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US allies are driving much of the democratic backsliding in the world

According to a new analysis, the United States and its allies are responsible for a very important part of the world democratic backsliding in the last decade.

America’s allies remain, on average, more democratic than the rest of the world.

But almost all have suffered some degree of erosion Democratic since 2010, which means that basic elements such as fair elections or judicial independence have weakened, and at a much higher rate than in other countries.

With few exceptions, countries aligned with the United States experienced almost no democratic growth in that period, even as many beyond Washington’s orbit did.

The Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, another of the controversial leaders. John Thys / Pool via REUTERS

The results are reflected in the data recorded by V-Dem, a non-profit organization based in Sweden that tracks the level of democracy in countries through a series of indicators, and analyzed by The New York Times.

The revelations bring out the problems of democracy, a defining trend of the current age, in a very sharp light.

They suggest that much of the global backlash is not imposed on democracies by foreign powers, but rather is a rot that arises within the world’s most powerful network of largely democratic alliances.

In many cases, democracies like the french wave slovenian they have seen institutions deteriorate, even slightly, amid a policy of reaction and mistrust.

In others, dictatorships like that of Bahrain they cut already modest freedoms.

But often the trend was driven by a shift toward non-liberal democracy.

In that form of government, elected leaders behave more like strongmen and political institutions erode, but personal rights remain for the most part (except, often, for minorities.

America’s allies often lead this trend.

Turkey, Hungary, Israel and the Philippines are examples of it.

Several more established democracies have also taken half a step in his direction, including the United States, where voting rights, the politicization of the courts, and other factors are considered of concern by many scholars of democracy.

The results too undermine the American assumptions, widespread in both parties, that US power is an innate democratizing force in the world.

Washington has long sold itself as a world champion of democracy.

The reality has always been more complicated.

But enough of his allies have approached that system to create the impression that American influence brings with it American-style freedoms.

These trends suggest that this may not be true, if it ever was.

“It would be too easy to say that all this is explained by Trump,” said Seva Gunitsky, a political scientist at the University of Toronto who studies how great powers influence democracies.

The data indicate that the trend accelerated during the presidency of Donald trump, but it predates her.

Rather, academics say this shift is likely driven by longer-term forces.

The decline of faith in America as a model to aspire to.

The decline in faith in democracy itself, the image of which has been tarnished by a series of 21st century shocks.

Decades in which American politics have prioritized short-term issues, such as the fight against terrorism.

And the growing enthusiasm for anti-liberal politics.

With the world aligned with the United States, now leading the decline of a system it once vowed to promote, Gunitsky said:

“The international consensus for democratization has changed.”

A Global Crisis Since the end of the Cold War, countries aligned with the United States have slowly shifted toward democracy but, until the 2010s, largely avoided regression.

In the 1990s, for example, 19 allies became more democratic, including Turkey and South Korea.

Only six, like JordanThey became more autocratic, but all for very small amounts.

That’s what the V-Dem Liberal Democracy Index indicates, which takes dozens of parameters into account at a score of 0 to 1.

Its methodology is transparent and is considered very rigorous.

South Korea’s, for example, rose from 0.517 to 0.768 in that decade, amid a transition to full civilian rule.

Most of the changes are minor and reflect, for example, a gradual advance in press freedom or a slight setback in judicial independence.

During the 1990s, the United States and its allies accounted for 9% of global increases in democracy scores worldwide, according to the figures.

In other words, they were responsible for 9% of the world’s democratic growth.

This is better than it sounds:

Many were already very democratic.

Also in that decade, the allied countries accounted for only 5% of the world declines, that is, they fell very little.

Those numbers got a bit worse in the 2000s. Then, in the 2010s, they became disastrous.

The United States and its allies accounted for only 5% of the global gains in democracy.

But an amazing 36% of all setbacks occurred in countries aligned with the United States.

On average, allied countries saw the quality of their democracies decline by almost twice the rate of non-allies, according to V-Dem figures.

The analysis defines “ally” as a country with which the United States has a formal or implicit commitment mutual defense, of which there are 41.

Although the term “ally” could be defined in a number of ways, they all produce very similar results.

This change comes in a period of turmoil for democracy, which is shrinking around the world.

The data contradicts Washington’s assumptions that this trend is driven by Russia and China, whose neighbors and associates have seen their scores change very little, or by Trump, who took office when the change was well advanced.

Rather, pushback is endemic in emerging and even established democracies, said Staffan I. Lindberg, a political scientist at the University of Gothenburg who helps oversee V-Dem.

And these countries are usually aligned with the United States.

This does not mean that Washington is exactly the cause of its retraction, Lindberg stressed. But it is not irrelevant either.

American influence, for better or for worse

Despite decades of Cold War messages calling America’s alliances a force for democratization, this has never really been true, said Thomas Carothers, who studies democracy promotion in the United States. Carnegie Foundation for International Peace.

Although Washington promoted democracy in Western Europe as an ideological counterweight to the Soviet Union, it repressed its spread throughout much of the rest of the world.

It supported or installed dictators, encouraged violent repression of left-wing elements, and sponsored anti-democratic armed groups.

Often this was done in partner countries in cooperation with the local government. The Soviets did the same.

As a result, when the Cold War ended in 1989 and great-power meddling receded, societies were freer to democratize, and in large numbers, they did.

“A lot of people came of age in those years and thought that was normal,” Carothers said, mistaking the wave of the 90s as the natural state of things and, because the United States was the world hegemon, as a work from the United States.

“But then came the war on terror in 2001,” he said, and Washington again pushed for autocrats to be docile and for democratization to stop, this time in societies dominated by Islam.

The result has been decades of weakening the foundations of democracy in the allied countries.

At the same time, US-led pressures for democracy have begun to wane.

“Democratic hegemony is good for democratization, but not through the mechanisms that people tend to think of, like democracy promotion,” said Gunitsky, the major power politics scholar.

Rather than alliances or presidents demanding that dictators liberalize, neither of whom has a great track record, he said, “the influence of the United States, where it is strongest, is an indirect influence, as an example to emulate.”

His research has found that the United States stimulates democratization when the leaders of other countries, citizens, or both see that the American-style government promises benefits such as prosperity or freedom.

Adopting it, even superficially, may be seen by some as a way to win the support of the United States.

But previously positive impressions of American democracy have been diminishing quickly.

“Very few of those surveyed think that American democracy is a good example for other countries to follow,” according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

On average, only 17% of people in the countries surveyed believed that American democracy was worth emulating, while 23% said it had never set a good example.

American prosperity may no longer be as attractive due to mounting problems such as inequality, as well as the rise of China as an alternative economic model.

And awareness of America’s internal problems – mass attacks, polarization, racial injustice – has greatly affected perceptions.

It may be more accurate to think of what is happening now as the rise of illiberal democracy as an alternative model.

That system seems to be getting more and more popular.

Full democracy, with its protections for minorities and its dependence on established institutions, is becoming less so.

But even people who want illiberal democracy for their country tend to find it unappealing in others, thanks to their nationalistic tendencies.

As the impression of American democracy as a global model degrades, so does democracy itself.

“Much of the appeal of democracy around the world is tied to the appeal of the United States as a type of regime,” Gunitsky said.

“When one of those things wanes, the other will.”

c.2021 The New York Times Company


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