fight against human rights abuses. However, this empathy is being abused by opposition figures Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, as well as their allies in the north.

The media narrative throughout the United States and other North Atlantic countries frames the current round of anti-government protests in Venezuela as a conflict between peaceful student protesters and a bloody, dictatorial regime. Even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has repeated hyperbolic claims of a crackdown in Venezuela. Meanwhile, unwitting celebrities and clickbait websites have dutifully spread the message through Twitter, hashtags and all. Additionally, after facing repeated losses throughout 2013 at the ballot boxes, López and Machado called in early February for demonstrations to oust the government in the streets under the banner #lasalida (“the exit,” or alternatively, “the solution”). After “the exit” came calls for help, with photo montages and videos of heroic students being brutalized by stormtrooper lookalikes under a call to #prayforvenezuela.

These images and the stories they tell are gripping. However, many of them are fabricated: images of Venezuelans battling against police proved to be from Chile, Colombia, Brazil, or even Syria. The majority of deaths have occurred at the barricades, where opposition protesters have shot and killed national guard troops, government activists, and even their own neighbors for trying to dismantle the roadblocks that have held some areas hostage by blocking traffic, burning garbage, and charging fees for safe passage for well over a month. In one particularly horrific case that went unreported by CNN or Buzzfeed, opposition protestors strung razor wire across a major thoroughfare in Caracas as per the instructions of retired General Ángel Vivas; three people were beheaded as a result.

In the face of this, Nicolás Maduro’s government has shown comparatively remarkable restraint. In over a month of disruption and confrontation, as of March 13 just over one thousand opposition protesters have been arrested—as many were arrested in the long weekend of G-20 protests in Toronto, Canada, in 2010. All but 100 have been released without bail or restrictions. Meanwhile, arrests have been made in cases where state officials have been implicated in deaths or in using excessive force against protestors; the director of the National Police was fired for mishandling an incident where officers failed to obey orders not to mobilize, resulting in the deaths of at least one opposition protestor and two government supporters.

Key public figures of the opposition are only finally being held accountable for their roles in instigating and materially supporting the disturbances in Táchira state, where even the New York Times has reported on the particularly violent nature of protests. To date, all government offers to hold “national reconciliation” talks on questions of insecurity, the economy, scarcity, and political polarization in Venezuela (a key demand of the initial round of protests) have been repeatedly rebuffed by the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD)—the coalition headed by Henrique Capriles Radonski, governor of the state of Miranda and former opposition candidate for President.

The misleading moralism of the opposition’s hashtag narrative hides a rift within the Venezuelan opposition. López and Machado are elements of the extreme right wing in Venezuela, with well-established ties to the United States. López is a Harvard-educated politician whose former party, Primero Justicia, started its life as a National Endowment for Democracy-funded NGO. Machado headed Súmate, the U.S.-funded NGO behind the 2004 recall campaign against then-president Hugo Chávez. During the 48-hour coup that removed Hugo Chávez from power in April 2002, López (then mayor of Chacao, an affluent Caracas district) led a mob attack against the Cuban Embassy (link in Spanish). Both López and Machado come from arch-Catholic and extremely affluent backgrounds and both have criticized Henrique Capriles for his ostensible political centrism and willingness to negotiate with the elected government of the Bolivarian Revolution.

While positioning himself as a reasonable middle-ground alternative to the Bolivarian Socialism of the Maduro government and the agenda-less reaction of the López and Machado camp might have seemed an astute political calculation in early February, at this point Capriles seems like an outside observer to ongoing events. This is why Capriles will likely be the biggest loser of the current round of protests. While the initial protests called for action on key—and very real—problems of insecurity and shortages, as they drag on and become increasingly confined to affluent areas and opposition strongholds, they look more like a nihilistic destabilization campaign and less like a sincere call for national dialogue and action. Capriles thus appears more of a hostage to the Venezuelan equivalent of the U.S. Tea Party than the active social democrat of the Lula stripe he had once claimed to be. Indeed, even North Atlantic media outlets with an editorial track record of persistent criticism for the Bolivarian Revolution have recognized that this year’s protests are likely to bolster support for Maduro, perhaps even outside of the Bolivarian Revolution’s traditional base.

The regional response to opposition protests in Venezuela highlights just how politically divided North and South America are today. Governments in Latin America all but unanimously supported Maduro’s government. The Chilean student movement—one of the strongest and most successful in the region—published a denunciation of the anti-government student protesters in Venezuela. Calls by the right-of-center government of Ricardo Martinelli in Panama to send Organization of American States observers to Venezuela were rebuffed by every other government in the organization. Panama, the United States, and Canada remain outliers to a regional consensus defending Venezuelan sovereignty on domestic affairs. Even the government of Colombia—traditionally at odds with Venezuela and ideologically opposed to the “21st Century Socialism” of the Maduro government—has refused to offer moral, material, or political support to the opposition.

