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SPECIALTY GRAND CHALLENGE article

Front. Polit. Sci., 04 June 2021 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpos.2021.691999

The Grand Challenges in the Quest for Peace and Democracy

  • 1The Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
  • 2Center for Institutional Studies, Higher School of Economics University, Moscow, Russia
  • 3The Institute for Economic Analysis of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research, Barcelona, Spain
  • 4Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 5Inclusive Peace, Geneva, Switzerland

Introduction

Peace and democracy are intertwined concepts. Immanuel Kant, writing in 1796, proposed that, if ‘the consent of the citizens is required to decide whether or not war is to be declared, it is very natural that they will have great hesitation in embarking on so dangerous an enterprise’. Kant therefore suggested that a ‘republican constitution’ offers the potential to achieve ‘a perpetual peace’ (translation by Nisbet, 1991, 100). In more recent decades, the notion that ‘democratic or liberal states never or very rarely go to war with each other’ (Gat, 2006, 73) has been further developed and debated. Nevertheless, peace studies and democracy studies have tended to take different directions.

Academic research on the attainment of peaceful societies and democracy remains underdeveloped. Furthermore, the consequences and implications of achieving peace and democracy, and the wide variety of actors involved, lack conceptualization. The interactions between these processes and actors with the wide range of political regimes developed across the globe remain on the agenda of scholars and policymakers. This essay outlines a number of the key challenges facing peace and democracy studies as we enter the new decade of the 2020s. It aspires to advance our understanding of crucial empirical and theoretical questions and to establish a better dialogue between the fields of peace studies and democracy studies.

Peace Studies

We see the need to address the following, among many, key challenges in the field of peace studies over the coming years:

The crisis of liberal peacebuilding: what comes next? The tenets of the ‘liberal peace’ dominated peacebuilding academia and practice in the 1990s, guiding peace process designs aimed at achieving multi-party democratic systems characterized by ‘the rule of law, human rights, free and globalized markets and neo-liberal development’ (Richmond, 2006, 292). However, the liberal peacebuilding project and its ‘linear cause-effect problem-solving model’ are now widely deemed to be in ‘profound crisis’ (Randazzo and Torrent, 2020, 3; De Coning, 2018, 302; Paffenholz, 2021) and the peace agreements struck in the heyday of liberal peacebuilding in the early 1990s have rarely produced lasting peace (Jarstad et al., 2015). Similarly, the democratization efforts of the 1990s proved a disappointment, frequently culminating in the consolidation of non-democratic regimes and autocracies, democratic backsliding and a rise in populism.

Academics have long recognized the more turbulent reality of peacemaking and peacebuilding (e.g. Paffenholz, 2021; Jarstad et al., 2019, 2; De Coning, 2018, 301; Bell and Pospisil, 2017, 583, 577; Rocha Menocal, 2017, 561, 567; Lederach, 2005, 118) while policymakers and donors, too, have embraced a more pragmatic, flexible and context-driven approach–at least in theory–termed the ‘sustaining peace agenda’ (e.g. UN, 2015a; UN, 2015b; EU, 2016; World Bank and UN, 2018). However, practitioners appear reluctant to abandon the linear, liberal peacebuilding model (Mahmoud et al., 2018; Autesserre, 2019; Ross, 2020; Paffenholz, 2021). While researchers have proposed ‘local peacebuilding’ as an alternative (Lederach, 2005; Mac Ginty and Richmond, 2013), this approach has also been criticized for essentializing and romanticizing the ‘local’ and neglecting power dynamics (Heathershaw, 2013; Paffenholz, 2015). There is a clear need for new peacebuilding paradigms that encourage and facilitate international and local peacebuilders to embrace a transformation in their practice.

Interrogating the ‘inclusion project’. The notion that both peacemaking and peacebuilding must be inclusive can now be considered to be a predominant international norm (De Waal et al., 2017, 165; Turner, 2020). Numerous UN resolutions, frameworks and reports advocate the centrality of inclusion, from UNSCR Resolution 1325 (2000) to Resolution 2535 (2020). However, existing comparative research into the effects of inclusive peacemaking has faced criticism for its failure to establish a causal link between inclusion and sustainable peace (Pospisil, 2019, 99–100; De Waal et al., 2017, 180) and it has also been claimed that the notion of ‘inclusion enables peacebuilding policy to uphold the appearance of agency’ (Pospisil, 2019, 92) while merely make superficial changes to practice (Paffenholz et al., 2016; Paffenholz, 2021). This can be compared with the manner in which autocracies may include ‘human rights’ clauses in their constitutions in a bid to imitate democracies.1

More worrying, however, is a failure to distinguish between process and outcomes. It is not yet clear whether, and if so how, inclusive peacemaking and peacebuilding set communities on pathways toward more inclusive societies. As Rocha Menocal (2017, 560) has asked: ‘where do more inclusive institutions come from in the first place? How and why do they emerge and evolve over time, and how can they be nurtured?’ Castillejo (2014, 3) has also pointed out that, ‘in many cases, excluded groups’ participation in the peace process has not translated into significantly improved outcomes’. There is a clear need to interrogate whether the current inclusion modalities (Paffenholz, 2014) can truly pave the way toward more inclusive societies and, if not, what forms of peacemaking, peacebuilding and democracy promotion can do so.

