Promoting Democracy: Is Exporting Revolution a Constructive Strategy?

Promoting Democracy: Is Exporting Revolution a Constructive Strategy?

Over the past five years, four successful revolutions have occurred in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, overthrowing pseudodemocratic regimes and bringing to power new coalitions expressing commitment to democratic reform. There is now enormous interest in revolution among democratic activists throughout the region. The “colored revolutions” (so named for their adoption of “people power” tactics of nonviolent resistance and their symbolic use of colors to identify supporters) have inspired oppositional groups in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Oppositions in places as distant as Lebanon, Egypt, Togo, and Zimbabwe have been emboldened by these developments. Like European monarchs after 1848, post-Soviet strongmen are now concerned about the transnational spread of revolution to their fiefdoms. Some have already taken counter-measures to stave off such a possibility. Post-Soviet Eurasia today is a region consumed by the hope and fear of revolutionary change—and of its aftermath.

“Colored revolution” has come to the attention of the U.S. government as well—as a strategy for promoting democratization. In November 2003, as the Georgian Rose Revolution was just getting underway, President George W. Bush spoke before the National Endowment for Democracy, where he redefined (once again) the purpose of the American invasion of Iraq, calling it the beginning of a “global democratic revolution.” Since then, we have seen active efforts by the United States and a number of American-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs such as Freedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and the Soros Foundation) to support democratic revolutions within the post-Soviet region and elsewhere. In October 2004, Bush signed the Belarus Democracy Act, which authorizes assistance to pro-democracy activism in Belarus, with the intention of overthrowing the Lukashenka regime. And in May 2005, Bush traveled to Tbilisi, where he praised the Rose Revolution as an example to be emulated throughout the Caucasus and Central Asia. Democratic opposition leaders in Armenia and Azerbaijan (both countries plagued by extensive electoral fraud and both allies of the United States) took heart from Bush’s speech, seeing in it the possibility that they too might receive support for efforts to topple their corrupt regimes—although senior administration officials were quick to deny that the United States was in “the revolution business.” Nevertheless, neoconservatives have lauded the Bush administration’s readiness, in Max Boot’s words, to “apply the lessons of Ukraine” throughout the world. As Boot has argued, “The triumph of the Orange Revolution should dispel the quaint notion still prevalent in many Western universities and foreign ministries that democracy is a luxury good suitable for rich countries w...


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