Chicago Journal of International Law


Contrary to popular belief, international organizations and their key members have long been involved in addressing aspects of political transition. The notion of "self determination" which President Woodrow Wilson thrust into global political discourse demanded not only some approach to defining the "self," but also some institutional devices by which "determination" of the "self" could be accomplished. These issues were not at all straightforward, but at a practical level they resulted in events such as the 1935 Saarland plebiscite, and a range of votes held under United Nations auspices during the wave of decolonization that followed the Second World War. However, it is only in the last two decades that political devices of this sort have been depicted as instruments through which to give effect to a right to "democratic governance., With a distinct international organization-the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, or "International IDEA"-now charged with facilitating such processes at the technical level, the UN finds itself faced with a curious dilemma: in political transitions, it is almost unthinkable to put forward a roadmap for political change that does not involve at least some form of popular election, no matter how unpropitious the circumstances may appear to be. Yet there are strong grounds for arguing that effective post-conflict transition involves far more, and that unless a range of other measures are taken, the holding of elections will be a waste of time, effort, and money. The objective of this essay is to identify some of these deeper requirements of transition that must be addressed if a right to democratic governance is to be vindicated. It is divided into six sections. The first identifies some of the challenges of governance which prolonged and debilitating conflict tends to produce. The succeeding four sections discuss in turn the circumstances surrounding the attempts to foster democratic processes in Namibia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In conclusion, the final section explores some implications for multilateral action, of which the most important is that the circumstances required for democratic governance to take root are exacting, and that direct international intervention is rarely an effective instrument for bringing this about. Rather than easing the way for more applications of force, we would do better to reflect on how blunt is the instrument that intervention offers. [CONT]