Re-defining peace and finding new methods. Johan Galtung famously distinguished between negative peace, ‘the absence of violence,’ and positive peace, ‘the integration of human society’ (Galtung, 1964, 2). Notably, the integration of society, and accountability to this society, are key elements in the foundation of democracy. However, as Söderström et al. (2020, 1) have commented, while ‘scholars have long recognized that peace is more than the absence of war … questions still remain as to how to appropriately define and study the phenomenon of peace’. Recent attempts have been made to further our understanding of peace: the ‘Everyday Peace Indicators’ project (see Firchow and Mac Ginty, 2017), for instance, investigates alternative grassroots ‘indicators’ of peace. Furthermore, for Söderström et al. (2020, 2) the authors suggest that ‘rather than asking where peace exists … it is more fruitful to ask who is at peace or which relationships are most relevant to study in order to analyze peace’.

However, there is scope for further conceptual work in this vein and, concurrently, a need for additional consideration of the most appropriate methods–and combination of methods–for the study of peacemaking and peacebuilding, and for their overlap and engagement with democracy studies. Broadening our understanding of peace, together with our approach to the study of peace and democracy and the nexus between the two, must form goals as we move into the next decade.

Democracy Studies

Within democracy studies, there is a wide range of challenges to be addressed. For the sake of space, here we only focus on some of them: 1) encompassing all political regimes and processes; 2) the consequences and effects of political regimes; and 3) the nature of actors and their implications for political regimes.

Encompassing all political regimes. The first challenge is associated with accounting for all ‘shades’ of democracy, that is, for all existing political regimes. According to the latest available data in 2019, only one half of all states are democracies while the remainder are described as non-democracies (ranging from consolidated autocracies to different shades of so-called hybrid political regimes).2 To address and solve global problems (such as climate change, wars and conflicts, global health crises and pandemics), it is important to account for all polities, including under-studied non-democratic regimes. Neglecting autocracies may critically aggravate these global issues. Our vision of the development of the study of democracies is to render the field more inclusive, encompassing the wide variety of existing political regimes and understanding their varied implications.

However, studying autocracies is more challenging due to their censorship, manipulated and controlled mass media, lack of transparency and disinformation, and mimicking of democratic practices and rhetoric. The ‘mimicking trend’ and combination of the decorative elements of democratic institutions with authoritarian practices have led scholars to re-define modern non-democracies as ‘competitive autocracy’ (Levitsky and Way, 2010), ‘electoral autocracy’ (Schelder, 2006), ‘as a general term for all forms of non-democratic regimes’ (Croissant and Wurster, 2013, 14), or as ‘real existing autocracy’ (Obydenkova and Schmitter, 2020). It is sufficient to say that the existing variety of political regimes should receive substantial attention in modern political science literature. To this end, our Section ‘Peace and Democracy’ aspires to focus on this variety of political regimes, addressing their implications for world politics and national developmental challenges.

Implications and effects of political regimes. The literature on the causes of democracy is relatively well-developed, embracing a wide range of theories of democratization such as natural resource curse, modernization, limiting factor theory, external influences, and historical legacies, to name a few (Beissinger and Kotkin, 2014; Libman and Obydenkova, 2014a, 2014b, 2021; Obydenkova and Libman, 2015b; Lankina T. V. et al., 2016; Whitehead, 1996; Teorell, 2010; Obydenkova and Libman, 2015a; Pop-Eleches and Tucker, 2017). In contrast, the studies on the implications, effects, and consequences of different political regimes for sub-national, national and international developments have received somewhat less academic attention.

Democracy, in general, is associated with better public policy, human rights, transparency, freedom of speech, and higher accountability of those in power (Diamond and Plattner, 2009). Despite this, there are still debates on the implications of democracy for public health, sustainable development, economic development, firm innovation, public trust, establishing peace and eradicating wars, and the environmental agenda among other issues (Ross, 2006; Andonova et. al 2007; Cao et. al. 2014; Ward et. al. 2014; Croissant and Wurster, 2013; Obydenkova and Salahodjaev, 2017; Obydenkova and Arpino, 2018; Arpino and Obydenkova, 2020; Nazarov and Obydenkova, 2020). These implications and consequences of democracy are still debated by scholars and across disciplines.

As to the effects of non-democratic regimes, there is some discussion on the internal implications (e.g. corruption, (de-)centralization and federalism, for local and sub-national political regimes, or national environmental issues and policies, see Andonova, 2003; Orttung, 2020; Obydenkova and Swenden, 2013; Hadenius and Teorell, 2007). However, a different set of nascent studies has focused on the external effects of non-democracies for international cooperation, the emergence of new autocracy-led international organizations, wars and conflicts, global environmental challenges and climate change (e.g. Hadenius and Teorell, 2007; Levitsky and Way, 2010; Andonova et al., 2017; Pecency, 2001; Obydenkova and Libman, 2019). Disentangling this internal-external nexus of implications of all political regimes is a challenging task that must remain on the agenda for further studies of political regimes.

