By Edward P. Joseph

Summer/Fall 2007

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Current ownership dogma has had pernicious consequences for fledgling democracies from Bosnia to Iraq to East Timor. Ownership advocates insist that democracy will only take root when local stakeholders (not outside actors) make and implement decisions. But ritualistic application of this theory imposes severe costs. Ownership doctrine, this paper sets out, has three core errors. First, it ignores the fact that some societies are unable to take owner- ship of their affairs, hence the need for dispassionate outsiders to occasionally assert their authority. Second, ownership doctrine asserts that meddlesome outsiders are the bane of young democracies or transition countries. Yet, ample evidence exists to challenge this view. Third, ownership doctrine substitutes ownership per se, rather than responsible behavior by local institutions and actors, as the over-arching goal. Encouraging disputants (or even non-disputants) to take the leading role in managing their country and their relationships is healthy; permitting them to do so in a way that aggravates tensions and subjects popula- tions to risk is irresponsible. This paper argues for striking the balance between inculcating dependency by assuming too much authority and permitting chaos to reign by indulging prematurely in local ownership. 

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