Debriefing: The Case for Democracy Week - Human, Domestic, and International Security


As the world continues to face a surge in autocratization, several nations aim to counteract this trend by creating coalitions of democracies for democracy. Joe Biden pledged to convene the First Global Summit for Democracy, Boris Johnson proposed the expansion of the G7 into the D10 (Democracy 10), and German officials floated the idea of a Marshall Plan for Democracy. To support efforts like these in the research community, the V-Dem institute launched the Case for Democracy program. This organized efforts hopes to develop “a campaign to translate and distribute knowledge and ideas from the academic sphere to policymakers and practitioners.”

One of the first outcomes of this program was The Case for Democracy Week 2021. The week-long event (March 22-25, 2021) sponsored by the V-Dem Institute featured 5 - 1.5 hour long webinars from academics and policymakers speaking to the “dividends of democracy” across 5 categories:

  1. Economic Development

  2. Human Development and Infrastructure

  3. Human Development and Health

  4. International Security

  5. Combating Climate Change

While all 5 categories are relevant to the environment-security agenda, day 3’s Human, Domestic, and International Security webinar featuring United Nations Sustainable Development Goals #5 and #16 are most applicable to the environment-security community. This session featured 20 minute presentations from professionals at the University of Oslo and University of Chicago.

The program opened with Scott Gates, Professor of Political Science, University of Oslo, and Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). Dr. Gates discussed some of the issues surrounding his 2001 manuscript - Toward a Democratic Civil Peace? Democracy, Political Change, and Civil War, 1816-1992, which postulated that regime failure is highest in semi-democracies and newly established regimes. He began by highlighting some data issues and spoke to how far data for levels of democracy and autocracy have come in the past 20 years. Many of these issues were a result of having to employ the Polity dataset. In addition to general data issues, there was significant debate surrounding the author’s thesis that regime failure was highest in semi-democracies. Some of the primary criticisms included:

  1. It was suggested the causal mechanism was actually economic; i.e. low income democracies are at more risk than autocratic regimes, but as GNP increases, the risk is lower.

  2. The effect of regime entry method was understated. Instability is much greater if the regime does not come from an election or other traditional method; irregardless of the overall level of democracy.

  3. Inherent bias in the Polity data. At the time, Polity combined factional politics with semi-democracies, which resulted in an inflated risk of failure. This ultimately contributed to the author’s desire to work with V-Dem on a new dataset.

Dr. Gates concluded by presenting results from one of his latest publications: Which Institutions Matter? Re-Considering the Democratic Civil Peace. This is an excellent research paper that details regime risk using some newly developed metrics that outline Vertical and Horizontal Constraints placed on executive regimes and their respective impacts on stability. I highly recommend reviewing the results of this paper, and if you’re interested in accessing the constraints indices used in the manuscript, or calculating them from your own data, check out the demcon package. It contains embedded vertical and horizontal constraints data used for their research, and custom functions to calculate the indices with your own data.

Estimated risk of internal armed conflict as a function of HCI (x-axis) and VCI (y-axis). Black dots represent the values observed for our observations. Light colors represent high estimated risk, red colors represent low risk. Except for added flexibility in functional form, the GAM resembles the specification reported in Model 1, Appendix Table A2. From Fjelde et al. 2020

The second presentation featured Dr. Sirianne Dahlum–Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)–who discussed her recent publication, Peace Above the Glass Ceiling: The Historical Relationship Between Female Political Empowerment and Civil Conflict. This analysis is aligned with the United Nations Women and Peace Security Agenda and UNSC Resolution 1325, and uses V-Dem’s Female Empowerment Index (and some of its individual components/indicators) to examine historical relationship between female empowerment and participation with peace.

The authors reviewed societal and legislative female metrics and their relation to civil war going back over 200 years across 200 countries. While using a large suite of socio-economic control variables, they found that (generally speaking) societies with the highest levels of female empowerment have the lowest conflict risk. However, they note that only the bottom-up effects (social representation) appear to have a causal relationship. Bottom-up empowerment describes the cultural representation of women, gender-norms, and cultural equality.

This suggests that countries with only high levels of female representation in politics and government is not enough to result in peace; society as a whole must represent female participation with gender equality and equal-norms. If representation is high, but society as a whole remains “macho”, the risk of civil war remains quite high. Sirianne finished up her segment by discussing some interesting components of the 2020 publication: The Suffragist Peace. Among other things, this research details the effect of increased democracy without increased suffrage, and survey results reviewing female perceptions for political measures of force and violence.

The final speaker was Dr. Monika Nalep, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. Her lab investigates post-authoritarianism stability and regime transitions. She began by outlining general considerations for transitioning from authoritarian governments. Primarily, the issue of lustration and purges. More traditional means of transition may include severe punitive measures that are designed to punish past behavior such that it never returns. Although this may seem logical with particularly vicious regimes, it can result in backlash, which leads to higher instability in the new government.

“Personnel Transitional Justice” is a more modern approach designed to increase post-regime stability by implementing fully transparent and non-punitive transitional techniques. By exposing potentially damaging past relationships for the new (and more democratic) regime, you reduce the chance of blackmail or other nefarious activity that may lead to instability. While modern scholars tend to favor this approach, there are still considerations for how it is handled. The new regime must balance the urgency vs. the severity of the lustration process.

The balancing act of these two components, not surprisingly, leads to differential outcomes. Dr. Nalep outlined interesting case studies for Franco Spain, Tunisia, and South Korea. Her lab is developing a global transition dataset to support other researchers and transition stakeholders. You can view the dataset and some interesting case studies on her lab’s Shiny App: Global Transitional Justice Dataset.

  • Be sure to check out this session’s YouTube Page for all the talks and live Q&A session.

  • Read more about V-Dem’s The Case for Democracy program and see other sessions you may have missed at Democracy Week 2021 here.

  • If you want to learn more about V-Dem, Polity, and other datasets measuring democracy and authoritarianism check out DANTE’s V-Dem dataset page.

  • If you want to learn more about programmatic access to political datasets be sure to head to demcon’s DANTE page or GitLab repository.

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