Richard Youngs and Thomas Carothers

A striking feature of international democracy support is the connection between a country’s domestic experience with democracy and the shape of its efforts to promote democracy beyond its borders. The nature of a state’s democratic transition inevitably influences how it perceives and interacts with transition processes in other countries. In addition, the specific form of its own democratic institutions will condition how it seeks to support institutional reform in other countries. 

These linkages can be a source of strength. By drawing on their country’s own experiences with a particular institutional form or political process, aid providers and democracy activists can offer usefully grounded knowledge to others grappling with similar challenges. Yet they can also prove problematic if those same actors try to export their own transitional experiences and institutional forms to disparate contexts in which different democratic solutions are needed. Western support for democracy around the world in recent decades has often embodied both the strengths and weaknesses of such internal-external linkages.

As rising democracies in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere increasingly engage in supporting democracy outside their borders, internal-external linkages in this domain take new forms. Often these countries have only relatively recently transitioned from authoritarian to democratic rule, and thus lessons from their own experience about how democratization should or should not unfold are vivid in the minds of policymakers and aid providers. For example, a country whose transition was highly conflictual may put special emphasis on helping other states achieve early consensus among contending political actors. Or a country that enjoyed constructive external involvement in its own transition may be more favorably inclined to engage in a very active mode of democracy support than one that experienced little or counterproductive outside interference in its own transition. In addition, given that such countries often focus their external support efforts on their immediate neighborhoods, they may feel that the shape of their own domestic political institutions has great potential relevance and applicability among their near neighbors.

Thus, exploring the internal-external linkages that characterize the democracy support work of rising democracies is a useful early step in gaining a deeper appreciation of how these countries go about such work. It sheds light on the assertion made by actors in some rising democracies that their external democracy work benefits from political nuances and sensitivities that Western democracy assistance may lack. To help illuminate this issue, experts in the recently established Carnegie Rising Democracies Network explain, on a case-by-case basis, how the experience of democratic transition influences external democracy support policies in Brazil, Chile, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, and Eastern Europe. These case studies highlight how the expanding range of actors involved in international democracy support is increasing the variety and complexity of the field overall.


Oliver Stuenkel

Brazil’s democratic transition, which began in the late 1970s, was gradual, steady, and relatively peaceful. After introducing free and fair national elections in the 1980s, the government undertook market-oriented reforms and controlled inflation in the 1990s and initiated broad cash-transfer programs to reduce poverty and inequality in the 2000s. Current priorities include combating impunity among the political leadership, improving public services (education, infrastructure, and healthcare), and addressing continued human rights abuses by the police forces. To some extent, these steps can be seen as part of a complex, generation-long turn toward democracy. 

This process was, however, marked by frequent setbacks. In a surprise victory in 1985, Brazil’s opposition candidate Tancredo Neves won the country’s first openly contested presidential election after twenty-one years of military rule. But he fell ill and died days before his inauguration, making José Sarney, Neves’s chosen vice president and the former leader of the pro-military party, Brazil’s first democratically elected president since 1964. Sarney’s successor was impeached in 1992 for corruption. Yet even those early missteps contributed to consolidating the democratic process, and ongoing problems and occasional setbacks have not stopped the quality of Brazil’s democracy from steadily improving over the past thirty years.

Compared to other countries’ experiences, the Brazilian political transition was relatively drawn out. Military leaders legalized the formation of parties in 1979, but full democratization occurred only over time. Rather than staging a revolution to overthrow the military government, Brazil’s substantial (although often divided) democratic opposition, which included the Catholic Church, labor unions, intellectuals, and other parts of civil society, won a string of small but significant victories for change. Maintaining positive civil-military relations was an important aspect of the transition. 

Brazil’s democratization is also relatively recent. Most of today’s political leaders were protagonists in the transition process as jailed dissidents, exiles, or protest leaders. 

