Political Institutions, Development, and a Domestic Civil Peace

Led by Håvard Hegre

Jan 2004 – May 2011

​Creating democratic institutions is often recommended as a means to prevent and to terminate civil war.

Creating democratic institutions is often recommended as a means to prevent and to terminate civil war. However, democratization has not always been an effective solution in low-income countries, and the process of changing political institutions is often associated with new risks.

This project's principal aim is to investigate under which conditions and in what forms democratic institutions are likely to be effective in reducing the incidence of civil war. Previous research shows that aspects of socio-economic development are crucial for democratization and for civil war prevention.

The project will investigate more closely why this is so, which aspects of development are particularly important, as well as similarities and differences in explanations of when democracy may emerge and become stable and what is required for countries to avoid civil war. Central in the project is the distinction between activities of production and appropriation. Appropriation is defined as an actor's use of physical (military) force to obtain control over the output of other actors. In general, economic development is associated with a transition from wealth based on land and natural resources, assets that may be physically controlled, to wealth based on human and physical capital, that is harder to control. Hence, a central hypothesis in the project is that how societies and economies differ in terms of the incentives for production and appropriation is important to explain both the absence of civil war and democratization. The most general hypothesis of the project is that the chances of observing both civil peace and democracy is dependent on the extent to which the economy is dependent on resources or input factors that may be controlled through the use of physical force.

Core research questions

What enables democratization?

A central idea in the project is that many of the factors that enable democratization are the same as those that enable countries to subsequently avoid civil war. This idea will be investigated by studying whether the factors above that are important for conflict prevention are also important for successful democratization. This is particularly likely to be the case for the factors listed as challenges above. Although there is a clear empirical relationship between development and democracy, there is disagreement whether this is merely due to the observation that developed democracies are very stable, or whether development also leads to democratization. There is also disagreement about what is the causal mechanism behind this regularity. Hypotheses to be investigated is whether appropriability, exit options, and dispersion of economic resources are important factors for both democratization and for democratic stability. The project will employ this to construct tests that are more precise than ones merely relying on data on average income as is common in the literature. The project will investigate an empirical implication of the model of the ideal regime types (consistent democracy and consistent autocracy) as the only stable equilibria. If it holds, a political system in change will have a strong tendency to move toward the closest equilibrium. However, other factors also play a role, such as external factors as democracy levels and economic development in neighboring countries (which should create a 'pull' toward the dominant ideal type in the neighborhood), or shocks such as international wars. As noted above, democratization may be a top-down or a bottom-up process. The project will explore the possibilities for distinguishing between these two different types of democratization, and study empirically under what conditions the different forms tend to occur. A plausible hypothesis is that top-down democratizations occur where appropriation is becoming less profitable so that elites have larger interests in promoting country-wide economic growth, and bottom-up processes where the incentives for appropriation make elites reluctant to share power.

What enables democracies to avoid civil war and to remain stable?

Implicit in this question is the idea that effective conflict prevention in some circumstances is different in democracies than in non-democracies, since the regime types rely on different strategies. Preliminary research indicates that democracy has a stronger relationship with peace for middle- and high-income countries than for low-income countries. The necessity of preventing challenges from marginal groups also in democracies suggests similarities. Such similarities and differences will be investigated. The project will also look into whether democratic stability depends on many of the same conditions as the prevention of civil war. Previous research strongly suggests that partial democracies are very inefficient in conflict prevention, but it is unclear whether this is because they reflect underlying power struggles, have institutional inconsistencies, or short time horizons since they tend to be transitional regimes. Guided by the theoretical models, this sub-project will formulate empirical models that allow distinguishing between different explanations. In particular, the project will study how the design of political institutions such as their consistency interplay with underlying factors such as the presence of rent-generating natural resources. It will also investigate the importance for democratic regimes of their military capabilities, their capacity for policy formulation and implementation, and the design of the democratic institutions themselves (e.g. majoritarian vs. consociational systems). It will look at the importance of the external challenges the institutions face, such as an economy where rent-generating resource extraction is important, the electorate is illiterate, preferences are extremely polarized, and there are large inequalities and widespread poverty. The sub-project will also look at the importance of institutional design for stability.

What are the typical trajectories of democratization?

This sub-project will look at patterns of democratization, such as whether democratizations happen gradually over long time or as swift changes, whether countries tend to oscillate between democratic, non-democratic, and intermediate political regimes, and investigate the importance of different trajectories for democradcies' ability to prevent civil wars. Relatedly, the project will investigated in more detail why inconsistent regimes (semi-democracies) tend to have higher risks of war The project will also look into the fact that the relationship between civil war and democratization obviously works in both directions: Civil wars obviously affect this trajectories of democratization. When rebel groups have democratization as an objective, civil wars may help to force this through. But wars have grave side effects that work in the opposite direction: They have large economic costs and often causes capital flight and over time a transition to economies based on subsistence farming and natural resource extraction. They undermine government control and thereby undermines the rule of law and protection of property rights, and stimulate the emergence of black economies.

Analytical approach

The project will study these questions through a combination of formal models, cross-national statistical studies, and country case studies.

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