6. Juni 2019 | EDP Wire | Annika Elena Poppe, Julia Leininger, Jonas Wolff

Beyond contestation: conceptualizing negotiation in democracy promotion

This EDP Wire contribution briefly summarizes the second article “Beyond contestation: conceptualizing negotiation in democracy promotion” of the recent Democratization special issue “The negotiation of democracy promotion. Issues, parameters and consequences“, edited by EDP network members Annika E. Poppe, Julia Leininger and Jonas Wolff. With the help of the generous support of the Leibniz Association, the entire special issue “The negotiation of democracy promotion: Issues, parameters and consequences” is available online as open access. The summary was prepared by Nora Berger-Kern.

The article provides an analytical framework, which shall enable a systematic analysis of processes of negotiation in the international promotion of democracy. It furthermore guided the individual contributions to the special issue. By focusing on the communicative interaction between external democracy promoters and local “recipients”, the study of negotiation processes allows for an analysis of when and how democracy (promotion) is contested by local actors, how democracy promoters respond to such challenges, and whether and how the ensuing controversy is resolved.

In general terms, the article (1) offers a typology that facilitates a systematic empirical analysis of the issues that are discussed in democracy promotion negotiations; (2) takes initial steps towards a causal theory of democracy promotion negotiation by identifying and discussing a set of parameters that can be expected to shape such negotiations; and (3) introduces key distinctions and dimensions that help guide empirical research on the output and outcome of negotiations in democracy promotion.

Defining negotiation in democracy promotion and situating our approach

Unless democracy promotion operates on the basis of either pure coercion or entirely passive acceptance, it is always dependent on the existence of – at minimum – an implicit exchange that enables a factual agreement between a promoter and a “recipient”. Nevertheless, the interaction between external and local actors is still largely treated as a “black box”. The present analysis of negotiations in democracy promotion addresses this research gap.

Systematically, the authors distinguish between two types of negotiations: Official negotiations take place in official, institutionalized settings and are concerned with reaching explicit agreements. Unofficial negotiations include a broad range of communicative processes that can be direct and even institutionalized or indirect and ad hoc. Generally speaking democracy promotion requires a constant process of re-negotiation, which is why the authors consider language a significant dimension of policy.

(Non-)Issues in the negotiation of democracy promotion: a typology

Any attempt at deciphering democracy promotion negotiation needs to begin with identifying the areas in which a potentially relevant disagreement or conflict between the involved parties exists. This will allow for an illustration of what negotiation is about and what issues are left out. The authors typology distinguishes between five potentially contentious issues: 1. Resources, 2. Implementation, 3. Policy formulation, 4. Problem definition, and 5. Normative premises.

Based on the existing literature, the authors expect that the problem definition and the normative premises are usually not discussed in democracy promotion negotiations, even though they are crucial issues in the light of the intrinsic contestedness of both the concept of democracy and the practice of democracy promotion. Yet, the special issue finds that reality is more complex in this regard.

Actor characteristics

The authors assume that three characteristics of actors will be particularly relevant for shaping their positions and moves in democracy promotion negotiations: (1) the regime type of the recipient country, (2) the domestic strength of the recipient government, measured in terms of domestic support, and (3) the relevance external actors attach to the very aim to promote democracy in their foreign and development policies.

For the regime type (1), the authors expect a curvilinear relationship: in the extremes, in-depth negotiations over democracy promotion are unlikely because they will either be perceived as of no avail (because a potential agreement on the substantive aims and norms of democracy promotion is out of reach), or as unnecessary (because there is nothing substantial to talk about). For the domestic strength (2), the overall causal effect can also be expected to be curvilinear: in-depth negotiations are particularly likely to emerge when the recipient government is neither as strong domestically as to deter external actors from putting significant demands on the table, nor as weak as to prevent the recipient government from openly challenging such demands. And finally, for the relevance (3), both the relevance and the degree of centralization of democracy promotion in foreign and development policies can be expected to increase the probability of indepth negotiations.

Context conditions

The authors identify three specific and two general parameters that are expected to be relevant for the context conditions that shape the interplay of the negotiating parties. The specific context conditions are: (1) power asymmetries, which is hypothesized to increase the likelihood of in-depth negotiations, (2) the normative setting, with the existing of strong and precise democracy-related norms being expected to decrease the likelihood of in-depth negotiations, and (3) the normative divergence, which will increase the likelihood that negotiations will touch upon fundamental (normative) issues. The two general parameters are a) the larger (historical) context of the relationship, and b) the regional and global context.

The results: conceptualizing the output and outcome of democracy promotion negotiations

With a view to the immediate results (output) of the negotiation process, the first question is whether a (partial) agreement could be reached or not. If yes, key questions concern: (a) the type of agreement (official or informal; explicit or tacit), (b) its scope (full or partial), and (c) its substance.

With a view to results in terms of the outcomes of negotiations, the authors suggest focusing on the impact on (a) democracy promotion policies and practices and (b) the effectiveness of democracy promotion or the political regime in the recipient country.


In fact, we know very little about the communicative interaction between external and local actors in the promotion of democracy. The article therefore seeks to better equip scholars that aim at doing so with conceptual tools and theoretical expectations. It makes the case for the need to study democracy promotion negotiation, offers definitions, and brings together different research strands in order to locate this general approach within the broader literature. In the second and main part of the article, the authors propose an analytical framework that focuses on the different dimensions of democracy promotion negotiations that one needs to take into account when investigating them.

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