Viktoryia Kozlova: Democratization of Authoritarian Regimes Through Unified Multilateral Approach. The Case Study of Belarus

Key terms: democratization, international engagement, sanctions, Belarus

Abstract: International engagement in conflict states is often necessary due to humanitarian, political or social instability. Since international law has not been fully developed yet, it is crucial to undertake the critical analysis of previous and potential future actions. International community’s actions are analyzed in the case of Republic of Belarus, acknowledging that whether they are focused through diplomatic or unofficial negotiations and sanctions – if they are taken multilaterally they are more likely to be effective.

Introduction

Researchers and citizens argue that democratic regimes promote political and economic stability, human rights, and equality among citizens. It is increasingly difficult for authoritarian regimes to hide actions that are viewed by the international community as violations of international law. The recent political uprisings under authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria, among others have been closely documented in the news. Arguably, the loss of civilian lives during these events could have been avoided through the international community’s intervention. Thus, a key under – researched question is: How can the international community influence and force an authoritarian leader from power and when is it best to undertake such actions to commence democratization processes? The hypothesis is: the international community needs to develop a unified multilateral approach to forcefully remove authoritarian leaders while engaging non- officials from the target state in the decision making processes for democratization.

For the purposes of this paper, international community will refer to the external actors influencing the case study including: international organizations, individual states and unions. Based on this definition the paper will first analyze important themes concerning democratization and forcing authoritarian leader from power. This discussion includes diplomatic and informal negotiations, and unilateral and multilateral approaches for sanctions towards authoritarian regimes. Secondly, a case study of Belarus is developed in regards to this hypothesis. Thirdly, themes identified in the first section will be applied to case study of the Republic of Belarus. The case study will enable the reader’s further understanding of the importance of the international community’s actions and their impact on democratization processes.

Diplomatic or Informal Negotiations

A re-occurring and highly debated theme in international relations is whether diplomatic or unofficial negotiations are most effective when seeking authoritarian leaders’ cooperation. Such cooperation can be a first step in acknowledging that there is a problem and attempting to fix it through negotiations or discussions. These discussions and negotiation could be conducted through different tracks, with the leader of authoritarian state- which is referred to as ‘diplomatic’ or with civil society- also known as ‘informal’. Tobias Bohmelt identifies three types of diplomacy strategies in third party interventions1. He argues that different tracks of diplomacy have an advantage compared to other types of diplomacy, because they consider variations in mediators’ characteristics, resources and strategies2. Essentially, track one involves interaction between state and high ranking government officials. Track two, is based on informal interaction between members of adversarial groups or nations3. A third track that is identified as track one point five, focuses on public and private interaction between official representatives of conflicting states and third parties who do not represent political institutions4. Decisions on what track is most appropriate for a given situation should be made on case-by-case basis. Building off of this methodology diplomatic negotiation may be even more effective if it is a multilateral decision by the international community.

A number of authors agree that democratization processes are more easily achieved if the authoritarian state shares a border with one or more democratic states. Shimmelfennig supports this idea arguing that participation in the European Union’s (EU) membership has resulted in the democratization of some of Eastern Europe’s former authoritative regimes5. The EU’s membership conditions are viewed as multilateral, because there are a number of states within the EU. Schimmelfennig and Vachudova explain that multilateral agreements established during diplomatic negotiations between EU member states are applied to potential members in the form of ‘political conditionality’6, and thus slowly democratize potential member states. Schimmelfennig argues that European regional organizations are only effective promoters of democratic change when they promise membership in the EU and NATO7. Authoritarian leaders do not always view such offers as beneficial, but they have been effective in a number of Eastern European countries.

As previously mentioned Tobias’s track two diplomacy consists of informal negotiations that can be conducted with the assistance of opposition leaders and civil society parties that oppose the authoritarian regime. Track two is exemplified well by Michael Bernhard and Ekrem Karakoc’s framework which argues that pro – democratic attitudes emerge earlier and more easily than pro-democratic behaviors8. They examine two behaviors- participation in organizational life and protests which are associated with a robust civil society and explain variations across societies as a function of their regime history. Michael Bernhard and Ekrem Karakoc come to the conclusion that certain patterns of dictatorship have powerful negative legacies that affect the establishment of democratic civil societies9. At times, these negative legacies provide leverage during the informal negotiations to the international community with the civil society from authoritarian state.

