Toward a conceptual framework on democracy, identity, and foreign policy in East Asia

Democratization, national identity, and foreign policy in Southeast Asia

Aurel Croissant

Southeast Asia presents social scientists with a laboratory for the analysis of the relationship between democratization, national identities, and the consequences for foreign policy behavior. Types of nationalism, modes of nation-building, ethnic makeup, colonial heritage, the structure of governing coalitions, the shape and extent of interest, and civil society organizations as well as regime types and their levels of democracy differ widely. Since the 1970s, the common wisdom in democratization studies has been that a consensus about national identity is a prerequisite for democratization.1 Recently this issue has drawn further discussion. Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan see a widely shared sense of national identity as a requirement for successful democratic consolidation, confirming Rustow’s sequentialist view (national identity formation first, democratization later).2 For Southeast Asia, James Putzel used national identity to explain why democratization is more difficult in Indonesia and Malaysia than in the Philippines.3 In contrast, democratization scholars have rarely analyzed the consequences of political liberalization and democratic transition for foreign policy behavior, and there are few works on the interface of international relations and comparative politics for Southeast Asia.

Below I suggest that the implementation of democratic procedures and practices in Southeast Asia has helped to manage national identity problems, while the levels and quality of democracy have also been affected by issues of national identity. Thus, the transition from authoritarian rule to electoral democracy (first transition) has often opened up political space for democratizing national identities in Southeast Asia, whereas the lack of progress in the second transition, from democratically elected governments to liberal and fully consolidated democratic regimes, has complicated mutually shared agreement about identity with consequences in conflicts about their content and comprehensiveness as well as their impact on domestic and foreign policies.

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