Democratization occurred without the explicit intervention of international actors (the IMF played a key role in the 1980s, but it was not a prodemocratic force). This fact helps explain why Brazilian foreign policy makers today remain skeptical that outside intervention of any kind can be of much help in a country’s quest to democratize, even though Brazilian political leaders agree that outsiders can at times help mediate internal conflicts. Furthermore, Brazil’s relatively smooth and bloodless transition contributed to a natural reluctance to support potentially disruptive prodemocratic movements that may lead to sudden instability and complicate civil-military relations. 

For Brazilians, one of the greatest achievements of their country’s democratization process was the fact that incumbent leaders were able to finish their terms and hand over power to their successors in an orderly way, without protracted violence or mass upheaval. It is precisely this very basic yet fundamental element of democracy—the peaceful transfer of power—that Brazil most vigorously defends in the region. This stance may help explain why, despite large-scale government repression of the Venezuelan opposition, Brazil still considers a potential overthrow of President Nicolás Maduro’s government by domestic protesters a threat to regional stability.


Claudio Fuentes

Following Chile’s transition to democracy in 1990, the country’s new leaders began developing a set of foreign policy initiatives to promote human rights abroad. Several consecutive governments promoted Chile’s proactive involvement in various regional and global institutions—the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Organization of American States, the UN Human Rights Council, the International Labor Organization, and the UN Security Council, among others. Under these governments, the Chilean armed forces also participated in international peacekeeping operations and contributed to international debates on pressing global issues, such as the UN discussion on the global responsibility to protect populations from war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. 

Chile’s domestic experience of transition helped inform this proactive approach in three ways. 

First, the experience of human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973 to 1990, pushed Chile’s new democratic authorities to make human rights protection a foreign policy priority. Moreover, domestic transitional justice initiatives that focused on truth finding and reparations made human rights concerns more salient both internally and in Chile’s engagement abroad. 

Second, Chile’s first generation of democratically elected policymakers played a crucial role in shaping the country’s emphasis on international human rights protection. Those who took on high-level government positions after the transition brought with them their personal experiences during the dictatorship as well as their in-depth knowledge of the region. This well-prepared group of politicians and foreign policy experts, many of whom completed postgraduate studies abroad, developed an extensive set of policies that profoundly influenced Chilean foreign policy in the subsequent years. 

Third, policy continuity also played an important role in bringing human rights to center stage. Between 1990 and 2010, Chile was governed by the same ruling coalition, which promoted a very coherent set of policies enforced by a group of policymakers who shared a common understanding of the role and importance of human rights in foreign policy. 

These three factors—historical context, political leadership, and substantial policy continuity—were crucial in shaping Chile’s considerable engagement in advancing human rights abroad.


Niranjan Sahoo

Once considered an unlikely candidate for democracy, India’s political journey continues to surprise international observers. With each passing election, India’s democratic credentials have grown stronger. Unsurprisingly, successful democratic governance in a large and highly diverse country like India that is plagued by mass poverty and low levels of literacy has attracted considerable academic interest and global recognition. Given India’s success, Western powers tend to see the country as a beacon of democracy in a region characterized by authoritarian regimes and failed states.

However, India remains hesitant to exercise soft power to promote democracy beyond its borders. The country has stayed away from taking official positions on democracy promotion and human rights protection. 

The reasons why India tends to avoid including democracy support in its foreign policy stem from the country’s complex domestic politics and institutional processes. Respect for national sovereignty, a legacy of India’s anticolonial struggle and Cold War anxiety, remains an abiding principle of the country’s foreign policy. The memory of colonial subjugation and perceived virtues of nonalignment, through which India sought to position itself as the leader of the Third World, mean that Indian diplomats still tend toward nonintervention and active or interventionist democracy support finds few backers within India’s foreign policy establishment. New Delhi’s strong line on nonintervention is also shaped by the ongoing conflict over Kashmir and India’s fear that it could be subjected to external involvement in that contested region. 

While India’s insistence on national sovereignty has to be seen in the context of a turbulent neighborhood and the country’s difficult relationships with Pakistan and China, it is also related to India’s internal challenges, particularly the unfinished nation-building project in Kashmir and the northeast of the country in particular. The government has a poor human rights record in Kashmir, the northeast region, and wide swathes of territories ravaged by left-wing extremism, and that fact acts as a constant drag on India’s position on human rights violations elsewhere. Thus, while Indian officials have been acutely aware of widespread rights violations in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, they have shied away from taking an explicitly confrontational stand. 

