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The American principles of democracy and nation-building in the developing world

By: Saeed Kakeyi
April 29, 2008

The United States has developed its democratic principles based on its capitalist system.
These principles, although are based on transparent and accountability in governance,
economic developments, and the rule of law, they have been the cornerstones in nation-
This paper attempts to recognize the depth of these principles and their feasible
applications in nation-building projects in the developing world, especially in relation to the
United States’ led peace-enforcement missions. Then, this paper tries to explore the natures
of the primary obstacles that may occur between the developed and developing worlds and
that may hinder the prospects of achieving national, regional and international peace and
security in post-Cold War era.

Unlike the United Nations’ (UN) state-building or nation-building initiatives which mostly
follow peacekeeping missions, the United States’ (US) nation-building efforts occur while
the U.S. is engaging in peace-enforcement missions (Dobbins: 2007, 4). These peace and
security missions reflect the given circumstances that a particular “failed” or “failing” state is
going through. If such an entity poses no threat to the national interests of the US, but may
constitute a reasonable threat to human rights and regional order, then the UN most likely
gets involved in peacekeeping efforts with broad international legitimacy. However, if a
“failed” or “failing” state poses a threat to the national interests of the US, then ad hoc
interventional forces get configured under the auspices of the US with a project consisting of
short-, med-, and long-term phases. During the short-term phase, once the invading forces
neutralize sources of the threat, their tasks switch to establishing security to protect the
vulnerable people(s) in their sphere of influence. In the mid-term phase, also known as the
transitional period, combinations of external military and civilian teams engage the national
predominant players in attempts to create the foundations of democratic institutions. As the
vanguards of capitalism, American military and civilian leaderships coach, teach and mentor
their occupied counterparts the principles of liberal democracy. During this sensitive phase
and according to the economic, political and cultural factors the process of nation-building
may turn either promising or face potential flouts affecting the course of the long-term phase;
that is to prevent any back-sliding to turmoil.
That said, and after the horrific events of September 11, 2001, the US has embarked
on a project of disciplining the rouge states of the Middle Eastern to follow and respect the
logic of the capitalist market. Such a project has been interpreted by the majority of the
Middle Eastern peoples as a “clash of civilizations” and a reflection for worldviews
stemming from the “destructive norms” of liberal democracy driven by capitalist values
(Duri: 2006, 22). This and other similar interpretations necessitate the need for better
understanding of the cultural, economic and political factors that shape societies differently.
Yet, unfortunately, American policymakers have paid little attention to this critical need.
Instead, the US officials, scholars and become obsessed with the fact that capitalism, as the
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forefront of liberal democracy, approved itself to be one of the most balanced economic
systems available to them in shaping the future of other nations and states accordingly. Thus,
one might ask, what is capitalism? And, what impediments, it may face in its bit to embrace
various cultures of the world? To answer these questions, a modern definition for capitalism
is a must. However, because of the limited scope this paper, a simple definition will be the
general answer.

Capitalism and roots of conflict
As defined by Plano and Olton, capitalism is “an economic theory and system based on the
principles of laissez-faire free enterprise. Capitalist theory calls for private ownership of
property and the means of production, a competitive profit-incentive system, individual
initiative, an absence of governmental restraints on ownership, production, and trade, and a
market economy that provides order to the system by means of the law of supply and
demand” (Plano and Olton: 1988, 44). This individualist competitive, yet socially harmonic
system of supply and demand combines both ends of human formation categorized by Greet
Hofstede as individualism verses collectivism (Hofstede: 1982, 417–433). Among other
things, this means capitalism has no quarrels with religiously motivated societies and nations.
In fact, as Francis Fukuyama wrote in March 2005, remembering the 100th anniversary of
Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” religion has made the
modern capitalism possible. Therefore, one should not hold religion and culture as main
factors impeding democracy and prosperity; rather, suppressive institutions, bad politics and
misguided economic policies are the core obstacles (Fukuyama: 2005, 2). Samuel
Huntington, however, hypothesizes otherwise. He argues that the root of conflict in post-
Cold War era “will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic… [Rather,] the
dominating source of conflict will be cultural” (Huntington: 1993, 22). Still, Inglehart
and Norris assert that differences in attitudes toward liberal and conservative values may
ignite conflicts (Inglehart and Norris: 2003, 63). These drastically deferent claims attribute to
the fact that an individual’s worldview is the drive for any conflict. Because, worldview, as
Raider and Coleman explain, gets formed by culture, personality (the economic well being of
a person), and life experience (a person’s political endeavors) (Raider and Coleman; 1998, 2-

Nation-building with American principles of democracy
The modern American liberal democratic norms developed over the course of the past two
centuries. Theoretically, a compact version of the US democracy may sound highly
promising. However, building a nation immersed into socialism and economic systems other
than capitalism is not an easy task. Such a mission may take years to rebuild and to construct
any kind of viable democratic and constitutional order (Diamond: 2004, 11). Therefore,
along with getting rid of an oppressive regime, establishing security is the first and foremost
task for the intervening forces to accomplish (Diamond: 2004, 2-3). The stifling institutions
of the removed regime should undergo a serious reconstruction. Wise economic policies and
reasonable politics are required to meet the sounding objectives of the main political players.
These initial processes require mixed military and civilian capacities; and, may occur
simultaneously prior to any democratic transitional measures to take course. Otherwise,
secondary factors enshrined with cultural indifferences may arise; hindering the whole
project of a nation-building.
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Unfortunately, the Bush administration’s nation-building projects in Iraq and Afghanistan
have relied on ill adapted policies suggested by inexperienced diplomats and “old-guard”
soldiers who were not capable of distinguishing between elements of various worldviews
pertaining to culturally, economically and politically divided peoples of Iraq and
Afghanistan. It is no wonder to loudly read of Larry Diamond’s protestation that
Nation/building in Iraq has “brought out the deep political and social cleavages in
contemporary Iraq--between Islamists and more secular forces, between Shia and Sunni, and
between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds”(Diamond: 2004, 9).


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Fukuyama, Francis. “The Calvinist Manifesto.” The New York Times. Books. Sunday Book
Review>Essay. 2005. Retrieved on 27 April 2008 from
Hofstede, G., and Bond, M. (1984). Hofstede’s culture dimensions. Journal of Cross-Cultural
Psychology, 15, 417–433.
Huntington, Samuel P. (Summer 1993). The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72 Issue 3,
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