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IR210: International Politics: Building Democracies from Conflict

Session: Two
Prerequisites: At least one introductory course in either social science (e.g. political science, international relations, sociology, economics), history or law

Dr Paul Mitchell
Dr Vesselin Dimitrov

How can we design, build and sustain 'democracies' in less than ideal circumstances? In this course, we explore difficult transitions to democracy as well as on threats to democracy and causes of democratic breakdown, including the threat posed by violent conflict, whether within established democracies or in newly democratising states.

We begin with the deceptively simple questions: What is a ‘failed state’? What causes states to fail? What is the connection between state failure, civil war and democratization? Why do some states democratize, while others fail to do so?We then look at threats to democracy. The first part of the course focuses on severe ethnic and national conflicts, which pose particularly dangerous threats to peace, stability and democracy. We start by looking at civil wars, in our Case Study 1: Multiple Wars in Sudan. In Case Study 2: Northern Ireland, we examine how well established democracies manage violent conflict, evaluate the 'solutions' that have been tried, and discuss what might be successful. By contrast, Case Study 3: Iraq investigates the multiple difficulties of trying to build a new democracy following the overthrow of a brutal dictatorship by a US-led 'invasion' or 'liberation' force (take your pick).

One important and controversial aspect of attempting to make the transition from War to Democracy concerns how states deal with ‘past political crimes’. We examine this in our Case Study 4: Transitional justice in South Africa and East Timor.

In the second part of the course, we explore transitions to democracy in different parts of the world and the particular challenges that these transitions have faced. We start by looking at the most significant recent ‘explosion’ of democracy, the Arab Spring, our Case Study 5. We examine why popular uprisings have occurred in some Arab countries, but not in others, and analyse the consequences of these developments. In Case Study 6: The Post-Soviet ‘Coloured Revolutions’ and Authoritarian Response: Russia, Ukraine and Georgia, we explore another instance of democratization driven by massive popular protests.

In Case Study 7: Central and Eastern Europe, weexamine the difficult challenges that these countries have had to confront in the course of their transition to democracy and preparation for joining the European Union. In Case Study 8, we analyse the collapse of Yugoslavia, the most dramatic civil conflict in Europe in recent times. We conclude by looking at the EU Democratic Deficit, examining the multiple democratic challenges that the European Union has been confronting.   

Finally, in a round-table 'questions and answers' session we will sum up and draw some general conclusions and lessons for the future.


There is no set text for this course. Course materials will be distributed in the first lecture.

Lectures: 35 hours    Classes: 13 hours
Assessment: One essay and one written examination