Stepping Back From Democratic Pessimism

Stepping Back From Democratic Pessimism
Good news on democratization, though often less visible, has occurred in roughly equal proportion to bad news. By taking on this more balanced perspective, the Obama administration can ensure that unnecessary pessimism does not hinder important U.S. support for democracy around the world.
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The Obama administration faces pressure to pull back U.S. democracy promotion efforts, given the Bush administration’s legacy and increasing talk of a global “democratic recession.”  The United States can and should remain an active supporter of democracy abroad. By building a new approach to democracy promotion around the new president’s cardinal values—non-confrontational, measured, cooperative, and empowering—the United States can regain its place as a respected, trusted, and influential ally of democracy around the world.

Thomas Carothers offers a wide-ranging assessment of the state of democracy in the world, finding that despite set backs in the troubled regions of the Middle East and former Soviet Union, democracy has not experienced a global retreat this decade.  Good news on democratization, though often less visible, has occurred in roughly equal proportion to bad news, and considerable continuity exists in many places.  By taking on this more balanced perspective, the Obama administration can ensure that unnecessary pessimism does not hinder important U.S. support for democracy.

Understanding Democracy Development in Key Regions

  • Former Soviet Union
    Most of the former Soviet Union is either as undemocratic as it was at the start of the decade or even more so.
  • Asia
    There are many troubled democratic governments and outright nondemocratic governments on the continent, but on the whole it is not substantially less democratic today than it was ten years ago.
  • Middle East
    Most of the countries in the region have not moved backward, instead they have experienced stasis leavened by a certain amount of liberalizing political reforms.
  • Africa
    The democratic wave that hit Africa in the early 1990s left it roughly equally divided between countries that had made real democratic gains and those that had not; a situation that remains largely the same today.
  • Latin America
    Democracy has persisted despite all its flaws, a persistence that contrasts the earlier pattern of democratic reversals following expansion.
  • Central and Southeastern Europe
    Despite the rise of populist movements that support intolerance and anti-elitist demagoguery, there is not a fundamental cirsis of democracy in the region.
End of document

About the Democracy and Rule of Law Program

The Carnegie Democracy and Rule of Law Program rigorously examines the global state of democracy and the rule of law and international efforts to support their advance.


In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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