The record of past U.S. experience in democratic nation building is daunting. The low rate of success is a sobering reminder that these are among the most difficult foreign policy ventures for the United States. Of the sixteen such efforts during the past century, democracy was sustained in only four cases ten years after the departure of U.S. forces. Two of these followed the total defeat and surrender of Japan and Germany after World War II, and two were tiny Grenada and Panama.
Unilateral nation building by the United States has had an even rougher time-perhaps because unilateralism has led to surrogate regimes and direct U.S. administration during the post-conflict period. Not one American-supported surrogate regime has made the transition to democracy, and only one case of direct American administration has done so. Importantly, many of the factors that experience shows are most crucial to success are absent in Iraq. To heed the lessons of its history and raise the odds of success, the United States should support a multilateral reconstruction strategy under U.N. auspices centered on bolstering political legitimacy and sharing economic burdens.
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About the Authors
Minxin Pei is senior associate and codirector of the Endowment's China Program. He is the author of From Reform to Revolution: The Demise of Communism in China and the Soviet Union (Harvard University Press, 1994) and China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy (Harvard University Press, forthcoming). Sara Kasper is a Junior Fellow in the Endowment's China Program. She received her B.A. in politics from Messiah College in Pennsylvania.
Also by Minxin Pei:
Beijing Drama: China's Governance Crisis and Bush's New Challenge (Carnegie Endowment Policy Brief No. 21)
Rebalancing United States—China Relations (Carnegie Endowment Policy Brief No. 13), coauthored with Michael Swaine
Future Shock: The WTO and Political Change in China (Carnegie Endowment Policy Brief No. 3)