“Democracy is like a sand castle” — an interview with Dr. Brian Klaas.
Across the globe, democracy is being increasingly questioned and put to test. Authoritarian governments are becoming more emboldened. I spoke with Dr Brian Klaas, an expert on democracy promotion and authoritarianism, on the role the West has played in democracy’s demise and what should be done to reverse this tide and advance a democracy-promotion agenda. — originally published at the Green European Journal
Roderick: How would you describe the current state of democracy in the world?
Brian Klaas: Dismal. The world has become more authoritarian. We have witnessed a twelve-year decline of democracy globally. There are several layers to this.
First, Western countries are having a crisis of faith in democracy. In the West, we are seeing the rise of populism, the rejection of mainstream parties and the rise of new anti-establishment parties. This all follows long-term trends that have been at work, such as increasing inequality and polarisation.
At the same time, there has been a rise of authoritarian populism abroad, which is coinciding with a Western foreign policy that supports this. A lot more people in the West are flirting with or accepting authoritarian regimes in the rest of the world.
Basically, there are four big powers that can affect change: the US, the EU, Russia and China. The first two are democratic and the last two are not. And what has happened since 2016, which is accelerating the decline of democracy, is that the first two – the US and the EU – which normally defend democracy are either cheerleading for authoritarian regimes in the form of Donald Trump or they are complicit in accepting them, as the EU is doing.
So when I talk to people in Africa or South-East Asia, they feel like the West has abandoned democracy.
But active democracy promotion, which the West pursued in previous years, hasn’t turned out very well either. The Arab Spring also didn’t lead to great democratic transformation.
Certainly, the West got it wrong quite often. There is a lot of well-deserved hypocrisy surrounding Western democracy promotion. The way the West deals with Saudi Arabia is a prime example. And I am not someone who pretends that the West is always right. But there are a lot of places in the world where Western democracy promotion has made a difference. Look at Madagascar, Ghana or Cambodia. It’s possible to make a difference there because…