Tolstrup on when democracy assistance works

July 8, 2010, 5:03 p.m.

In a working paper for Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, Jakob Tolstrup argues that host-country elites constitute a critical element to theory-building about the effectiveness of democracy assistance. While structural theories explain regional variation, they fail to explain regional outliers, and vice-versa with agent-centric theories. Further research should address the conditions under which "gatekeeper elites" allow external democracy promotion interventions to work.

[...]In general, the structural accounts do a good job explaining interregional differences in external influence, but they have difficulties coping with the cases that do not adhere to the overall structural pattern – that is, with intraregional differences. As an image reversed, the actor-centered explanations cannot produce the same compelling parsimonious explanations of clear-cut regional patterns, but definitely have some merits when it comes to explaining some of the intra-regional differences that puzzle the structuralists[...]

[...]The structural determinants (linkages) that constitute the basis of [Levitsky and Way's (2005)] explanation are not non-amenable as they claim (2005: 33), but can be influenced to a great degree by what I term the gatekeeper elites of the target country. That is, I claim that domestic elites should not only be perceived as mere objects of external influence, as they are in the structural accounts, but rather as gatekeepers that actively facilitate or constrain ties to external actors. By upgrading or downgrading these ties, the gatekeeper elites directly affect the capacity that determines the strength of the external actor. More precisely, I argue that to understand when external actors matter for democratization, we need to focus on how these ties come about in the first place. And here domestic elites become interesting, because they hold the key to turning the volume of an external actor’s pressure up or down. In grounding the micro-part of this argument theoretically, I turn to the more actor-centered approaches in the literature and flesh out why we should expect the gatekeeper elites to deliberately try to facilitate or restrain linkages to an external actor. As such, I briefly touch upon the next question in the causal chain – what causes gatekeeper elites to act as they do? But it should be noted, that my main aim in this paper merely is to investigate the relationship between gatekeeper elites and linkages, not to thoroughly explore its scope conditions.

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