Dr. Matthew Kroenig, Associate Professor in the Department of Government and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, gave a talk at the Mabini Dialogue Series on 9 June 2017 at the Carlos P. Romulo Library. His presentation, The Renewed Great Power Competition and Why Democracies Dominate, examined why democracies perform better in long-run political competitions. Given this premise, United States will continue to be the most dominant state in the world amidst China’s rise as a regional power.
Dr. Kroenig identified four comparative advantages why democracies dominate in the international system and are able to accumulate power more effectively than unrepresentative regimes. These factors are economic growth, the international financial situation, alliance systems, and the management of international conflicts.
In the economic front, democracies have higher long-run rates of economic growth. This can be attributed to the inclusive political and economic institutions that allow greater participation of a broad sector of the society. Inclusivity and constraints on executive power encourage citizens to participate in long-term investment and economic activities. According to Dr. Kroenig, if a country has institutions that systematically exclude people from the economy, it will not be as dynamic an economy as one that is more inclusive. Thus, China may have high economic growth rates but it may eventually run out of steam.
In examining why financial markets in some countries flourish and others do not, Dr. Kroenig said that democracies are more likely to become financial powerhouses because they are trustworthy. In the case of sovereign debts, investors prefer democratic countries because there is no fear of a dictator, or a single decision maker, who may default on debts. The presence of checks and balances prevent a democratic leader from defaulting.
Democracies also dominate in politico-military matters. Democracies have more alliance partners and are more likely to fulfill their commitments and obligations. In autocracies, it is relatively easier to form an alliance and back down, as in the case of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact between the Soviet Union and Germany. Adolf Hitler later abandoned the pact and invaded the Soviet Union. On the other hand, alliances among democracies like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) tend to last longer, and have more members that actually fulfill their obligations.
Democracies are also less likely to go to war with one another, and more likely to win the wars they fight. They are more effective in warfare. Furthermore, the US remains the only state with global projection capability with its nuclear submarines and second-strike capability. Its military is also more tested and battle-hardened. Democratic leaders are careful in selecting wars that they can actually win for fear of being voted out of the office.
Dr. Kroenig’s dominant democracies thesis suggests that the United States has a key advantage in its strategic competition with China. The US economy still features roughly a quarter of the world’s GDP, even if China may be growing by approximately 13-15%. China may overtake the US as the largest economy in the 2020s, but this depends on the current trajectories sustaining its economy. It needs to push through much-needed economic reforms to break away from the so-called “middle income trap”.
Finally, Dr. Kroenig asserted that even with the increasing challenges posed by Russia, China, ISIS, and North Korea, they will be unsuccessful because they are not democracies. Their systems of government would have to shift to a more democratic system to become a ‘true international leader’.