SEATTLE, Washington — The U.S. State Department regards democracy as a national security interest. Democratic nations are more likely to “secure the peace, deter aggression, expand open markets, promote economic development, protect American citizens, combat international terrorism and crime, uphold human and worker rights, avoid humanitarian crises and refugee flows, improve the global environment, and protect human health.” Under this same rationale, as the number of democratic nations increases, the more likely it is that world peace is achieved. There are currently 123 democracies in the world of all 192 countries.
The most basic measure of democracy is electoral efficacy. If a nation has free and fair elections, coupled by competing parties with varied representative interests, it can be classified as a democracy. Yet, democracy is more of a gradient, and involves more than a simple election. Citizens within a democracy should be consolidated, such that both the political leaders and a majority of its citizens are committed to the country’s democratic institutions. According to Larry Diamond, a true democracy should encompass: a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections, the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life, the protection of the human rights of all citizens, and a rule of law.
There are various indexes which measure the levels of democracy across the globe. Most indexes measure democracy through a variety of criteria such as electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation, and political culture. The rating systems are not black and white: most exist on a gradient – full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes, and authoritarian regimes.
One such theory suggests that a country’s level of democracy can be equated to freedoms and other benefits of a democratic society combined with its performance in non-political sectors, such as the economy, education, or the environment. According to a 2012 study conducted by Global Democracy Rating, most of North America, Europe, Australia, and South America were at least moderately democratic. On the other hand, Africa, Asia, and Russia were less democratic.
In 2012, the pace of democratic change worldwide was rather stagnant. According to the editor of The Economic Intelligence Unit, Laza Kekic, “In 2012 global democracy was at a standstill in the sense that there was neither significant progress nor regression in levels of democracy worldwide.” Over half of the world lives in a democracy of some kind, but only 15% of all people live in a full democracy and nearly one third of the world lives under an authoritarian leader.
Globalization drove the explosion of democracy in the late 20th century. In 1999, the State government declared that the spread of democracy and human rights in the late 20th century came as a result of the third wave of globalization. The third wave of globalization led to an international adoption of universal human rights and the rise of transnational actors. Multinational corporations, international institutions, and societies capable of interacting with their governments each played a role in the spread of democracy.
The internet and the free flow of information promoted universal norms such as democratic institutions and human rights. “Just as the Berlin Wall once stood as a physical barrier to movement and the free spread of democracy, governments that abuse human rights also seek to build walls that will stop the free flow of information. But the global information revolution has perforated such walls…”, the US department of State released in 2000.
The most significant change of 2012 occurred in the Middle East and North Africa. During the Arab Spring, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague claimed that the uprisings in the Middle East were the greatest advancement of human rights and freedoms in decades. In 2012, three countries transitioned from authoritarian to hybrid regimes. These developments make it clear that change is possible. But, according to Freedom House, global freedom plummeted for the fifth year in a row. The most steady decline in global freedom in the last 40 years has occurred as a result of authoritarian regimes increasing their repression over their citizens, among other things.
Programs such as International Democracy Watch monitor the progress of institutions across the world. IDW, specifically, measures the lessening influence of nation-states as the process of economic and social globalization progresses. As countries become more democratic, their institutions should naturally allow for basic human rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of information or association. These basic human rights solidify everything that it means to be democratic nation. These key indicators help us to measure how many democratic nations there are in the world.
– Kelsey Ziomek