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Democracy from Above: Regional Organizations and Democratization (review)

From: Latin American Politics & Society
Volume 49, Number 4, Winter 2007
pp. 186-190 | 10.1353/lap.2007.0038

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

It is well known that democratization has taken place in waves, meaning that groups of countries have undergone regime transitions more or less simultaneously. It is also known that democratization has taken place in clusters, meaning that countries that experienced regime transitions were frequently located close to others that were undergoing the same process. Waves underline the significance of time as an explaining factor, whereas clusters underscore the importance of geography. This book deals with the latter: its main goal is to show how, as concerns democratization, geography matters; or rather, institutionalized geography.

As is sometimes said, a good indicator of the probability for any given country to be a democracy is its distance from Brussels. The saying refers to a correlation between geography and political regime that is arguably due to a recent international artifact: the European Union. The EU, however, is not just one more regional organization but the most developed and plausibly unique case of regional integration. Its is notable that integration processes are completely absent from Jon Pevehouse's book. His argument addresses regional international organizations, independently of whether they are security or economically oriented and regardless of the depth of their constitutive agreements. His proposition is that regional organizations can facilitate transitions to democracy as well as the survival of democracy; and the crucial variable is not the type of the organization but its democratic density. By this concept, Pevehouse means the percentage of permanent members that are democratic.

The international dimensions of democratization were relatively neglected in Transitions from Authoritarian Rule, the seminal, pathbreaking book edited by O'Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead in 1986. Gradually, they would later recognize this flaw and conduct further research in order to address an issue that, after the end of the Cold War, earned greater visibility. The most elaborated rejoinder was The International Dimensions of Democratization, edited by Whitehead in 1996 and enlarged in 2001. In it, the chapters by the editor and Philippe Schmitter advanced four mechanisms through which international processes could affect domestic transitions: contagion, control, consent, and conditionality. The only one that referred more specifically to regional factors was contagion, the others being, so to speak, geography-blind.

Pevehouse now goes one step further. Building on his previous work, published mainly in top journals in the last five years, he argues that regional organizations can and do exert an important influence on the democratization processes of their member countries. In order to prove this influence, he has to show that the effects allocated to regional organizations are due neither to automatic contagion nor to the exclusive action of regional major powers. In addition, he needs to demonstrate that similar effects are not to be expected from global organizations such as the UN or international financial institutions such as the IMF.

He does this through through a combined quantitative-qualitative methodological strategy. First, he runs diverse statistical tests to show that regional organizations are associated with both democratic transitions (regime change) and democratic consolidation (regime survival). Controlling for contextual variables and testing rival hypotheses, he finds a high level of correlation between belonging to (or joining) a regional organization and the first stage of a transition; namely, liberalization. The correlation is also highly positive for consolidation, but not so expressive for the second stage of a transition; namely, completion (from partial democracy to full democracy).

The second part of the strategy is to perform a group of case studies aimed at unearthing the causal mechanisms behind the statistical association. The author selects six cases in Europe and Latin America: Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Paraguay, Peru, and Turkey. The absence of African or Asian cases is explained as a corollary of the theory: as these continents feature few regional organizations, and those that exist possess low democratic density, no systematic influence on their member countries is expected.

Let us focus first on the statistical tests. They define the variables precisely, are thoroughly run, utilize different databases in order to double-check, and address every conceivable rival hypothesis that one can think of. Furthermore, their results are robust and mostly significant. The impression the reader is left with is that little objection could be raised against the author's...



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