Democratic Peace - or War? Paul D'Anieri Assesses the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

September 25, 2017

Does the spread of democracy really lead to peace? Or could it actually incite war?

On Monday, October 2, 2017, Paul D’Anieri will explore this topic at HURI’s Seminar in Ukrainian Studies, focusing on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

Currently a Eugene and Daymel Shklar Research Fellow at HURI, D’Anieri is Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside.

While the talk is centered on the Russia-Ukraine story, it may be of interest to political scientists and other scholars exploring democratization and the democratic peace theory more broadly.

“I’ll be discussing the paradoxical ways in which two things that we thought would go together in post-communist Europe—democracy and peace—came into tension with one another, and how this played into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” D’Anieri said. “The talk also addresses the competing normative orders that the West on one hand, and Russia and China on the other, are prescribing to maintain peace in the future.”

Ukraine Demonstration

D’Anieri’s presentation, “Democracy and Geopolitics in the Conflict Over Ukraine,” takes place in Room S-050 of Harvard’s CGIS South Building (1730 Cambridge Street). All are welcome to attend. A video of the event will also be available on HURI's YouTube channel for those who can’t join us in person.

To gain some more insight into D’Anieri’s research and upcoming presentation, we asked a few questions:

HURI: How does this topic fit into the research you are doing as a Shklar Fellow at HURI?

D’Anieri: My research at HURI is focusing on the long-term sources of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I am looking at the problem both chronologically and thematically. The problem of democracy and the spread of democracy is one that comes up again and again. In the 1990s, people in the West generally assumed that the spread of democracy would be a source of peace in the region, but by 2013, Russia saw democratization as a threat worth fighting over. I want to delve into how and why that happened.

HURI: Why did you choose this topic?

D’Anieri: This is an aspect of the current conflict that is not well understood, and that has important implications in the future, not only for Ukraine and Russia, but also for the West’s relationship with China and other non-democratic powers.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization HURI: Aside from the Russia-Ukraine conflict, are there other instances you know of where democracy is perceived as a weapon? Any striking similarities or differences?

D’Anieri: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is largely dedicated helping the members resist the “colored revolutions” they all see as a threat. While I am not an expert on China, I think that China probably resists liberalization not only to preserve the power of the current regime, but because it fears that democracy would undermine China’s campaign to become a great power.

HURI: Given the perceived “weaponization” of democracy and the backlash it incited, do you think this relates at all to the alleged Russian involvement in the most recent US election? Does the presidency of Donald Trump change the game when it comes to this aspect of the Russia-Ukraine conflict?

D’Anieri: Russian leaders quite clearly looked at the colored revolutions and decided that they needed both to be able to resist them, and to deploy the same tactics for their own ends. That helps explain their intervention in elections abroad.

Trump is interesting not only in that he naturally adopts some of the same practices, but also in that he may agree with Putin that it does not matter whether another country is democratic or not.

HURI: Is there one particular fact or insight about your topic that you find especially interesting? Anything in your research that surprised you?

D’Anieri: I’ve been rereading a lot of the US discussion of Russia from the 1990s, and what’s amazing is that despite the rancorous partisanship that characterized almost everything else, the right and left were in unison that the promotion of democracy was both virtuous and in the national interest. Similarly, while a lot of people have criticized the expansion of NATO in hindsight, one reason that it went through is that it made sense both to liberals who supported the spread of democracy and realists who wanted to hedge against Russian revanchism.

HURI: Anything thing else we should know?

D’Anieri: If I wanted to provoke, I would say this: Some of the potential conclusions of this research might make us very uncomfortable. While many skeptics have doubted that democracy causes peace, we haven’t really considered that trying to spread democracy could be a cause of war. If so, there will be some hard choices to face in the future.

DAnieri100Paul D’Anieri is Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside, where he served as Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor from 2014 to 2017. D’Anieri’s research focuses on politics and foreign policy in the post-Soviet states with an emphasis on Ukraine. He is currently writing on a book on Ukraine’s relations with Russia, the US, and Europe since 1991, focusing on the underlying causes of the military conflict with Russia. His earlier books include The Contest for Social Mobilization in Ukraine (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), Understanding Ukrainian Politics: Power, Politics, and Institutional Design (M.E. Sharpe, 2007), and Economic Interdependence in Ukrainian Russian-Relations (SUNY, 1999). He is also author of a textbook, International Politics: Power and Purpose in Global Affairs, currently in its fourth edition.