Similarly, while India’s elites feel proud of their country’s democratic successes, they are conscious of its many failings. The existence of mass poverty, widespread disparities among different social groups, corruption, and the continued exclusion of a significant section of the population raise serious doubts about the efficacy of India’s democratic process. This means the country has yet to emerge as an uncontested democratic role model, a shortcoming that is accentuated by India’s ever fractious and highly contentious political process. 

Intense political competition, the rise of coalition politics, and the fragile nature of political regimes have led to a leadership that is increasingly risk averse in its foreign policy choices. This has been vividly demonstrated by India’s uneven stance on Sri Lanka in recent years.

India’s dismal rights records, domestic vulnerabilities, volatile neighborhood, and rocky democratic transition have a decisive bearing on India’s foreign policy postures when it comes to values such as democracy support. Given this, India’s democracy support has mostly been in the form of extending technical assistance, capacity building, and institutional strengthening.

Yet, in recent years, there has been considerable positive movement with regard to India’s changing worldview on the role of democracy and human rights concerns in its foreign policy. The interaction of various internal and external stimuli seems to be creating an environment that is conducive to increasing democracy promotion efforts. The global recognition of India’s democratic success, the country’s growing economic clout, its craving for great-power status, and the increasing realization among some sections of New Delhi’s foreign policy elite that the country should shoulder greater global responsibilities and speak up for universal values such as human rights and democracy seem to be converging to influence India’s foreign policy outlook. 

This gradual change has been aided further by positive and sustained engagement with Western democracies (especially the 2008 agreement between India and the United States on civil nuclear cooperation). India has joined the Western-backed Community of Democracies, which supports emerging democracies, and has become as one of the most important sponsors of the UN Democracy Fund. 

India’s democracy promotion policy is still a work in progress, but sustained engagement by Western powers may persuade this powerful exemplar of democracy to take a stance befitting its growing international stature. 


I Ketut Putra Erawan

The case of Indonesia exemplifies the close connection between a country’s experiences in democratization and its initiatives for external democracy support. Democracy and reform processes in Indonesia, reformasi, are perceived as new foundational national values and experiences that need to be nurtured internally and shared externally. The country’s experience of democratization strongly colors the characteristics and approach of its external democracy support initiatives in a number of ways. 

Indonesia’s democratic transition was predicated on the effort to promote new democratic values and norms, build and reform democratic institutions, and nurture democratic practices in the arenas of state, society, and politics. Initiatives geared toward building and consolidating democratic norms and institutions are now at the heart of Indonesia’s substantive external democracy support to countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Southeast Asia, and other regions. 

The country’s democratic transition entailed the positive engagement and interaction of the state with civil society and other nonstate actors. The emergence of reformers from inside Indonesia’s state institutions brought not only greater legitimacy to the process of change but also the possibility of reforming the state from the inside. The engagement of civil society, media, and other nonstate activists then became crucial for sustaining the reform process. 

As a result, Indonesian democracy support efforts target state, civil society, and nonstate actors. Through the Bali Democracy Forum initiative, an annual intergovernmental summit on the development of democracy in the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesia engages state actors in its neighborhood and beyond to share their experiences with and learn about democracy. To follow through on the initiative and build a system that supports democracy and peace, Indonesia established the Institute for Peace and Democracy in 2008. The institute was given a mandate to design and implement programs and activities that engaged various state actors, media, and other civil society organizations. 

Lessons and experiences made available by international and regional actors and institutions informed Indonesia’s democratic consolidation. These external partners shared with Indonesia examples of constitution building, legal reforms, party reform, accountability mechanisms, and other institution-building challenges. International and regional actors provided support while respecting Indonesia’s internal processes and its leaders, an approach that is now reflected in the country’s emerging foreign policy. The engagement of international and regional partners through tripartite mechanisms is supported in a way intended to underpin internal processes and leadership.

