Nye and Roberts on democratization


in Bombs and rockets, Oxford, Politics

Last night’s talk on democratization by Joseph Nye and Adam Roberts basically encapsulated the most dominant strand of academic thinking on the subject. It was heavily focused on the American role in the Middle East (though Russia’s apparent slide towards autocracy was not entirely ignored) and essentially concluded that the US can and should continue to spread democracy, but must do so in moderate and locally tailored ways, rather than just stomping on people. There was agreement that the next administration (whether Clinton or McCain) would pursue more or less this path.

Both speakers agreed that attacking Iran would be an appalling error: both strategically, given the capacity of that state to cause havoc in the region, and politically, because of how an attack would unify moderates and conservatives in Iran around the present regime. It would also further diminish American credibility in the Muslim world.

Finally, there was some discussion of narratives: the one that Osama bin Laden propagates, that of the United States, and the kind that Europe might fruitfully deploy. As a continent that has managed to come together into peace and prosperity, after an appalling history of war, perhaps the European experience can be illustrative for other regions.

All of these points are sensible and sound, as you would expect from professors from Harvard and Oxford – the latter even knighted. One question that remains sitting on the table is how to deal with allied states that have less than excellent democratic credentials. It certainly damages US soft power to be so reliant upon the House of Saud, as well as people like Pervez Musharraf and Hosni Mubarak. It creates many opportunities to accuse the US of hypocrisy. That said, the generally cautious approach recommended by both speakers suggests a course of constructive engagement, rather than something more aggressive (though not forceful).

On a side note, the St. Antony’s International Review seems to be doing a very good job of publicizing itself. This is very welcome, given Oxford’s notable lack of a quality international relations journal. I should try to get a book review or something into it, before I leave Oxford.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben February 13, 2007 at 2:42 pm

Does every university need it’s own IR (or law, or whatever) journal? I don’t really think they count for much, and merely result in huge mounds of often not very good stuff being churned out. It’d be better, imho, if people just focused on saying something worth saying in a well-respected peer-reviewed journal, whatever those are in your field.

Anonymous February 13, 2007 at 4:06 pm

What about China? Surely no discussion of democratization can avoid the question of what will happen there in the next decade or two, or what role outsiders might play.

Canuck February 13, 2007 at 4:17 pm

Some thesis/Canada related news:

PM unveils $1.5-billion green fund
First $350-million earmarked for Quebec, but money contingent on budget approval

Milan February 13, 2007 at 4:26 pm


You make a good point, though I do think there is value in journals that allow relatively junior people to start developing a publication history. No matter how brilliant or hardworking, an undergrad or master’s student isn’t exactly likely to get published in International Organization or Foreign Affairs.


I agree. I actually asked Nye about China after the talk. The basic line was the same: it is a worrisome situation, but outsiders can only really make a difference at the margins. We need to pick our battles.

As for predictions, Adam Roberts may have said it best: “I hate the future…”


It does sound good, but you can’t really trust these announcements. Often, they are just re-labelling money that was already going to be spent. In this case, it looks like they are just partially re-funding a program they already cut. Also, unless government spending is very well targeted, it doesn’t seem like a particularly viable way of dealing with climate change. A carbon tax would be far more sensible.

Alex February 14, 2007 at 11:17 am

Milan, STAIR is looking for another book review for the forthcoming Internet issue. Get in touch with anna.hakala@sant.ox.ac.uk

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