Better days for democracy

January 28th, 2010

Democracy has seen better days. According to Freedom House, an organization that publishes an annual report on the state of global political rights and civil liberties, global declines outweighed gains in freedom in 2009 for the fourth year in a row.

Its report listed declines in freedom for 40 countries, representing the longest continuous period of decline for global freedom in the nearly 40-year history of the report, while also noting that the number of electoral democracies had decreased by three to its lowest level since 1995.

Meanwhile, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has been reminded that democracy is much more than just giving people the right to vote. Not only have the Iraqi and Afghan governments failed to deliver basic services such as education and health care, they’re also struggling to establish law and order. The resulting chaos and corruption has many citizens in both countries complaining that life is no better now than it was under the authoritarian governments of Saddam Hussein or the Taliban.

During the presidency of George W. Bush, the promotion of democratic principles seemed to be at the core of U.S. foreign policy. However, after the global backlash that followed the United States’ attempts to impose democracy on Iraq and Afghaninstan, democracy promotion seems to have taken a back seat on the agenda.

But it was the method, not the goal, that caused the backlash, and there are other ways of promoting democracy. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican candidate John McCain proposed the formation of a League of Democracies. Instead of trying to spread democracy to other countries, the primary focus of this group would be to strengthen young or unstable democracies, particularly those in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.

Consisting of the strongest economies in the world, the League could pool together its resources to strengthen the political institutions of budding democracies and allow them to take part in a robust free trade partnership.

While it would primarily have an economic function, it could also offer a new role for an increasingly redundant NATO, which could be expanded to include democracies all across the globe, including Australia, Japan and South Korea. It could also help to fight terrorism in democratic countries like Indonesia, India and Lebanon.

By focusing on countries that are already democratic but may lack a stable economy or political system, a League of Democracies could quickly establish a strong democratic presence in all corners of the world, including countries like Brazil, Chile, South Africa, Turkey, Israel and a number of former communist countries in Eastern Europe

During the Cold War, democracy and capitalism didn’t defeat communism militarily – it outperformed it economically. By once again utilizing the resources and economic strength of democratic, capitalist societies, the United States can lead the way in reversing the democratic decline and promoting political rights and civil liberties.