Rising to the Authoritarian Challenge | Freedom House

Rising to the Authoritarian Challenge

The American Interest

by Daniel Calingaert
Executive Vice President


Modern authoritarianism is on the march, driving an eight-year global decline in democracy and posing a serious threat to U.S. values and interests. The continued Russian support for armed separatists in Ukraine and the recent court verdict in Egypt against Al Jazeera journalists are just the latest examples. Modern authoritarians tend to claim a popular mandate through elections and preserve a semblance of pluralism even as they hollow out its content. They present a façade of respectable leadership abroad but spawn many of the threats to U.S. security and economic interests and undermine international norms and institutions designed to constrain abuses of power.

Meanwhile, U.S. policy on democracy support, especially during the Obama administration, has been largely reactive. We respond, vigorously or not, to one setback after another—to mass convictions of opposition activists in Egypt, attacks on journalists in Pakistan, Venezuela’s crackdown on protests, China’s prosecutions of human rights activists, election fraud in Azerbaijan, new internet restrictions in Vietnam, additional restrictions on non-governmental organizations in Algeria, efforts in Kenya to cut off foreign funding for NGOs, and so on. At times, as in the Kenya case, domestic resistance and international criticism manage to stall or defeat a repressive measure. More often, however, the international condemnation is ignored and the repression continues. The United States and other democracies are constantly playing (and mostly losing) a giant game of Whac-a-Mole.

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