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DEMOCRACY OVER A BARREL: OIL, REGIME CHANGE AND WAR

Abstract

Will autocracies dependent on the export of oil become democratic? To some, the answer seems evident. “The trend is clear,” President Bush said in March 2005. “In the Middle East and throughout the world, freedom is on the march.” Unfortunately, at least in the near term, the opposite is true. Not only is the worldwide spread of democracy stagnating in general, but a number of countries that had once demonstrated some progress are seriously backsliding. By my calculations, about a third of these backsliders are oil-exporters, perhaps most notably Russia. And not a single oil-exporter currently classified by Freedom House as “not free” or “partly free” shows signs of changing its status to democracy. This does not mean that oil-exporting countries cannot become democratic (witness, for example, Norway or Trinidad-Tobago), but it does indicate that oil dependence may pose special problems for democratization.

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