Democracies on the verge of a nervous breakdown?


Freedom House

If there’s a word that sums up the current mood of the West’s high command, it’s this: despair. That’s the clearest and most alarming takeaway from discussions with the assorted diplomats, military officials and security wonks who assembled this weekend for the annual Halifax International Security Forum in Canada, a clubby gathering of leading democracies,  BLAKE HOUNSHELL and BRYAN BENDER write for POLITICO:

But the conversation centered less on fears about enemy capabilities, and much more on signs of the West’s own deepening malaise….Democracy advocates can point to few success stories in recent years, and in fact most broad trends run the opposite way: freedom around the world has declined every year for the past 13 years, according to the NGO Freedom House (above) and academic researchers now fret about [what Varieties of Democracy researchers call] a “third wave of autocratization” sweeping the globe.

“In the past we’ve been able to focus our attention on adversaries and not had to spend a lot of time shoring up the democracies, including our own,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), an honorary board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. “We don’t have that luxury anymore. We’ve got to spend some of our time shoring up our own democracies.”

The latest “Global State of Democracy” (GSoD) report from International IDEA notes that while the quantity of democracies continues to increase, the quality of democratic government has been eroding, sometimes to the extent of democratic backslide or even breakdown, adds Marie Becker of Democracy Without Borders. 

Western officials are anxious not just about the short-term threat Russian machinations pose to their own increasingly polarized societies, but also the more insidious danger posed by an emerging Chinese superpower whose true intentions are under suspicion everywhere — from cowering nearby countries to corporate supply chains to far-flung Arctic outposts, Hounshell and Bender add.

As one Western official put it, “Russia is like a series of hurricanes. China is climate change.”

Even seemingly robust democracies like Chile and France “are much more brittle than we realize,” said Yascha Mounk, a contributor to the NED’s Journal of Democracy.

@IRIGlobal’s Daniel Twining @DCTwining disagrees with Bender and @blakehounshell‘s pessimism. Democracies may be polarized/underperforming but dictatorships are in crisis, he tweeted. Iranians are in the streets; #HongKong protestors are standing up to China; Putin’s popularity has collapsed, he notes, adding that @SenJohnMcCain “would urge us 2 B confident.”

@NDI staff Zuzana Papazoski and Robert Benjamin discuss the fall of the #BerlinWall, youth’s role in democracy, and the evolution of democracy in #EasternEurope on the NDI #podcast

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