Finally, the prominence of peace-building experiences in Indonesia’s transition also shapes the characteristics of the country’s external democracy support. For example, the Institute for Peace and Democracy has carried out efforts to share Indonesian experiences on bridge-building reform platforms with Egypt, Tunisia, Myanmar, and other countries in transition. The idea is to support democracy through shared ownership, broad participation, and internal leadership.


Maiko Ichihara

Japan is one of the few countries that did not democratize as a result of a domestic social movement for political change. Instead, the current democratic regime was installed in the aftermath of World War II by external forces led by the United States. Due to the lack of a mass democratization movement in their own country, the Japanese remain generally opposed to supporting popular struggles for political change abroad. 

Japan’s developmental state model, which is characterized by a high degree of central planning and regulation, has only strengthened these political beliefs. In Japan, the state bureaucracy plays a substantial role in both policy development and implementation. Bureaucrats also play an important part in building consensus on state policy behind the scenes, while the legislature’s role is relatively limited compared to other democratic political systems. The central position assigned to Japan’s bureaucracy enabled the country’s rapid economic development in the postwar years. The Japanese government, especially up to the mid-2000s, firmly believed in the utility of assigning the unelected state bureaucracy a main part in driving the country’s development.

As a result, Japan has a relatively weak democratic tradition, which is reflected in the country’s external democracy assistance policy. While the Japanese government has launched multiple policy frameworks on democracy support since the early 1990s, the country has not become a major player in the field. Between 1995 and 2012, Japan on average only allocated approximately 1 percent of its official development assistance to democracy support. By contrast, most Northern European and Anglo-Saxon countries allocated approximately 10 percent or more of their official development assistance to democracy-related aid. Moreover, Japan’s efforts in this domain are largely driven by an instrumental rationale—the country sees promoting democracy as a means to promote economic development.

The absence of a popular democratization movement and the traditional belief in strong state bureaucracies also help explain why more than 98 percent of the limited democracy assistance Japan does give is allocated to state institutions. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs employs a clearly state-centered approach to democratization, so Japanese aid for democracy provides little in the way of civil society assistance.

South Africa 

Tjiurimo Alfredo Hengari

In a seminal piece in Foreign Affairs in 1993, Nelson Mandela, who would become the first president of a democratic South Africa, set the country’s foreign policy compass, insisting that “human rights will be the light that guides our foreign affairs.” Governments in South Africa since then have framed foreign policy in these strong normative and prescriptive terms. South Africa’s economic weight gives it sufficient influence to effect change on the African continent, and the country’s elites have sought to use the inspirational value of South Africa’s transition to democracy in 1994 to spark other transitions. 

At the heart of the transition was a model of tolerance and overcoming injustice. An abiding legacy of South Africa’s transition is that democratization was about “the weak” prevailing over “the strong.” That model now sits at the root of South Africa’s external projection, and this ethos continues to condition the way democracy support is woven into the broader aspects of South African foreign policy. 

A result of this legacy is a duality in South Africa’s foreign policy. During the apartheid years, South Africans saw some countries providing considerable support to the African National Congress (ANC) while other countries supported the government the ANC was fighting. As a result, some in the ANC came to associate democratic transitions with overcoming Western geostrategic neoimperialism; this has bred a reluctance to be at all interventionist in foreign policy. On the other hand, some came to see democracy support more as a civic-led movement with strong links across borders. This school of thought has pushed for more active South African democracy promotion policies built on support for civil society rather than cautious government-to-government, sovereigntist diplomacy. 

As the ANC has been the country’s hegemonic political force since 1994, South Africa’s diplomacy still reflects the anti-imperialist logic that informed the struggle for freedom. This fact explains in part why the country has not pursued a consistent, activist approach to democracy support over the past twenty years but rather an ad hoc, triangulated one. The regionalization of South Africa’s democracy promotion approach has often led to poorly shared values on democracy and human rights, including the country being perceived as too weak on these crucial anchors in its own constitution and foreign policy. 

