This is an important and volatile time for democracy in the world, says Stanford University’s Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he directs the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. Many people are questioning the viability of democracy and the wisdom of trying to promote it, he writes for Foreign Policy.com.
The fashionable mood these days is skepticism, if not downright pessimism, about the near-term prospects for democracy. Some believe democracy promotion was always a fool’s errand. Others contend that we did what we could and should now pull back. Or that after 30 years of intensive democracy promotion, we still don’t know how to do it effectively, except in places where democratic progress would have happened anyway…..
Yes, it’s a difficult and messy time for democracy and freedom around the world. …There have been a lot of democratic breakdowns in this new century. In fact, the rate of democratic breakdown in these last thirteen years has been 50 percent higher than in the preceding period.
Since the third wave of global democratic expansion began forty years ago, one-third of all the democratic regimes have failed. And half of these failures have been just in the last thirteen years. Many of these breakdowns have come in big and strategically important states, like Russia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Venezuela. ….
If you care about democracy in the world, we are in trouble.
But this is not the whole story. We are in a prolonged political recession, not a depression. We have not yet seen the onset of “a third reverse wave.” The extraordinary expansion in the number of democracies essentially halted around 2005. Since then, it has not significantly increased, but neither has it substantially diminished. Globally, average levels of freedom have ebbed a little bit, but not calamitously…..
A long-term strategic approach to promoting democracy would make the following resolution:
Once a country (and especially a middle-income country) achieves or renews democracy, we should do everything possible to help lock it into place for the long run, to consolidate it.
Once a country (and especially a middle-income country) achieves or renews democracy, we should do everything possible to help lock it into place for the long run, to consolidate it. That means that when a new, fragile Libyan transitional government appeals to us for security assistance (assistance, not occupying troops) we don’t say, “sorry pals, we helped you get there, now let somebody else help you stay there.” It means that we need to go to the new democratically elected Tunisian government after these approaching elections and ask them what it needs. What can we do to help revive the economy and rejuvenate flows of tourism and investment? Beyond our existing programs of party training, election observation, and other assistance, what can we do to support new civil society monitoring and training initiatives, to strengthen independent journalism and policy think tanks, to advance democratic civic education in the schools and the media, to support women’s groups, student groups, human rights groups, and many other initiatives to build a culture and civic infrastructure to sustain democracy?
If we want to promote democracy in the Arab world for the long run, we should invest very heavily in Tunisia in every possible way, because what the Arab world most needs now is one example of a decent, functioning democracy that can serve as a lesson, an inspiration, and a point of diffusion for the region.
The article is based on the keynote address from the conference “Does Democracy Matter?” co-sponsored by the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the Kennan Institute in Washington, D.C., on October 20.