The specter of foreign intervention marks discourse on both sides of the political divide in Venezuela—though with strikingly different grasps on reality. Maduro’s blanket accusation that opposition protesters are “fascists” and puppets of the United States overstates the case for many participants in rallies against violence and shortages (though the often racist discourse and calls for a military coup from even mainstream opposition leaders is striking). At the same time, claims by opposition politicians like Caracas’ mayor Antonio Ledezma that the national government is beholden to orders from la Habana or that the National Guard is made up of Cubans are laughable at best and usually serve as evidence of the underlying racial dynamics and fears animating middle class protests in Venezuela.

Interventionism and internationalism are watchwords in Latin America after over a month of protests in Venezuela. While characterizations of the past 15 years in Latin American politics as a “Pink Tide” of left-of-center victories overlook important differences among local movements, policies, and issues, responses to the destabilization campaign in Venezuela nonetheless illustrate a much more unified independent streak in the region than would have been expected 20 years ago. You’ll encounter little of that on Twitter.

Dr. Donald Kingsbury is a Lecturer of the University of Toronto (Political Science.) He has taught extensively at the Department of Politics at UCSC, designing courses on Contemporary Political and Critical Thought, Liberalism, and the War on Terror, Social Movement Studies, and Latin American Politics. His work has been published in Theory & Event, Historical Materialism, and New Political Science

The Front Page_new

The ‘Failed State’ Fever Must Break

World map coloring states according to the Failed State Index 2013: Alert (Red), Warning (Orange), Stable (Yellow), and Sustainable (Green).

World map coloring states according to the Failed State Index 2013: Alert (Red), Warning (Orange), Stable (Yellow), and Sustainable (Green).

It is said that leaders are bound to fight the last war. The United States and the international community are similarly in danger of overlearning the lessons of a particular scenario: the “failed state.”

Failed states and post-conflict state-building have been a major focus of U.S. and multilateral diplomacy, development, and security policy in the last two decades. This focus stems from the confluence of a humanitarian concern with chaos and a security concern that terrorists and violent criminals would occupy ungoverned spaces (like in Afghanistan pre-9/11, and in Iraq after the 2003 invasion).

This tendency—based on dramatic cases from Africa, South Asia, and elsewhere—is reinforced by an intellectual mindset. That mindset is captured by the opening sentence of perhaps the most influential work in American political science since World War II, Samuel Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies, published 46 years ago. He wrote, “The most important political distinction among countries concerns not their form of government but their degree of government.”  The idea is that governments must govern, and the greatest danger lies in the lack of capacity to do so. In 1968, the late Huntington antiseptically lauded the capacity of Leninist states.

If we accept this notion that order and state-capacity is the hammer that must be applied to every nail in the world, we distort U.S. and multilateral policy.

Despite the Iraqs, Afghanistans, Somalias, and DRCs, so many governance problems in the world are ones of how to govern, not how much to govern. The “failed state” image and the Huntington thesis fast become a rationale to centralize power in states. They become a pretext for unsavory backing of autocratic rulers in the name of economic development, counter-terrorism, and avoidance of chaos. Much policy today is shaped by a conscious or subconscious false dichotomy that assumes that a predominant state and chaos are the only alternatives.

On the grounds of governance, a state that is accountable and transparent to its citizens and that ensures access to justice for all groups (e.g. women and minorities) is more important than a strong state per se. All the better, democracy—defined as much by pluralism, tolerance, and basic freedoms such as elections—incorporates the voice of the people in governing.

On the grounds of security, democracies do not go to war with each other. They sometimes forego nuclear arms ambitions, as liberalizing Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa all did. More importantly, accountable governments avoid creating pressure cookers that, denying a voice to some groups in society, drive some to extremist views and violent tactics targeting innocent people. The latter is precisely what one sees across the Middle East and North Africa, in many governments considered vital U.S. allies.

On the grounds of economic development, Morton Halperin, Joe Siegle, and Michael Weinstein demonstrate in their still salient 2004 book, The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace, that democratic governance facilitates economic growth. It engenders choices, real-time information flow, and innovation. Democracy is not just a luxury which must follow economic development, but a catalyst of prosperity.

Ukraine shows these very lessons: people took to the streets to demand economic performance, and an end to Viktor Yanukovych’s kleptocracy and his refusal to listen to popular will seeking ties to the West. Civil society demanded and “owned” change in governance. Outside help (especially from the United States as leader and catalyst) was needed and justified—not to make a state stronger but to back civil society.

There are great risks in getting a metaphor wrong, or assuming a vivid one always pertains. Alliances and escalation led to World War I. Appeasement ushered in World War II. But both metaphors cannot possibly always be apt. The “failed state” is a problem. Often, but not always. The image is perverting policy to the detriment of human rights, civil society voice, corruption-free rule, and prosperity.

Mark Lagon is Professor in the Practice of International Affairs, and Global Politics and Security Chair in the Master of Science in Foreign Service Program at Georgetown University, and Adjunct Senior Fellow for Human Rights at Council on Foreign Relations.

Human Rights and Dignity