The country also experienced democratic transition through extensive negotiation and compromise rather than a single, big-bang event, in part due to an emphasis on the reconciliation of a divided population. Reflecting this experience, South Africa often pursues democracy support through a gradualist, conflict-mediation lens. The country seeks to use its own transition and negotiated settlement as a tool to end conflict in Africa. This approach gives it a natural entry point for democracy support in countries where South Africa is increasingly called upon to play a role. It has also meant that in certain instances, such as in Ivory Coast, South Africa has sought to promote peace at the expense, at least in the short term, of the formal processes of competitive elections and that support for truth commissions is prominent. 

One curious factor is South Africa’s aversion to democracy-related sanctions. Sanctions played a role in the country’s transition, and democrats often called for tougher sanctions. Yet South Africa is firmly against the assumption that sanctions can help other democrats elsewhere. The country proceeds rather cautiously, eschewing aggressive democracy agendas that use a system of rewards and sanctions. This approach is somewhat at odds with the ANC’s liberation struggle, in which sanctions against the apartheid regime were considered an important pillar of international efforts to ensure a democratic South Africa. But this aversion to sanctions is not unexpected in light of the bipolar nature of support for the ANC in exile. South Africans anchor their country’s foreign policy posture in the global South and particularly oppose any sanctions outside the United Nations system, viewing such measures as a tool used by the strong against the weak. 

Through the legacy of the past and the messianic tone used by the ANC as it was endorsing the transition in 1994, South Africa has elevated itself to a principled role, and it could serve as a guarantor and promoter of democratic norms and values, particularly in Africa. However, the past two decades have witnessed shortcomings in the manner in which such values have been instituted in South Africa’s external democracy support initiatives. The same features of the country’s transition that inspire others also inhibit or confuse South African democracy promotion efforts abroad. The normative bases in the country’s foreign policy, with democracy at the core, have been pursued inconsistently—albeit within the limits of what is possible and permissible in light of South Africa’s own history and the structural international political context in which the country operates. 

South Korea

Sook Jong Lee

South Korea’s democratic transition began in 1987, when the ruling authoritarian regime gave in to popular demands to reinstate direct presidential elections (an indirect system had been in place since 1972). The country’s democratization struggle drew the participation of diverse liberal segments of South Korean civil society. The involvement of white-collar workers and middle-class citizens in this struggle played a critical role in pushing the country’s ruling elites to seek a compromise for political liberalization. 

The bloodless political transition capped two decades of tenacious struggles led by intellectual dissidents, college students, and labor activists. The student movement had carried the torch of democracy since it toppled the autocratic First Republic in 1960. 

Despite the ongoing efforts of this popular movement, the military-mandated authoritarian leaders that ruled South Korea effectively quashed demands for democratization by appealing to the wider public’s desire for stability and economic development. After the military entered politics with a 1961 coup, the military-backed authoritarian regime pushed for modernization as a rationale for maintaining power. A majority of the Korean populace agreed to accept limited political freedom in return for economic development. The rapid transition from an aid-dependent country to a newly industrialized economy gave legitimacy to the authoritarian status quo. In addition, the country’s strongly anticommunist national ideology and pressing external security challenges restrained popular demand for liberal democracy. 

The educated middle-class citizens who were the product of this successful modernization process eventually came to reject the regime for preventing further political liberalization. 

The role of international organizations or foreign governments in this evolution was limited. In fact, the United States, an influential ally of South Korea, did little to press the ruling authoritarian regimes for reform at critical junctures in the process of democratization. 

South Korea’s democratic transition thus grew out of successful internal modernization. It was successful only after the country had already modernized substantially. 

This particular pattern explains why South Korea today supports the democratization of developing countries primarily through indirect means. Although South Korea experienced a tenacious internal struggle for political change and has evolved into a vibrant democracy, its government and nongovernmental organizations remain reluctant to support democratization struggles in other parts of the world directly. Having experienced no such intervention from the outside world during their own democratic transition, most Koreans view autonomous democratization as the most viable path. 

