Strategic priorities for advancing democracy


Democracy today is being challenged as never before since the end of the Cold War, says Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy. The crisis has many dimensions, including the rise of ISIS and other terrorist movements; growing illiberalism in Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines and other backsliding democracies; eleven consecutive years of decline in global democracy, as measured by Freedom House; and, most importantly, what the letter of invitation to this hearing calls “resurgent authoritarianism,” he told this week’s Senate sub-committee.

In 2016 NED identified and funded start-up programs to address six key strategic challenges, he told the hearing on Democracy and Human Rights: The Case for U.S. Leadership:

  • The need to strengthen democratic unity in defense of democratic norms and values that are under assault by authoritarian regimes in international institutions as well as in public attitudes;
  • The need to foster ethnic and religious pluralism to counter the spread of Islamist and other forms of religious and sectarian extremism;
  • The need to help civil-society activists and organizations prevail against the concerted campaign by authoritarian regimes to repress and control them;
  • The need to defend the integrity of the information space against efforts by Russia and other authoritarian regimes to use social media and other communications tools to buttress their own power and to divide, demoralize, and even destabilize democratic societies;
  • The need to strengthen the capacity for democratic governance so that new and fragile democracies are able to make progress toward democratic consolidation; and
  • The need to combat the rise of kleptocracy (or “rule by thieves”) – a new and systemic feature of modern authoritarianism that, due to the way kleptocrats use their illicit funds internationally, also has the effect of eroding the integrity of institutions in democratic societies, including our own.

“Democracy does not come swiftly or easily,” Gershman added. “We must recognize that trying to take short-cuts to democracy is as dangerous as relying on autocrats to preserve stability. Either way, we will reap the whirlwind.”


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