Similarly, Brian Levy and Francis Fukuyama state that countries’ unique historical circumstances could affect policy makers’ strategic choices during decision- making process10. They argue that to formulate a development strategy there is a need to take a broad view of the interactions between economic, political and social restrains and dynamics11. The authors use four sequences and examples from a number of countries where different social, political and cultural dimensions might evolve over time. This is important, as authoritarian regimes often have a long history of dictatorial leadership resulting in lack of freedom. Authoritarian leaders greatly influence the decision making processes and the history of the state. Therefore there are a number of factors that need to be considered when conducting diplomatic or informal negotiations with authoritarian leaders. It is important that all of the above stated factors are considered on a case-by-case basis.

The Unilateral and Multilateral Use of Sanctions

Sanctions are used as tools to uphold international law and the United Nations (UN) Charter. The UN Charter employs sanctions as a response option against international aggression as well as potential or actual conflict12. Sanctions could be positive, involving the use of bilateral relationship as incentives or rewards and they could be negative involving the threat or use of sanctions13. Negative sanctions are “useful to governments in signaling intentions, complementing diplomacy, building a political consensus for the eventual use of military force, or withstanding pressure to resort to military force”14. Another type of sanction that the international community increasingly uses is ‘smart sanction’ that are designed to “limit damage to the general population in favour of more precise targeting on the assets of the ruling elite”15. These sanctions generally focus on governments’ property and financial assets. Smart sanctions are the most effective in targeting dictatorial leaders and forcing them to comply with international demands.

If a country imposes unilateral economic sanctions, the targeted country will likely shift its trade to other states, who have not implemented sanctions against them. However, if a number of countries multilaterally impose the same economic sanctions, it will be more difficult for the targeted country shift its trade and will suffer economically as a result. In the case of multilateral sanctions, dictatorial leaders are incentivised to cooperate with the international community. Thus, multilateral action is a more effective means of influencing authoritarian regimes than unilateral actions.

However, economic sanctions have a number of limitations. Historically, economic sanctions have not forced leaders from power, but they have assisted in democratization processes of authoritarian states. Their contribution is to burden the domestic economy of authoritarian states. Depending on the type and scope of economic sanction will directly result on the size of the economic constrain, which civil society had to intake. This can foster discontent within society leading to stronger protests and uprisings against the authoritarian regime and its inability to lessen the burden of sanctions on the economy.

The Case of the Republic of Belarus

The case of the Republic of Belarus is highly relevant for this paper, because the international community has taken numerous actions towards Belarus in the past ten years. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lukashenka is the only president of a post Soviet country to maintain stable growth of his country’s economy. However, since December 2010 there has been a rapid shift in the Belarusian economy. Belarus has been well known for its political stability, as well as ‘The Last Dictator in Europe’. Essentially, it has been politically stable in the sense that after the dramatic experience of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lukashenka has taken the post of president seriously, politically dictating Belarus. Two years after coming to power, Lukashenka held a successful referendum that removed the limitation on the number of presidential terms an individual could hold16. Lukashenka has continuously held the presidential post within Belarus since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The opposition has never won enough votes to create an alliance in this authoritarian regime. In fact, they have been physically abused and jailed17, as noted by High Representative Catherine Ashton. The opposition decided to seek and has gained the attention and support of Western countries.

Historically, Belarusian citizens are one of calm, trustworthy and non-violent people. Their mentality has been largely trained by communism, and Lukashenka has been able to maintain and secure it. Thus, the risk taken in the recent events of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia is something that Belarusian citizens have yet to learn. It has been noted that the young population has mainly been out protesting in the recent events, as they are becoming informed and involved through online sources and assistance from the West18. Thus, the democratization process has not been their main priority. However, when the economic crisis has personally affected every individual, their trust in the President decreased19. Currently citizens are not comfortable with the president, thus, they are seeking some type of change.

Application of Themes to the Case Study of Belarus

According to Silitsky the colored revolutions that occurred in the post – Soviet countries have led to stronger authoritarian reactions from governments20.His article’s title “Survival of the Fittest” suggests that the stronger authoritarian regimes survived attempted revolutions setting back democratization processes. Since, currently Belarusian regime is the only one left in Eastern Europe, it has been noted that Lukashenka has done a superior job at keeping it that way21.

