Who will pick up the democracy promotion mantle?


It is not surprising that liberty has enemies. The tragedy now is that the defense of liberty is absent where it should be vibrant, argues Stein Ringen, a visiting professor of political economy at King’s College London and the author, most recently, of “The Perfect Dictatorship: China in the 21st Century.” 

Democracies need to come together in defense of liberty, but they are not finding their voice, he writes. The energy is on the side of assertive autocracy. That needs to be confronted, but who will do it?

There is even a sense among major Western countries that democracy is becoming less attractive as a political model, notes Vox analyst Zack Beauchamp:

A recent report [on sharp power] from the National Endowment for Democracy, a US government institution, argues that Russia and China have attempted to weaken faith in democracy. In different and uncoordinated ways, the two countries are working to prop up their kind of authoritarian systems as more attractive alternatives.

“The decision makers in Beijing and Moscow clearly have the political will and the resources to build up and implement their influence efforts. By comparison, the United States and other leading democracies seem to have withdrawn from competition in the ideas sphere,” the report’s authors conclude. “The authoritarian initiatives themselves are truly global in scope, turning up in democratic countries on every continent.”

The White House has submitted a FY19 budget that aims to drastically slash funding for the National Endowment for Democracy and other democracy promotion programs, cutting funding overall for democracy and rights promotion by 40 percent and seemingly trying to reduce the power of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, notes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Joshua Kurlantzick.

But the void of rights and democracy advocacy could be filled by other world leaders, as they realize that the United States is unlikely to return to the same role in democracy promotion that it had in the past. No one state, of course, can make up for a dramatic shift in U.S. policy on democracy promotion. But, other rich democracies, and powerful developing democracies, can step into the breach, he writes for World Politics Review.

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