Moreover, South Koreans tend to believe that democracy is sustainable only once a certain level of economic development has been achieved. Accordingly, the country invests the majority of its foreign aid resources into supporting the socioeconomic modernization efforts of developing countries, focusing on development planning, education, and health. Institutional support for democracy has so far been limited to assisting legal and administrative bureaucracies and governance rather than political institutions per se. The binding legacy of its own democratic transition therefore explains why South Korea, a rising democratic power, is not proactive in international democracy support. 


Senem Aydin-Düzgit

Nowhere is the linkage between a country’s domestic political system and its support for democracy and human rights beyond its borders more visible than in Turkey. In the Turkish case, this connection is best illustrated through three main processes. 

The first concerns the debates on Turkey’s potential as a democratic model in the Middle East. Turkey became active in democracy promotion after the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 in what was widely seen as a test case of whether Islam and democracy could indeed be compatible in a modern state. But the AKP also rose to power during the period of the Iraq war, which substantially changed the political dynamics in the Middle East and resulted in a heightened focus on democratization in the region. The Turkish reform process emerged as a possible model for the other countries in the neighborhood. 

However, Turkey’s own trajectory of democratic reform has stagnated due to the increasingly authoritarian moves of the governing party following its reelection in 2007. As a result, the country’s attractiveness as a possible model has also waned, which has translated into a more cautious Turkish foreign policy. 

A second important internal-external linkage in the Turkish case pertains to the ways in which the AKP, particularly after the Arab Spring, has used the discourse of democracy promotion in the Middle East and North Africa to consolidate its power base at home. This tactic was particularly visible in the case of Egypt: Turkey strongly condemned the July 2013 military coup that overthrew Egypt’s then president, the Muslim Brotherhood–backed Mohamed Morsi. Turkey vocally expressed its support for Morsi and the Brotherhood, and Turkish policymakers repeatedly drew parallels between the Islamists’ struggle in Egypt and the AKP itself, as well as to its predecessors’ historical struggle against the Turkish military and secularist establishment. The AKP and its supporters further branded the Turkish opposition’s calls for a more nuanced policy toward Egypt a manifestation of their undemocratic intentions. 

Similarly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly used anti-Shia rhetoric in reference to the ongoing Syrian civil war in order to discredit his own domestic opponents. He has hinted, for example, at a so-called kinship-based affinity between the Shia leadership in Syria and Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, leader of the main Turkish opposition party, because Kiliçdaroglu is an Alevi, a member of a minority sect of Shia Islam often associated with the ruling Alawites in Syria. 

The AKP’s role in Turkey’s democratization is further reflected in the strong imprint of the party’s ideology on foreign policy positions. 

A final key linkage between domestic political developments and Turkish democracy promotion efforts concerns the rise of neo-Islamist ideology, which became prevalent across the Turkish state and government bureaucracy with the AKP’s ascent to power. In the foreign policy realm, this ideology envisions a strong revival of Turkey’s soft power in the post-Ottoman space through the country’s cultural, historical, and religious ties to the region. It is therefore no coincidence that the volume and scope of Turkish democracy assistance (as well as its development and humanitarian assistance) in neighboring regions has increased substantially under AKP rule. The regional dimension went hand in hand with the AKP’s internal political project and was mirrored in the nature of external democracy support. 

Eastern Europe

Tsveta Petrova

The Eastern European members of the EU, and especially Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Lithuania, are some of the most active emerging donors providing external democracy support. Unlike many other new democracies, Eastern European states do not negatively associate democracy promotion with an imposition of Western values. In fact, for much of Eastern Europe, the end of the Cold War was a victory for the democratic West over the regional imperial power, the Soviet Union, and its autocratic governance system. 

Aspiring to the practices, values, and ideals of the West and joining the Euro-Atlantic community were national priorities for all these Eastern European countries in the first decade after their democratic breakthroughs. Membership in organizations such as the EU and NATO has served to underscore the success of these Eastern European democratic transitions in the eyes of the countries’ elites. The important role played by external actors in Eastern European democratization has reinforced the understanding that these transitions represent valuable models that could and should be exported. This external link has also strengthened the conviction that Eastern Europe’s own democracy promotion endeavors could be as successful as Western efforts.

