Why are the world’s despots thriving, and how can the West start winning the global battle for democracy? Have we hit democracy’s high water mark?
These questions are among those raised in The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding and Abetting the Decline of Democracy, by Brian Klaas, a fellow in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, who argues that the West is helping to prop up dictators and hybrid regimes.
For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the world is steadily becoming less democratic, Klaas notes.
“Though the true culprits are dictators and counterfeit democrats, the West is often complicit in contributing to the global decline of democracy,” he contends. “In pursuit of short-term economic and political objectives, governments in Washington, London and Brussels ultimately make the world less prosperous and stable. Tthis is in nobody’s interests, least of all Western democracies – it is time for a rethink.”
Paradox of democracy promotion
One of the paradoxes of democracy promotion is that you often have electorates in the west that care about things other than democracy abroad, and that forces their governments to do the same thing, says Klaas:
One of the examples I use in the book is how US foreign and Western foreign policy changed toward Pakistan between 1999 and 2001. In 1999 President Musharraf carries out a coup, he becomes this pariah. And then by 2001, after the September 11 attacks changed the calculus of voters in the west to actually care about Pakistan – because it’s important to get Osama bin Laden – he ends up on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart eating a Twinkie. In some ways you can’t blame Western politicians for doing that, because their people want them to do it. So the paradox of democracy promotion is sometimes you actually have to disregard your own electorates to stay with the long term commitment to the principle.
No other country has a self-assigned global role that is based on universal values rather than national interests, The New York Times writes of the United States:
Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist at Stanford University [and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO], said this began with America’s founding fathers, who “had this idea that the success of democracy in the world would depend on its success here.”
This expanded from demonstrating democracy to actively promoting it abroad when the United States emerged as a world power in the early 20th century, as expressed in President Woodrow Wilson’s case for entering World War I: to make the world “safe for democracy.”….A 2012 paper [on American exceptionalism] by James W. Ceaser, a University of Virginia historian, said the concept had grown into “America’s self-designation as a special nation endowed with a great historical task.”
The Henry Jackson Society hosts a discussion with Klaas at 13:00-14:00, Monday 17th October 2016 at The Henry Jackson Society, 26th Floor, Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, SW1P 4QP.