Actors in the studies of political regimes. In terms of ‘actor-ness,’ debates are advanced yet inconclusive. Traditionally, democratic nation-states have been the main actors in democracy promotion, however scholars have also recognized the prominent role played in recent years by international organizations (IOs) such as the EU and their impact on democratization, human rights, and advancing the environmental agenda among other issues (Andonova et al., 2007; Whitehead, 1996; Kopstein and Reilly, 2000; Börzel and Risse, 2012; Morlino, 2011; Lankina T. et al., 2016; Morlino and Quaranta, 2016; Obydenkova, 2008, 2012; Biermann, et al., 2009; Biermann and Bauer, 2004; Börzel, 2003). Therefore, it is unsurprising that most of the existing studies have focused mainly on IOs established by democracies, such as the EU or the Western-led Multilateral Development Banks which emerged during the Cold War, and their nature, causes, and impacts (Pevehouse, 2002; Bartolini, 2005; Mansfield and Pevehouse, 2006; Börzel and Risse, 2012; Braaten, 2014; Ben-Artzi, 2016; Obydenkova and Vieira, 2020). However, recent decades have also witnessed a growing number of regional IOs which have been created by autocracies (Ambrosio, 2008; Libman and Obydenkova, 2013, 2018a, 2018b; Tansey, 2016; Allison, 2018; Izotov and Obydenkova, 2020; Kneuer and Demmelhuber, 2020). Interacting with many of these IOs which have been established and sponsored by non-democracies has become an important challenge for policy-makers in Europe and elsewhere around the globe. Notwithstanding the studies cited in this section, the multi-faceted influences of these IOs as actors remain to be addressed.

The impact of IOs, their mechanisms and channels of influence on political regimes of their member- and neighboring-states, as well as on sub-national regimes, have become one of the main recent challenges in studies of political regimes and their implications.

Conclusion and Overarching Challenges

As the discussion above demonstrates, the international context in which peacemaking, peacebuilding, democratization, democracy and autocracy diffusion take place has shifted considerably in the first decades of the 21st century. Global polarization, climate change, protracted conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic crises of 2008 and 2020 have coalesced to threaten stability, human rights, global health, sustainable development and security across the globe. Both peace and democracy studies must consider and find means of working within this fractured and turbulent international environment. This essay, due to the word limit, covers a fraction of the many challenges in sustaining peace and consolidating democracy faced by the world in the 21st century. As the editors of ‘Peace and Democracy,’ we aspire to open up the discussion of the multiple dimensions of political regimes, democracies, autocracies, peacemaking and peacebuilding from a multi-disciplinary perspective to contribute to the consolidation of democracy and inclusive peaceful societies around the world. Solving all existing academic debates is, of course, unrealistic; nonetheless, this Speciality Section hopes to become an open platform to present a variety of opinions, contradictions, and counter-intuitive findings on these and other issues related to the above-described agenda and beyond.

Author Contributions

Authors are listed alphabetically and they contributed equally to this paper.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Acknowledgments

The authors are very grateful to the reviewer of this paper and to the support of Frontiers in Political Science provided for this project. The authors would also like to thank Sarah Clowry for her excellent research assistance. AO thanks the Center for Institutional Studies of the Higher School of Economics University (HSE University) for granting her the position of the leading research fellow. AO also acknowledges the support received from the Basic Research Program of the HSE University.

Footnotes

1The notions of inclusive approaches and sustainability are echoed in democracy studies, where discussion has focused on including, within academic research, all political regimes (as opposed to exclusively concentrating on democracies), and the sustainability of democratic regimes following transition (for instance, explorations of protecting young democracies from succumbing to populism).

2Different sources indicate approximately the same data on the total percentage of democratic states with little variation, for example, Roser (2013). Freedom House is more pessimistic: ‘between 2005 and 2018, the share of Not Free countries rose to 26%, while the share of Free countries declined to 44%’ (Freedom House, 2019).

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Keywords: peacebuilding, political regimes, conflict resolution, peace, autocracies, transition, democracy, democratization

Citation: Obydenkova A and Paffenholz T (2021) The Grand Challenges in the Quest for Peace and Democracy. Front. Polit. Sci. 3:691999. doi: 10.3389/fpos.2021.691999

Received: 07 April 2021; Accepted: 19 April 2021;
Published: 04 June 2021.

Edited and Reviewed by:

Cedric de Coning, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Norway

Copyright © 2021 Obydenkova and Paffenholz. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Anastassia Obydenkova, anastassia.obydenkova@alumni.eui.eu; orcid.org/0000-0001-5099-5294

The authors are listed alphabetically, and they contributed equally to this paper