Autocratic and Democratic External Influences in Post-Soviet Eurasia

Autocratic and Democratic External Influences in Post-Soviet Eurasia

Edited by Anastassia Obydenkova and Alexander Libman

Ashgate Publishing, Farnham, United Kingdom, 2015, 204 pages

Book Review published on: August 25, 2017

Autocratic and Democratic External Influences in Post-Soviet Eurasia is an edited collection of mostly qualitative case studies examining the autocratic or democratic effects of nonstate actors on former Soviet republics. The research takes a novel approach by using supranational actors such as the European Union or nongovernmental actors such as labor unions or rock bands as explanatory variables. With the occasional exception of Russia, state policies are not used to explain pro or antidemocratic influences on regimes.

The editors argue that external democracy and autocracy promotion matter but in different ways, for different goals, and with variable and multilevel impact. In other words, autocratic and democratic influences affect states, bureaucracies, private actors, or enclaves within states differently. Intended and unintended influences are sometimes differentiated as well as how external actors exploit them. For example, the economic power of the European Union unintentionally pressures nonmembers to adopt corresponding safety, environmental, and labor standards that indirectly create democratization pressures. The Eurasian Economic Union, on the other hand, intentionally attempts to block European Union influence and provide external legitimacy for its autocratic membership.

This book’s contribution is fourfold. First, it analyzes the effect of supranational and nongovernmental organizations on governance. These organizational types are generally ignored in research but are clearly gaining importance in a globalized, information-age world. Second, the majority of the book is dedicated to exploring the autocratic effects of nonstate actors. This too is a step in the right direction for correcting an understudied aspect of international relations. Third, despite its title, the book often examines the interaction effects of external actors with a state’s domestic constituents. This is particularly useful for readers interested in gray zone conflicts on Russia’s periphery. Fourth, the rich descriptions of processes in each chapter produce compelling and testable hypotheses on the effects of external influences—a real contribution to the science of politics.

The biggest shortcoming is the general lack of measurement or description on the magnitude of impact of external influences. One suspects this can be excused by a lack of data or the inherent opaqueness of autocratic regimes. In addition, description of the relative strength of the countervailing democratic and autocratic is lacking. Regardless of these observations, I highly recommend Autocratic and Democratic External Influences in Post-Soviet Eurasia for security and political science community readers.

Book Review written by: Richard E. Berkebile, PhD, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas