Democracy Lab

Why the Color Revolutions Failed

Toppling dictators isn't enough. Successful revolutions also embrace the rule of law.

The fate of the "color revolutions" -- the symbolically-named series of peaceful uprisings in the former Soviet Union -- have been terribly disappointing. In Georgia ("Rose," 2003), Ukraine ("Orange," 2004), and Kyrgyzstan ("Tulip," 2005), popular uprisings against entrenched leaders brought to power reform-minded politicians who pledged to transform post-Soviet dens of corruption into modern states. But in all three places, those promises of far-reaching change never really materialized. Yet scholars and democracy promotion organizations continue to mine them for lessons that might apply to the Arab Spring transitions. Here's why that's a mistake. 

In Georgia, where the endlessly energetic Mikheil Saakashvili embraced the West and free-market reforms with apparent gusto, elite corruption still continued apace. In Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko's public spats with one-time ally Yulia Tymoshenko were so vicious that Viktor Yanukovych -- the villain of the Orange Revolution -- managed to return to office as prime minister in 2006, and won election as president four short years later. In Kyrgyzstan, Tulip Revolution leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev quickly established himself as a political strongman and informally put his son Maksim in charge of all business transactions. After bloodshed erupted in 2010, when citizens refused to sit idly by, after a winter of power shortages and intense price shocks while the first family enriched itself, President Bakiyev fled to Minsk. 

So much for the vaunted color revolutions, not one of which has produced a consolidated democracy. 

Why did they fail? Quite simply, the rule of law never took root. Too often, the color revolution governments acted above or with little regard to the democratic legal standard to which they held their predecessors. For example, Georgia's record of protecting property rights was abysmal, Ukraine was inescapably seized by vendetta politics, and Bakiyev presided over Kyrgyzstan as though it were his personal fiefdom. Though the governments all professed a commitment to democracy and the rule of law, the maladies that typified the preceding regimes quickly came to describe the new governments. Supporters made a key mistake: They took the revolutions themselves as the apogee of democracy rather than focusing on the hard, grinding work of institution-building. 

Of the three, Georgia has made the most progress. However, Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM) was spectacularly defeated in the 2012 parliamentary elections after its reformist credentials were undermined by a prison scandal that broke days before the elections. Prison guards were caught on tape sodomizing prisoners with broom handles, and knowledge of these practices allegedly went all the way to the top. For all of Georgia's pro-West rhetoric, the scandal showed just how incomplete the UNM's commitment to the rule of law had been. 

To their credit, the UNM did make a dent. It transformed a notoriously bribe-seeking police force into one of the country's most trusted institutions and ended corruption in university admissions. By 2012, petty corruption had been virtually eliminated. At the same time, many of these reforms -- from firing the old police force en masse to rounding up corrupt ex-officials and "thieves in law" (and more than a few political enemies) -- were short on due process and often constitutionally questionable. Accusations of elite corruption (such as allegations that members of the ruling UNM and their relatives enjoyed special access to business opportunities) refused to die down. 

Despite the prison scandal and evidence of high-level corruption, however, Georgia still has a genuine shot at becoming a consolidated democracy. As things stand now, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan do not. 

Kyrgyzstan has teetered from crisis to crisis since Bakiyev fled the country in 2010. The new constitution, which shifted power from the president to parliament, has brought greater political instability to the country -- Kyrgyzstan is on its fourth government since 2010. In June 2010, ethnic violence erupted in the South between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz and tensions still simmer. There are credible reports that many ethnic Uzbeks have fled the country. Almazbek Atambayev, who succeeded Roza Otunbayeva (the only former Kyrgyz president who does not live in exile), has consolidated power, installed a pliable prime minister, and shows little interest in rule of law reform. 

In Ukraine, former Orange Revolution hero Viktor Yushchenko mustered only 5.46 percent of the vote in the 2010 presidential election. After he refused to endorse longtime frenemy Yulia Tymoshenko in the second round and signed a controversial election law, Yushchenko's 2004 political rival, Viktor Yanukovych, assumed the throne. The new president then proceeded to have Tymoshenko and former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko imprisoned on trumped-up charges and banned from contesting the 2012 elections. The media has come under relentless assault, corruption has worsened, and the election laws have been changed to benefit Yanukovych's Party of Regions. A Forbes Ukraine study showed that nine of the top 10 winners of government tenders in 2012 were affiliated with the ruling party or lead state-controlled companies -- tellingly, the president's 39-year-old son, Alexander Yanukovych, leads the list of those making successful bids for government contracts. Yanukovych shows no interest in curbing corruption, despite a professed commitment to reform at the beginning of his presidency.  

By contrast, Georgia's 2012 parliamentary elections offer a rare example of political accountability in the region. Having pushed out Saakashvili's party, Georgian voters brought in an awkward six-party coalition government to power headed by former businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili. While the new government still appears to be finding its feet, Ivanishvili's greatest contribution to boosting the rule of law in Georgia may be his choice of justice minister: Tea Tsulukiani

Applauded by both the incoming and the outgoing government, Tsulukiani's selection inspires confidence matched by few others in Georgian politics. A lawyer at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for ten years, Tsulukiani returned to Georgia in 2010 to serve as deputy chairman of Irakli Alasania's Our Georgia-Free Democrats party, part of Ivanishvili's governing Georgian Dream coalition. She earned graduate degrees at the elite French university for civil servants, the École Nationale d'Administration, and studied international law and relations at Tbilisi State University. Similarly, Tsulukiani's three deputies are also graduates of Western universities. But more importantly, Tsulukiani comes to the post with the right ideas. 

"It's the public institutions that we are building, not just individuals that are driving and sustaining the legal reform process," she said during a recent visit to Washington. "I would like the legal system ... [to] survive me and any next minister of justice of Georgia. Public institutions that are open is our main goal -- inclusive, transparent and trusted by our citizens." Tsulukiani has stressed that the new government must be built from the bottom up, with a particular emphasis on human security. 

So far, the ministry has sought to dramatically increase transparency. Free copies of laws are now available for the first time. A bill is pending in parliament that would allow courts to record hearings, which makes falsifying testimony more difficult. In addition, the media would be permitted in the courtroom. Within the ministry itself, Tsulukiani made salaries transparent and evened out salary disparities between employees with similar experience and positions. Previously politicized, salaries now reportedly correspond to seniority and responsibility. This spring, she pledged to renew a fight against corruption and to return to the issue of judges' salaries, which were increased under the previous government, but "not enough." 

The previous government was good at eliminating low-level corruption but elite corruption remained prevalent, Tsulukiani acknowledged: "We need a system where no elite corruption is allowed." 

Tsulukiani must also deal with the thorny issue of complaints against the previous government in an even-handed way. Since the new government came to power, the Ministry of Justice, according to Tsulukiani, has received 8,000 complaints but has opened only 30 criminal cases. A temporary state commission -- an independent body to review alleged cases of abuse by the previous government -- is currently under discussion. She has welcomed international observers, such as the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, to monitor these high-profile cases. 

More to the point, despite overwhelming public support for redressing the previous government's excesses, the new government has committed itself to approaching the issue methodically and deliberatively. None of the high-level officials being accused have yet to be convicted and few are being detained. Bacho Akhalaia, the infamous ex-defense minister who resigned after the prisons abuse scandal, has been offered (and refused) a jury trial. Gigi Ugulava, the mayor of Tbilisi and supposedly onetime crown prince to Saakashvili's presidency, has avoided having his mayoral term suspended. Despite widespread opinions that the Georgian judicial system -- still primarily composed of UNM-appointed officials -- remains pro-UNM, that hasn't stopped Tsulukiani from going through the proper judicial channels and respecting the process.

Her ambitious spring agenda also includes a number of important structural changes to the legal code. The legal practice of plea bargaining was used extensively by the previous government to accelerate adjudication but also, more worryingly, to siphon some 37 million lari (approximately $22.3 million) from Georgian citizens to feed public coffers. One of Tsulukiani's deputies recently went to California to observe the plea bargaining system and reported that "the only thing in common between plea bargaining in the U.S. and Georgia is the name." Tsulukiani wants to limit plea bargaining to petty crimes only, which would limit the potential for extortion.  

Largely a holdover from the Soviet approach to justice, defendants are guilty until proven innocent, as an impossibly high 99 percent conviction rate attests. To remedy this, Tsulukiani's justice ministry plans to reform the criminal code to build-in stronger systemic protections for defendants. In addition, Tsulukiani plans to give broader powers to police and prosecutors to proactively investigate human trafficking, which she warned could cause official rates of human trafficking to spike this year. 

Despite such a bold agenda, Tsulukiani is realistic and aware of the difficulty of the task before her. "Georgia's deep-rooted culture of impunity" could pose a serious challenge to reform, she acknowledged. 

Nevertheless, the government remains committed to the task. "There's a unique opportunity for the court system to become independent now," said Georgian Speaker of Parliament David Usupashvili on March 14 in Washington. 

Can Tsulukiani implement these reforms in Georgia's hyper politicized climate? Even if she does, institutions are only one piece of the puzzle. Ultimately, developing the rule of law depends on a degree of societal buy-in that goes beyond the clash of personalities or the tumult of Georgian election cycles.This means matching good processes and mechanisms with the less-concrete, but equally critical element of nationwide, cross-party acceptance. In this effort, Tsulukiani will need cooperation not only from Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream's famously diverse membership, but also from Saakashvili and his still-influential UNM. 

However, Saakashvili's party and his rivals in the new government have been at war since the election, making the prospect of consensus-building a daunting task. Issues that ought to have won cross-party support, such as the reopening of Russian markets to Georgian wine, have been depicted by Saakashvili as acts of treachery. And though it won 85 seats in parliament in the last election, the Ivanishvili-led coalition government does not have the required 100 votes to pass constitutional amendments. 

However, a steady trickle of defections and independent caucusing within Saakashvili's party may put reform within reach. While the UNM claims this is a result of government pressure, the likelier explanation is that the UNM's diminished position has regional representatives exploring alternatives to maximize their bargaining power. Even in this politicized environment, Tsulukiani may get the votes she needs to embark on a process of genuine legal reform. 

Small but important signs of cooperation are emerging in Georgia. Recently, the two sides issued a joint document on foreign policy, codifying Georgia's Western orientation. And the new government is set to issue a blanket amnesty for non-violent offenses to employees of the previous government. These and other such steps can help build bridges between the new government and the old, helping make Tsulukiani's proposed reforms possible and lasting. 

For Georgia's sake, let's hope they succeed. If it does, it could serve as a powerful example to other countries, like Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, that have seen their desires for change thwarted by infighting and endemic corruption.

Photo by VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images

National Security

Preserve the Reserves

Why America needs its citizen-soldiers now more than ever.

As the end of the draft in 1972 ushered in the era of the professional force we know today, the military instituted another key reform that transformed America's ability to wage war, at least on a large scale. Still smarting from the failure of the nation's body politic to do what had been done in every major war prior to Vietnam -- namely, to call up the militia -- a group of Army generals, among them Creighton Abrams, John Vessey, and Edward C. Meyer, introduced the Total Force Policy.

More than just a way to manage another postwar demobilization, the Abrams Doctrine, as it was also known, transformed the Reserve and National Guard from being shelters to avoid service into integral parts of the nation's war machine. The policy made it strategically and operationally impracticable to engage in serious conflict without calling up America's part-time troops.

By placing the majority of the Army's combat support capabilities in the Reserve component, where they largely remain today, the policy ensured that Congress, as well as the president, would be involved in deciding matters of war and peace. This made it harder to engage in a major war without the support of the American people. And by weaving citizen-soldiers back into the fabric of the military, the military would be woven back into the fabric of the country, thus maintaining a healthy, democratic civil-military relationship.

It appears we have reached a similarly pivotal decision point in our civil-military history.

The winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is forcing the United States to realign and rebalance foreign policy and national security commitments in ways that are more cost-effective. Overwhelming fiscal pressures are mounting to the point where even defense spending is no longer sacrosanct. Politicians are realizing, as Foreign Policy's Gordon Adams has put it, that "it is high time to start thinking about how to manage a serious drawdown instead of pretending it will not happen." Columnist David Brooks noted that the President Obama may have appointed Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense chiefly to "supervise the beginning of this generation-long process of defense cutbacks."

Yet these constraints present strategic opportunities more than national dilemmas. Among them is the opportunity to exploit improvements in the Reserves over the past dozen or so years to provide a relatively ready force that can be drawn upon for missions across the "full spectrum" of peace and conflict -- small- as well as large-scale -- at about one-third the price.

The most recent report of the Reserve Forces Policy Board (RFPB) concluded that while Reserve component forces comprise 39 percent of the total force, they account for 16 percent of the costs. It calculated that an Active component service member costs taxpayers $384,000 compared to $123,000 for his counterpart in the Reserves, which would translate into about $2.6 billion in savings for every 10,000 positions shifted from full-time to part-time.

According to Chief of the Army Reserve Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, the Army Reserve "comprises almost 20 percent of the Total Army and for just 6 percent of the Army budget...with the lowest ratio of full-time support to headquarters per capita (less than one percent), and the lowest ratio of full-time support to end-strength (13.1 percent) in the Department of Defense."

"The RFPB did not suggest changes to the Active Component or Reserve Component end strength, nor did it comment on balance and mix," noted Robert Feidler of the Reserve Officer Association. "But the implications of its report are obvious. If the Active Component does suffer substantial personnel cuts, the logical place to locate the resources -- which may be critical but are used only sporadically -- is the Reserve Component."

From Back-Ups to Bench Players

While reservists may cost one-third the money, they are hardly one-third the soldiers. Today's Reserve component force of over one million troops is not your daddy's Cadillac, taken out and driven only on weekends. Despite chronic underinvestment in some areas, the gaps in professionalism and performance have narrowed to the point where reservists in the field are hardly distinguishable from their active-duty counterparts. This owes mainly to a decade of intense operations in combat zones. At various times, 30-40 percent of deployed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have been mobilized citizen-soldiers. Since 9/11, more than 860,000 Reserve personnel have served active tours of duty.

