Although Westerners like to believe that democracy is on a continuously upward trend, this is far from true. Democracy has been in retreat across much of the developing world in recent years. In its latest Index of Freedom in the World, the global monitoring group, Freedom House, notes that 2012 was the seventh consecutive year in which the survey found more declines than gains. For democracy, this is the longest losing streak in the past 60 years.
Democracy in the developing world is struggling in part because citizens in many countries, led to believe that democracy and prosperity always go hand in hand, are finding out that this is not necessarily so. For this reason, trust in democracy has waned in such countries as Malawi and the Philippines. Simultaneously relatively new democracies such as India, Brazil and South Africa, have done little to promote themselves as fruitful political models.
In politics there is no such thing as a vacuum. When democracies falter, the world’s most powerful autocracies fill the vacuum. In particular, China and Russia have become far more assertive on the global stage and increasingly are working together to promote what they view as common interests. Most especially, they are concerned to block democratic developments in their own backyards.
China has provided training over the past decade for police, judges, judicial officials and bureaucrats from a range of countries in Central, South and Southeast Asia. Initially such training focused on economic management. Increasingly they have turned to lessons on how to replicate Chinese-style legal systems, crowd control, Internet monitoring and other strategies of internal repression.
Under President Putin, the Kremlin has taken similar initiatives. In Ukraine, the Kremlin party United Russia, signed an agreement to cooperate with the pro-Russian Ukrainian leader, Vikto Yanukovych, who was unsympathetic to the country’s Orange Revolution of the early 2000s. Kremlin support, including a promise to lower gas prices, helped to secure the presidency for Mr. Yanukovych in 2010. Russia has continued to provide strong support for his repressive government.
Beijing further promotes its model of autocratic development in the nations of Africa and the Middle East as an alternative to the Washington consensus of free markets and free politics. Where China moves, Russia almost always is a fast second.
Western promoters of democracy have no cause for complacency. The autocrats are now on the march into territories once viewed as entirely safe for democracy.
Hat Tip: Joshua Kublantzick, ‘A New Axis of Autocracy’, The Wall Street JournalMarch 30, 2013