Diplomatic and Unofficial Negotiations

Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way’s discussion of the international linkage between authoritarian regimes and their democratization is applicable to the case study of Belarus22.They state that “the precise mechanisms of Western influence remain poorly understood”23, but democratization processes tend to occur in countries with strong ties to the West. This explains why the Belarusian government has not changed, since Lukashenka has strong ties with Russia, another illiberal regime, instead of Western states.

The US has been unsuccessful in its attempted diplomatic negotiations with Lukashenka. This lead to the US’s action towards Belarus, the 2004 Belarus Democracy Act initiated shortly after illegitimate presidential elections. The Belarus Democracy Act has been reinitiated in 201124. A short description states that “the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 authorizes assistance to promote democracy and civil society in Belarus”25. Since then, even more actions have been taken toward funding non-governmental organizations promoting democracy in Belarus through unofficial channels.

For a further understanding of the international community’s perspective on Belarus, it is important to compare it to other post-Soviet countries with similar political and economic situations. For example, in Central and Eastern Europe, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, countries experienced similar situations to the ones in Belarus. A number of countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro, during the period of 1996-2000 had experienced illiberal forms of democracies which held on to economic reforms and led to transition to full democracy26. In other words, they were called illiberal democracies, because they demonstrated some characteristics of a democratic regime- such as elections, but many key components of legitimate democracy were missing. The states were in difficult positions in relation to the international community, as their regimes were not considered democratic and their economies’ fluctuation were destabilizing to the whole country. The democratization processes were explained through “the EU’s leverage was animated by the fact that the substantial benefits of EU membership- and the costs of exclusion- create incentives for states to satisfy the entry requirements”27. The EU had a unified goal of the EU membership which it had allowed countries to achieve by conducting diplomatic negotiations, supporting and offering membership in the EU28. Illiberal democracies were unable to ignore such an offer, thus they began the transformation process. However, this does not apply to Belarus as the international community lacks a unified goal and neither the Belarusian leader nor the EU wants Belarus to gain EU membership.

The Use of Sanctions

Over the years, there have been numerous sanctions taken by the international community on Belarus. These sanctions have often targeted the Belarusian President in order to make him comply with the international community’s demands. One such measure taken by the EU towards Belarus is the freezing of assets of companies that are linked to the political regime29. Furthermore, individuals considered responsible for violations of international electoral standards in the national elections have had their assets frozen30 for a number of years. In 2011, the above mentioned and additional officials were banned from the sale, supply and transfer of any equipment which could be used for internal repression within Belarus31. The added article in the Council Decision Concerning Restrictive Measures Against Certain Officials of Belarus applies to anyone who supports such officials, but exempts individuals and groups working based on humanitarian grounds or for institution building for UN or EU programs32.

The United States had applied similar sanctions on Belarus33. Furthermore, the United States does not encourage American companies to invest in Belarus34. This can discourage other countries from investing, leading to more effective multilateral use of sanctions, economic separation from the world and influencing Lukashenka. However, it is clear that Russia and post-Soviet countries do not follow American suggestions and pursue their own financial benefits in Belarus.

Seth Kaplan argues that the relationship between identities, institutions, social cohesion, and state legitimacy are vital to spurring economic and political development in fragile states35.The socio-political, geographical, and economic problems, which are apparent in many authoritarian states, complicate attempts to reform governments and economies. The economic sanctions lead to distress among the population, which could potentially lead to two situations in Belarus. The first situation is that the distress is not strong enough to force Lukashenka from power and thus nothing changes. The second is that the economic sanctions are so strong that the distress among the people results in massive protests forcing Lukashenka eventually to do something about pleasing the population or the international community.

Conclusion

This paper analyzed various actions of the international community, including diplomatic and informal negotiations, unilateral and multilateral approaches to sanctions against authoritarian regimes. A case study of Belarus was developed and analyzed in relation to the paper’s hypothesis. The themes of diplomatic and informal negotiations, unilateral and multilateral approaches to sanctions were applied to case study of the Republic of Belarus. Essentially, the case study allowed the reader to further understand the importance of the international community’s actions and their impact on democratization process. It is clear that whether the actions are taken through diplomatic or unofficial negotiations, or sanctions, if they are taken multilaterally they are more likely to be effective.

1 Bohmelt, Tobias. “The Effectiveness of Tracks of Diplomacy Strategies in Third-Party Interventions”, Journal of Peace Research, 47(2): 167-178.

