Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

June Books 3) Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places, by Paul Collier

I had been meaning to read this for ages, and then got myself talked into doing a paper on its subject at a conference tomorrow, which provided a fairly massive incentive to buckle down to it. I was wrong to dawdle; Wars, Guns and Votes is a lucidly written analysis of the effects and causes of democracy and good governance in the poorest countries of the world, whose inhabitants Collier describes in a previous book as "the bottom billion". Collier's findings are disturbing and provocative, but based on good hard research. He states that:
  1. democratic poor countries are more at risk of violence than non-democratic poor countries (for rich countries, the opposite is the case)
  2. This is because holding elections in poor and repressive states does nothing to improve the chances of good governance and incentivises violent behaviour from both government and opposition (and reinforces habits of bad governance, whoever wins)
  3. Ethnically diverse poor countries are more at risk of violence - though the key finding here is that ethnic diversity makes it more difficult to run a state but usually helps the private sector to develop more rapidly
  4. Post-conflict settlements are more durable in repressive states than democratic ones (Angola vs Sri Lanka)
  5. UN peacekeeping, or any international security guarantee of intervention against potential spoilers, is by far the most cost-effective short-term means of preserving peace agreements
  6. Though in the long term, economic development is the only real guarantee of peace
  7. Post-conflict aid also helps to restore financial and human capital, though perhaps 11% (a surprisingly precise figure) gets diverted to military expenditure
  8. Guns in Africa are very cheap, and international arms embargoes ignored by non-OECD countries
  9. Civil wars are more likely in countries which
    1. have low per capita income
    2. have a low or negative rate of economic growth
    3. are dependent on exporting natural resources
    4. have more ethnic and religious diversity
    5. have more young men aged between 15 and 29
    6. are smaller
    7. have mountains
    8. are poor and democratic, or rich and repressive
    9. have already had a civil war
  10. A very few coups are good, but all civil wars are bad; and there is no way to tell if a particular coup will be good or bad.
  11. coups are
    1. no less likely in democracies than in repressive states, unless the state is very efficient in its repression
    2. likely to lead to further coups
    3. more likely in poor states and states with low or negative economic growth
    4. less common than they used to be
    5. less likely if the president adopts a term limit for himself, especially if he then sticks to it
    6. not especially affected in likelihood by the level of military spending
  12. Small states, especially poor small states, will find it particularly difficult to provide adequate internal security (here he sneers at several small states which I know)
I must say that I am not happy with his findings that small states and diverse states are less secure. It seems to me a bit contradictory anyway; a Serbia trying to hand onto Kosovo, or a Sudan trying to hang onto its southern parts, doesn't look all that viable to me. On the other hand, one obvious solution that leaps to mind for me which Collier doesn't mention is that African countries should start negotiating regional security guarantees à la OSCE, in order to drive down military spending and boost disarmament.

Collier does have four provocative policy prescriptions, all of which should be seen in the context of his finding that democracies are fragile in poor countries, so the answer is to stabilise them until they are economically stable (at per capita income of $2700, which again seems remarkably precise):
  1. The international community should offer a military guarantee against internal civil rebellion to governments which are prepared to hold elections that meet international standards and stick by the result. If the government rigs the elections, the guarantee is withdrawn, and potential coup leaders will take note.
  2. A slightly incomprehensible proposal which seems to amount to more anti-corruption consultants and international aid funding non-state-run schools and hospitals
  3. Aid should be negatively correlated with military expenditure
  4. Post-conflict states should be prepared to share sovereignty with the international community in appropriate ad-hoc arrangements.
Apart from the second proposal, which I didn't understand, the rest all seems sensible to me; there is more to be said on post-conflict protectorates, of which Bosnia, which I know best, developed in its own very peculiar way and is now finding it difficult to wind down, but has at least played an important role in preventing a further outbreak of war.

Anyway, a fascinating and thought-provoking book; now I just have to add some of my own ideas to it before tomorrow morning. These may include thoughts on both justice and gender, since he says noting at all about either of those rather important topics.
Tags: bookblog 2010

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