Democracy in Retreat
by Ellen Bork
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the threat of a nuclear Iran, and China’s maritime ambitions are just a few of the issues that will make foreign policy a larger issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. As candidates assemble their advisers and get briefed, they should devote some time to considering whether these challenges to US allies and interests are related to a larger phenomenon.
In a recent article for the Journal of Democracy, Robert Kagan traced democracy’s advance and retreat over time, asking whether the triumph or failure of democratic ideals over ideological rivals has to do with “the victory of an idea or the victory of arms?”
Since President Obama took office in 2009, Kagan writes, the US, and Europe, have failed to counteract a worldwide decline in democracy. “Insofar as there is energy in the international system,” Kagan writes, “it comes from the great power autocrats.”
Freedom House agrees. Its 2015 “Freedom in the World” survey reported a ninth-straight year of democratic losses. The problem is one of quality as well as quantity, according to Arch Puddington, Freedom House’s vice president for research. Shedding the “quasi-democratic camouflage” they donned when liberal values unquestionably held sway, the autocrats “now increasingly flout democratic values, argue for the superiority of what amounts to one-party rule, and seek to throw off the constraints of fundamental diplomatic principles.”