1. Introduction: Coincident Revolutions
Protecting and expanding democracy around the globe is a perennial national security interest for the United States. For five decades, strategic defense of democracy world-wide was discharged largely under the policy of "containment," preventing the spread of communism. Political cataclysms at the end of the last decade disturbed the foundation for these policies while creating new opportunities. Redressing doctrine for the new era, President Clinton substituted "engagement and enlargement" for "containment." He underscored the national imperative for supporting democracy with the realization that, "All of America's strategic interests--from promoting prosperity at home to checking global threats abroad before they threaten out territory--are served by enlarging the community of democratic and free market nations" (Clinton, 1994c: 31). The record of Clinton's administration in this regard, however, is rather mixed. Significantly, as Thomas Carothers has noted, "the actual levers available to the United States to foster democracy abroad are really quite few" (Carothers, 1995: 21). The objective of this study is to explore whether and how information revolution technologies can increase the number and enhance the efficacy of policy levers--beyond the current selection of military interventions, economic policies and diplomatic reprimands--to secure and extend recent gains in democracy around the world.
Until now, development and democracy (and ultimately peace) have been linked through a scholarly tradition and conventional wisdom. The dominant strain has held that development leads to democracy (and, in turn, democracy leads to peace). The study of factors that influence democracy extends as far back as ancient Greece. Aristotle is often credited as the first to postulate an important link between participatory government and economic well-being. In modern times, Seymour Martin Lipset wrote the seminal work, in 1959, positing "social requisites" to democracy. He used statistical analyses to show a significant correlation between democracy and economic development and he claimed that the latter was "related causally" to the former (1959: 83). Conclusively determining causality is not possible and many scholars and practitioners have argued alternative and potentially contradictory hypotheses such as: democracy precedes development (Olson, 1993), or economic development facilitates the pursuit of social values other than democracy, like security or health.
The demise of the Soviet antagonist, however, and rise of nascent democratic institutions across Eurasia have challenged fundamental assumptions relating economic development with democracy. An alternative model is necessary to describe the interplay between democracy and international economic development. A third factor which stimulates both democratization and economic growth, namely access to information, could be consistent with the historically strong statistical correlation between democracy and development and might also help explain some of the recent unprecedented political changes.
Coincident revolutions at the end of the 1980s--breakouts of democracy around the globe and breakthroughs in the communication and information technologies--inspire the notion that democracy and information flows might be positively correlated. Politicians and pundits have postulated this relationship, yet to date, the evidence has been solely anecdotal. This study addresses the relationship between democracy and the new communication media by applying theory and data analysis to the task. Its objective is to better appreciate the connections and interactions and thereby present an argument advocating greater attention to the potential of communication technologies in policies designed to promote democracy. As with earlier analytic efforts, causal certainty from nonrandomized observational data are not possible. Presumptions about causality can be acquired from data analysis and subsequent programmatic validation and testing can strengthen these presumptions. Thus, the author hopes that the results of this research will motivate programmatic efforts that enlist new telecommunication capabilities in the cause to promote democracy globally.
This study begins with theoretical analyses in Section 2 that examine key circumstances surrounding the demise of totalitarian social control in the former Soviet Union. Exploring the role of revolutionary telecommunications in political transformation behind the iron curtain is a particularly appropriate starting point of this research for two salient reasons. First, the Soviet empire was thought to be the nearest earthly incarnation of the Orwellian nightmare that postulated an inimical relationship between democracy and communication technologies. Second, the ascent of democratic aspirations in the Newly Independent States leveled serious challenges to mainstream development-before-democracy theories. In addition, the divergence of the fifteen different political routes taken up from a common starting point at the dissolution of the USSR offers something of an approximation of a controlled experiment for later empirical analysis. These historic events elucidate a conflicting set of options confronting autocratic governments: economic development or authoritarian order. It may now be virtually impossible for any country to grow its economy while remaining closed to democratic ideas.
For new telecommunication technologies to create this dilemma for dictators, these technologies must differ from the preceding technologies that were often thought to be tools by which totalitarian rulers maintained an iron grip on society. Comparative analyses in Section 3 distinguish communications media along several key dimensions to illuminate the relative effects of technological advancements in promoting democracy. Recent innovations in communication markedly differ from previous technologies in fundamental ways that relatively favor sovereign individuals over sovereign governments. These comparisons facilitate appreciation not only of a specific medium but also of significant aspects of the various technologies that tend to bias political outcomes in favor of greater societal openness and freedoms.
The hypotheses that emerge from the qualitative investigations are testable analytically. Quantitative analyses in Section 4 empirically probe the relationship between democracy and electronic communication networks from several statistical perspectives. Regression models predict democracy as a function of its traditional correlates such as economic development, education, population, ethnicity, in addition to the prevalence of several communication technologies. These data are examined using a variety of statistical techniques including univariate analyses, ordinary least squares multiple linear regression, two-stage least squares regressions (2SLS) with simultaneous equations, cross-sectional analyses for 1993 (the first year for which comprehensive data are available) and finally longitudinal analyses that include the time dimension.
The outcome of these tests, repeated without exception throughout the analyses, is that one cannot reject a hypothesis that democracy and networked communication are positively correlated. If leading democracies like the United States seek to influence democratic development effectively and efficiently, they ought not disregard the role of telecommunications. Policy implications of this result are addressed in Section 5 in addition to a number of policy options. Proactive democracies encounter a spectrum of reasonable policy responses. The minimum policy implication is that the effects of new information and communication technologies in achieving national security objectives should be better understood.
A search for appropriate trans-national communication policy instruments ought to be high on the list of future research agendas. Established free market democracies should be able to exploit the growth-versus-control dilemma that now confronts dictators and pivots on information and communication. Among the possible initiatives, democracies can:
- Identify an institutional home to which they delegate the responsibility for international connectivity policies.
- Support international networking by providing expertise, equipment or connectivity internationally.
- Emphasize the global benefits of networking by increasing the perceived economic value of being on-line.
- Lower and eliminate barriers that prevent foreign access to useful information.
- Reconsider organizational incentives of potential recipients with regards to expanding or restricting communication when targeting foreign aid.
- Elevate attention to information and communication programs when formulating policy in spheres with an international component, from national security to humanitarian assistance.
At the highest end of the spectrum, policies involving international communication should be accorded a priority competitive with, or exceeding, that accorded international economic development programs and even certain national security initiatives such as those for the engagement and enlargement of democracy world-wide.