23As the Danes pointed out at the time, this had obvious implications for the prospects of democracy promotion by sending the wrong signals to other African countries and potential dictators, by saying that all that was needed in order for aid giving Western countries to accept a country as being democratic, were elections, and not even free and fair elections at that. 24The French behaviour is to be explained by the specific French economic and strategic interests in Niger, especially the potential risk of regional instability that might open a corridor of influence for the Libyans in West Africa.
However, it was neither to be ignored that Niger is also a very important contractor of uranium to France. Traditionally, France has been almost 100 per cent dependent on the import of uranium from Niger. 25 It is this form of Western behaviour that has lead some to say that what is actually being promoted is ‘low-intensity’ democracy and with the pure motive of Western self-interest. William Robinson is one example.
He argues that ‘the immediate purpose of US intervention in national democratisation movements was to gain influence over and try to shape their outcomes in such a way to pre-empt more radical political change, to preserve the social order and international relations of asymmetry. Beyond this immediate purpose, democracy promotion is aimed at advancing the agenda of the transnational elite – consolidation of polyarchic political systems and neo-liberal restructuring.
It seeks to develop technocratic elites and transnational kernels in intervened countries who will advance this agenda through the formal state apparatus and through the organs of civil society in their respective countries. ’26The former Soviet bloc is a perfect example of where political aid was introduced directed more at ‘identifying and supporting those groups and individuals within the loose coalitions of political clubs and civic groups in civil society that could gain leadership positions in highly fluid and semi-spontaneous mass movements and steer these movements into outcomes of free-market economies.
’27Although there is strong evidence to assert that free-market economies and democracy are interdependent, this evidence is not conclusive, especially if what is being promoted is polyarchy, or ‘low-intensity democracy’. 28There is great debate as to whether the West is more interested in the spread of democracy, or the spread of neo-liberalist economics and building strong foundations for their transnational capital. Finally, one has to consider the possibility of all of these motives coming together to represent a Western wish to maintain hegemony through promoting democracy.
This could be achieved through attaining higher military and economic security than the rest of the world through endeavouring to change countries into Western models whilst still retaining a certain amount of influence through certain practices of democracy promotion, such as political aid conditionality. This is more likely to be true of the United States, as Europe does not currently hold a particularly hegemonic position.
Yet they do have their own similar motives for promoting democracy, namely the fact that ‘positive attitudes towards democracy in Western Europe could have definitely contributed to create and strengthen popular support to the ambitious goal of having a Common Foreign and Security Policy. ’29South Africa provides an example. ‘There is not much doubt that the involvement in South Africa served a number of other purposes (apart from promoting democracy) for Europe.
Holland finds that the transition to democracy in South Africa offered the EU an opportunity to play a significant role on the international stage and has bolstered its tarnished image as an international actor. ’30 It could hence also be argued that ‘the promotion of democracy as a prominent theme in the foreign policy of the EC/EU could contribute to creating a ‘European’ identity and thus further the European integration process. ’31 Both the EU/EC and the USA have played very active roles in operations aimed at promoting democracy abroad.
It is important to grasp an understanding, or at least to question, the motives behind their enthusiasm. While both have made no secret of the fact that they regard democracy and its values as the ultimate form of governance for the increasingly globalized modern world, it is of some dispute amongst the international community as to whether it is correct to ‘intervene’ in foreign sovereign governments’ agendas, even though it is in the name of democracy.
Some see the West’s strong advocating of democracy leading them to risky overseas entanglements with little or no national benefits, others as a practical and sincere policy that reflects the West’s, especially the US’s, historical commitment to democracy and liberalism. 32 Some claim democracy promotion is a manifestation of Western cultural imperialism.
The West has also been accused of turning a blind eye to non-democratic state’s misbehaviour when they are allies or of business and economic use to the country, but punishing other non-democratic countries that hold no strategic use. There are also serious grounds for questioning how far the values of justice, equality, efficiency and freedom are promoted within democracy33 and there have been claims that what is being promoted is actually ‘low-intensity democracy.
’34 Understanding the motives behind Western democracy promotion is essential in order to evaluate the above arguments, and their counter-arguments, correctly and fairly. The actual practice of democracy promotion is also highly dependent upon the motives, ‘the real grounds behind commitments of democracy support may also be responsible for characteristics of timing and sequencing and patterns of allocation that do not match the best interests of recipient countries defined in terms of their democratisation requirements. ’35.