Carothers and Youngs: Will Rising Democracies Become International Democracy Supporters?

Aug. 1, 2011, 10 p.m.

The Carnegie paper, LOOKING FOR HELP:  Will Rising Democracies Become International Democracy Supporters?, analyzes the role of rising democracies in promoting democracy abroad.  There are key hesitations on the part of these countries due to their anti-intervention and pro-sovereignty stances.  The five countries listed in this paper, Brazil, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Turkey, all have risen from or are still part of the developing world.  As a result, they have been impacted first hand by other countries imposing on their sovereignty.  The paper suggests that while these circumstances to cause difficulties in gaining their support to promote democracy globally, these countries can still play an important role that Western countries cannot.  The very fact that they exist shines a beacon on the fact that a country does not have to look like the West in order to be a democracy.  A recommendation the authors provide is for the approach to be less US-centric and more multilateral.  This is important as they do not want to endanger their commercial ties with potential partners and approach democracy promotion through multilateral, behind the scenes avenues. 

Rising democracies, however, are often reluctant to publicly embrace a democracy and human rights agenda. Most of them are exponents of the pro-sovereignty, anti-interventionist approach to international politics. They emphasize inclusive cooperation among developing countries and are disinclined to confront autocratic leaders. They are also habitually wary of Western, especially U.S., intentions in the developing world and thus frequently suspicious of Western democracy promotion.

Western powers should not dismiss the potential contribution that rising democracies can make to democracy support, but they should moderate their expectations and proceed with caution. They should start building cooperation with rising democracies through low-visibility, sustained endeavors rather than high-visibility, short-term gestures. Western actors must also be flexible in considering rising democracies’ differing conceptions of how best to support democracy. Support for partnerships between nongovernmental actors in established and rising democracies may offer the best way forward.

An engaged but balanced Western approach is the best option for encouraging rising democracies to play a productive role in the challenge of responding to the serious backlash against international democracy support that emerged over the last decade.

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