Now, more than simply providing strategic depth during big wars, the Reserves have grown to fill a variety of roles. The Pentagon's 2008 Integrated Security Posture Statement concluded that the Reserve component is best suited for steady state engagement, stability operations, homeland defense, and humanitarian assistance missions -- as well as major combat operations. Rather than just back-ups, they have become bench players who can do things others can't.

The Reserves are ideal for the security cooperation missions that will increasingly be part of America's efforts to maintain global leadership and influence. In places like Africa, where the United States is venturing further, security has long been community-based -- more a function of socioeconomic development. The latest National Security Strategy looks to "tap the ingenuity outside government through strategic partnerships with the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, foundations, and community-based civil society organizations." And there is no national entity that better utilizes non-government resources than the Reserves.

The ultimate strategic and social capital of the Reserves lies in the fact that they are first and foremost citizens. "America's greatest asset is its people," the National Security Strategy adds. "We must foster even deeper connections among Americans and people around the globe. Our long-term security will come not from our ability to instill fear in other peoples, but through our capacity to speak to their hopes. And that work will best be done through the power of the decency and dignity of the American people -- our troops and diplomats, but also our private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and citizens."

A perfect example of this work is the 20-year-old State Partnership Program of the National Guard, involving 65 nations worldwide, 28 of them in the Western Hemisphere alone. Utilizing citizen-ambassadors as well as citizen-soldiers, no other initiative more directly and broadly connects communities in America with communities abroad. Drawing now upon combat experience, they play a critical role in democratizing as well as professionalizing partner-nation forces. With more focused management and other program improvements, even more can be done.

If, in its strategic redirection, the United States intends to "lead through civilian power" as suggested in the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, then enhancing the Reserves makes even more sense. Long upholding a civil-military relationship critical to the nation's sociopolitical vitality, maintenance of its national values, and its democratic soft power, the Reserves help legitimize U.S. political-military efforts. Given the relevance of "global public engagement" to the 21st century international environment, these comparative advantages can be neither underestimated nor overlooked.

Civil-military transition management, for example, is something every reservist contends with, if not every month then with every deployment -- faced with complexities and uncertainties unfamiliar to most of their active counterparts. This is the main reason, for example, why more than 85 percent of Army Civil Affairs -- a crucial capability for stability and security engagement operations -- is in the Reserve component. Being largely from the private sector, they have a different approach to risk and opportunity that may be more conducive to persistent engagement strategies -- especially those that look to "build partnership capacity," as called for in the Quadrennial Defense Review.

Necessary Soldiers

The Reserves represent a great bargain, particularly in a time of shrinking resources, and their experience and know-how should not be wasted. Their transition into an operational as well as a strategic resource -- their most significant qualitative transformation in the last century -- makes it possible for them to play a greater role in defending the United States than even Abrams envisioned. The way to maintain the nation's return on its investment in the part-time force is to use it in steady-state missions, to further develop its human capital and equipment, and to continue to overhaul its cumbersome Cold War-era financial and personnel systems.

Although recent legislation has enabled the Reserves to deploy in support of disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and to perform homeland defense missions, and although most commands can now deploy soldiers directly to the area of operations, authorities to call up individual reservists or small teams for short-term tours of duty abroad are still a work in progress. Additionally, more could be done to allow Active and Reserve component personnel to migrate back and forth across the "continuum of service" in order to improve force management and retention, access personnel with special backgrounds and skills more easily, and ultimately save even more on costs.

The great contributions the Reserves could make are not matched by advocacy on Capitol Hill, and in many ways they are still resisted by a defense establishment heavily slanted toward the full-timers. It is remarkable, for example, that none of the articles the services have written for Foreign Policy on the future force make any mention of the Reserve component. Nor do most of the major studies coming out of Washington's think tanks.

Relying more on the Reserves would help restore balance in America's distorted civil-military relationship. Additionally, as the Cato Institute's Benjamin Friedman posited, a smaller active military "would not only save a fortune but also encourage policymakers to employ the armed services less promiscuously, keeping American troops -- and the country at large -- out of needless trouble." Reintroducing a smaller standing army and larger militia as in the first 150 years of U.S. history would also help reinvigorate America's moral standing abroad as a nation that looks, as Elihu Root said, "not to promote war but preserve peace."

And it could help with reform at home. As James R. Locher III, a prime mover on the Goldwater-Nichols reorganization, pointed out: "The Reserves are ideally situated to play a major role as a driver and shaping force to national security transformation, and more than because of their obvious stakeholder status.... Being mainly outside the government structure, in the private sector, their far-reaching influence in and out of Washington can also play a critical role in...addressing challenges that threaten everyone and developing opportunities that benefit all."

Jefferson's "unnecessary soldier" has been the paradox of the national strength and character of the United States. It has not been the warrior who has saved us in times of clear and present danger, or made America much the envy of the world. It has been the citizen who becomes one, whenever and wherever in need.

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