As a result, democracy promotion efforts by Eastern European governments and civil society actors primarily stem from the desire to share their own transition experiences with other countries struggling to overcome authoritarian rule, and the Eastern European countries’ own democratic experiences have influenced their foreign policy priorities. Eastern European democracy promoters thus very consciously and purposefully pass on best practices and lessons learned about what worked and what failed during their own transitions. 

Given the importance of civil society in the postcommunist transitions, most Eastern European democracy promoters provide considerable technical assistance for strengthening civil society abroad. However, different Eastern European states emphasize different elements of civil society based on their own experience. For instance, Poland has invested in local community organizing in particular whereas Slovakia’s assistance efforts generally focus on media- and election-monitoring groups. 

Consider the example of the Slovak civic group MEMO 98—a media watchdog that played a key role in undermining the legitimacy of Slovakia’s illiberal nationalist ruler Vladimír Meciar. Since then, MEMO 98 has participated in media-related election-observation missions and training in more than 30 countries around the globe, from Azerbaijan and Bosnia and Herzegovina to Uganda, Mexico, and Lebanon. 

Together with other Slovak NGOs and a number of Slovak government officials, MEMO 98 has focused on spreading the Slovak model of electoral breakthrough, which is centered on civic campaigns to expose electoral fraud and mobilize the citizenry for democratic change. These efforts have admittedly had little success in autocracies such as Belarus, but they have helped spur electoral revolutions in countries such as Croatia, Serbia, and Ukraine in the past decade. And other Eastern European donors have been exporting their own “recipes” for democratization heavily influenced by their own transition processes, most of which were primarily driven by citizen mobilization and advocacy.

Eastern European democracy promoters also prioritize work with governing elites in recipient countries. Most of this work has been primarily political, that is, building and strengthening the prodemocratic forces within recipient states rather than focusing, like many other donors do, on recipients’ socioeconomic and state development as an intermediate step toward political liberalization. 

A good example is Poland’s promotion of “negotiated democratizations,” modeled on the country’s so-called roundtable transition. In responding to regime-change windows of opportunity in neighboring Ukraine, for instance, in both 2004 and 2013, Poland suggested that the opposition pursue elite-level negotiations and deals with the regime as a way to commit the country to democratization. In 2004, Poland developed a roundtable plan for Ukraine, which was then implemented by the disputing parties in Ukraine to successfully end the political crisis and push the country (temporarily) in a more democratic direction. Poland’s 2013 mediation efforts, however, were less successful.

Lastly, the influence of the Eastern Europeans’ democratic experiences on these countries’ democracy promotion priorities has produced some distinctive thematic investments and policy instrument preferences. For instance, Hungary prefers to implement democracy assistance projects with the consent of the host government and often emphasizes human and especially minority rights questions. Czech diplomats, on the other hand, strongly believe in the power of “naming and shaming” oppressive regimes at the international level. And Estonia has invested in sharing its distinctive e-governance expertise in the realms of information policy and transparency with regional partners. In each case, these thematic priorities reflect aspects central to the country’s own democratic transition.


Richard Youngs and Thomas Carothers

The group of states included here as rising democracies went through different processes of transition. Some of these transitions emerged from consensus and internal compromise, as in Brazil and Chile. Others came about on the back of successful state-led economic modernization campaigns, such as those in Japan and South Korea, or from bottom-up civic activism, as in Central and Eastern Europe. Still others emerged from a powerful party with ideological specificities that carried across national borders, such as the AKP in Turkey, or from peace-building initiatives to quell divisions in the aftermath of dramatic regime change like that in Indonesia.

Each of these countries now draws on the distinct features of its own transition to inform the way in which and the extent to which its supports democracy externally. This internal-external link can be purposive or more instinctive. That is, in some cases these countries seek to share their own transition experiences directly through democracy initiatives that they fund in other countries. In other cases, they simply tend to believe that the nature of their own transition represents the best way for political change to occur. Central and Eastern European states often foster civic activism as something positive, for example, while for Brazil elite-led change is seen as more desirable. 