2 Ibid, pg. 167-178.

3 Ibid, pg. 167.

4 Ibid, pg. 167.

5 Schimmelfennig, Frank. (2007). European regional organizations, political conditionality, and democratic transformation in Eastern Europe. East European Politics and Societies, 21(1), 126-141.

6 Ibid, pg. 127.

7 Ibid, pg. 126-141.

8 Bernhard, Michael and Ekrem Karakoc. “Civil Societies and the Legacies of Dictatorship”, World Politics, 59 (4), January 2007: 539-567.

9 Ibid, pg. 539-567.

10 Levy,Brian and Francis Fukuyama. “Development Strategies: Integrating Governance and Growth”, World Bank, Working Paper Public Sector Governance Unit, January 2010.

11 Ibid.

12 Mastanduno, Michael. “Economic statecraft”, in Steve Smith, Amelia Hadfield, Tim Dunne, ed., Foreign Policy: Theories, Actors, Cases (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 176.

13 Ibid, pg. 172.

14 Ibid, pg. 186.

15 Ibid, pg. 178.

16 Marples, David, “Lukashenka Announces Controversial Referendum”, Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol.1 (83), September 12, 2004, Available at http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=26844.

17 Office of the Spokesperson. “Statement by the Spokesperson of High Representative Catherine Ashton on Belarusian Authorities’ Brutal Handling of Silent Protesters”, Official Journal of the European Union, 16 July, 2011, Available at http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/123894.pdf.

18 Marples, David. “Belarus Cracks Down on Youth Activists”, Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol.6 (231), December 16, 2009, Available at http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=35845.

19 Marples, David. “Stepping Up Pressure On the Belarusian Regime”, Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol.8 (187), October 12, 2011, Available at http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=38515.

20 Silitsky, Vitali. “’Survival of the Fittest:’ Domestic and International Dimensions of the Authoritarian Reaction in the Former Soviet Union Following the Colored Revolutions”, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 43, 2010: 339-350.

21 Marples, David. “Lukashenka Touts Belarusian Path to the Future”, Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol.1 (132), November 21, 2004, Available at http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=27183.

22 Levitsky, Steven and Lucan Way. “International Linkage and Democratization”, Journal of Democracy, 16 (3), July 2005: 20-34.

23 Ibid, pg. 33.

24 “H.R. 515–112th Congress: Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011”, GovTrack.us (database of federal legislation), Accessed November 7, 2011, Available at <http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h112-515&tab=summary&gt;.

25 Ibid.

26 Vachudova, Milada Anna. “Democratization in Postcommunist Europe: Illiberal Regimes and the Leverage of the European Union”, Democracy and Authoritarianism in the Postcommunist World, ed. Valerie Bunce, Michael McFaul and et. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 90.

27 Ibid, pg. 90.

28 Schimmelfennig, Frank. “European Regional Organizations, Political Conditionality, and Democratic Transformation in Easter Europe”, East European Politics and Societies, Vol.21 (126), 2007:127.

29 The Council of the European Union. “EU Reinforces Restrictive Measures Concerning Belarus”, Official Journal of the European Union, October 11, 2011, Available at http://www.eeas.europa.eu/delegations/belarus/press_corner/all_news/news/2011/10_10_2011_en.htm.

30 Ibid.

31 The Council of the European Union. “Council Decision 2011/357/CFSP of 20 June 2011 Amending Decision 2010/639/CFSP Concerning Restrictive Measures Against Certain Officials of Belarus”, Official Journal of the European Union, June 21, 2011, Available at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:161:0025:0028:EN:PDF

32 The Council of the European Union. “Council Decision 2011/357/CFSP of 20 June 2011 Amending Decision 2010/639/CFSP Concerning Restrictive Measures Against Certain Officials of Belarus”, Official Journal of the European Union, June 21, 2011, Available at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:161:0025:0028:EN:PDF

33 Office of the Spokesperson. “ Treasury Sanctions Four Entities of Major State-Owned Belarusian Petrochemicals Conglomerate”, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, August 11, 2011, Available at http://www.state.gov/p/eur/ci/bo/index.htm.

34 Embassy of the United States in Belarus. “U.S. Assistance to Belarus”, U.S. Department of State, Available at http://minsk.usembassy.gov/us_assistance.html.

35 Kaplan, Seth. “Identity in Fragile States: Social Cohesion and State Building,” Development, 52(4), 2009: 466‐472.

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