Organizing Democracy

NATO Budapest Workshop vertical

My book with Johannes Urpelainen, Organizing Democracy: How International Organizations Assist New Democracies, is out with University of Chicago Press as part of the Chicago Series on International and Domestic Institutions.

Using the Baltic states' accession to NATO as a motivating example (and as a core case), Johannes Urpelainen and I explore the general relationship between democratic transitions and international organization (IO) membership. Exploring this issue through the lens of NATO's post-Cold War expansion is especially salient since some scholars questioned the ability of NATO to adequately support new democracies or even the continued existence of NATO itself.

We claim that leaders of transitional democracies often must draw on the support of new international organizations to provide the public goods and technical expertise needed to consolidate democratic institutions. Our argument is based on leaders in new democracies facing two conundrums.

First, though leaders of newly democratic states need to provide public goods in order to appease an expanded electorate, they lack the domestic institutions, bureacracy, technical expertise, and resources necessary to provide those public goods. Stated simply, they need help organizing their democracy. Leaders join International organizations to acquire the "goodies" necessary to organize their democracy. These "goodies" include resources and technical expertise.

Second, though leaders of new democracies desire membership in international organizations, the existing slate of available IOs might be of little help. Membership to the most lucrative existing IOs, such as NATO, is initially closed. Additionally, many existing IOs might not be well suited to the particular governance problems facing a new democracy. Hence, membership may not be "feasible" or a good "fit."

How can leaders of new democracies address these two conundrums? We argue that they can craft their own organizations to provide the services most suitable to their specific governance problems. Moreover, while established democracies may prevent the new democracies from joining a lucrative existing IO, established democracies find the creation of new IOs to be a efficient means of supporting the new democracies. With time, the new IOs can also serve as a stepping stone for the democratizing state to gain membership in the existing lucrative IOs.

Our work doesn’t claim that IOs are a panacea: democratic backsliding can still take place. Additionally, there is a possibility that the newly created IOs could eventually become "zombies" that continue to exist on paper but no-longer serve a valuable function to the member states. But during the critical early years of democratization, our work shows that news democracies improve their chances of long term survival if they pursue the strategy of IO creation.

Overall, this book seeks to renew interest in the efficiency gains argument for IO creation. Rather than exploring whether IOs "tie hands" of leaders to reforms, are simply reflections of the balance of power, or are a glue for affecting peaceful relations among states, our research attempts to change the conversation by focusing on the (sometimes mundane) benefits leaders actually hope to acquire from IOs.

An online supplemental analysis appendix is avaiable here.

Materials to replicate the core empirical results in chapters 4 and 5 of the book are available on the following webpage. These replication materials also contain the commands and data to perform the various robustness checks described in the book.

What people are saying about the book:

"Organizing Democracy provides new insights into the relationship between international organizations and democratization, arguing both that IOs support democratization and that IOs can be created because of the demands of transitional states. Transitional states are often willing but unable to increase public good provision, and therefore benefit from the support of IOs, even when they must create them. Their novel argument deepens our understanding of the IO-democracy relationship."

-- Susan D. Hyde, University of California, Berkeley

"Poast and Urpelainen combine insights from comparative politics and international relations with their own cutting-edge research to show that international organizations are instrumental in cementing democracy by providing technical assistance and public goods, as well as a stepping stone to joining more ‘lucrative’ IOs. With clearly written explanations of complex arguments, their book will be a valuable addition to both fields and to practitioners engaged in democracy promotion, especially those who work for or with international organizations."

-- Yoram Haftel, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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