These types of internal-external links can be seen as both advantageous and problematic. Rising democracies make a valuable contribution to democratization by sharing their own distinctive experiences. They can add much useful experience that is not so readily available to Western democracy promoters. Arguably, however, there is not sufficient recognition on the part of rising democracies that their own models of change might not be the most appropriate for some other societies. Rising democracies struggle to detach from their own transition experiences and design their external support from an understanding of the local desires and particularities of the countries in which they operate. 

In addition, as with established Western democracies, at times these countries operate from myths about their own transitions that underplay complexities and can be unhelpful if projected onto other states. As they fine-tune their democracy support, these rising democracies grapple with the same difficulty that established Western democracies have long faced: they benefit in some ways from the richness of their internal experiences, but they are simultaneously hindered in other ways by the local specificities of their own experiences and models. 

The Carnegie Endowment is grateful to the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Ford Foundation, and the UK Department for International Development for their support of the Rising Democracies Network. The opinions expressed in this paper are the responsibility of the authors.

About the Authors

Richard Youngs is a senior associate in the Carnegie Endowment’s Democracy and Rule of Law Program, based at Carnegie Europe, and a professor of international relations at Warwick University. Prior to joining Carnegie, he was the director of the Madrid- and Brussels-based think tank FRIDE. His latest book, The Uncertain Legacy of Crisis: European Foreign Policy Faces the Future, was published in January 2014.

Thomas Carothers is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is the founder and director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Program and oversees Carnegie Europe in Brussels. Carothers is a leading authority on international support for democracy, rights, and governance and on comparative democratization as well as an expert on U.S. foreign policy.

Oliver Stuenkel is an assistant professor of international relations at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo and a nonresident fellow at the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin. His research focuses on rising powers, specifically Brazil’s, India’s, and China’s foreign policy and their impact on global governance. Stuenkel currently coordinates a research project on emerging powers and the future of the global liberal order. 

Claudio Fuentes is a professor of political science and the director of the Social Science Research Institute at the Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago, Chile, where his research focuses on democratic transitions, police violence, and constitutional reform. In 2011, he was a visiting scholar at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University.

Niranjan Sahoo has been a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi since 2004. He has published extensively on issues of democracy, human rights, decentralized governance, constitutionalism, and nation building in South Asia. His is currently researching the domestic drivers of India’s foreign policy objectives regarding democracy and human rights in South Asia as well as new social movements in India. 

I Ketut Putra Erawan is a scholar and researcher working on democracy issues in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. He is the executive director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, an Indonesian think tank and the implementing agency of the Bali Democracy Forum. He was a special adviser to the minister of foreign affairs of Indonesia and a consultant for the World Bank, the UNDP, and various Indonesian agencies.

Maiko Ichihara is an assistant professor at Kansai Gaidai University in Japan. Her research focuses on international democracy assistance and civil society, and she recently published “Understanding Japanese Democracy Assistance” with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Ichihara is currently working on a comparative study of democracy assistance provided by various developed democracies.

Tjiurimo Alfredo Hengari is the head of the South African Foreign Policy and African Drivers Program at the South African Institute for International Affairs and part-time lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand. He previously served as the chief of cabinet and senior special assistant to the prime minister of the Republic of Namibia and worked as a consultant for the United Nations in Burundi.

Sook Jong Lee is a professor of public administration at Sung Kyun Kwan University in Seoul, South Korea. Since 2008, she has also served as president of the East Asia Institute, a Seoul-based independent think tank. Her research focuses on civil society, political economy, and democracy in Korea and Japan. Lee’s previous positions include senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. 

Senem Aydin-Düzgit is an associate professor and Jean Monnet Chair in the Department of International Relations at Istanbul Bilgi University. Her main research interests include European Union (EU) enlargement, EU-Turkey relations, discourse studies, the politics of identity, and democratization. She is a board member of EDAM and a senior research affiliate of the Istanbul Policy Center at Sabanci University.

Tsveta Petrova is an associate research scholar at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. Petrova’s work focuses on the study of democracy, democratization, and democracy promotion. She is the recipient of several research and teaching awards as well as many fellowships and grants, and her book on democracy export by new democracies is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.