Since the mid twentieth century the West has had history on its side, which has likely led to its belief that the global future would and should be shaped in its own image. After the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, perhaps the most enduring assumption of the West has been that globalization is the ultimate catalyst for democracy. Judging from recent history, it would seem that one of the most prominent outcome for a situation in which democratic ideals find their way across the borders of authoritarian states is the inevitability of democratization.
There is a common consensus, especially and continually perpetuated by the West, that democracy and globalization go hand in hand. The idea is not a flawed one and the relationship between the two has been further reinforced in many countries by positive feedback from financial and economic globalization leading to increased political democratization. Yet the question of whether globalization can actually help initiate the process of democratization still remains, as one could point to cases in Central Europe and Asia where economic integration was encouraged by political democratization while also equally highlighting cases in Latin American countries where an embrace of democracy has fueled popular backlash.
The concept and efficacy of an independent democratic nation-state (as the West envisions) in particular, seems to be up for debate as substantial areas of human activity have become reliant on the influences of globalization. Globalization is a complex and controversial process. It has shaped the modern world with the West at the helm and has forged alliances between countries as fervently as it has driven countries apart. As the West, specifically the United States, has achieved dominance throughout the last century, perhaps one of its chief exports has been the concepts of freedom and democracy. This essay explores the relationship between globalization and the processes ” or lack thereof ” of political democratization in the primary emerging global powers, to determine whether or not the rise, expanding influence, and recent political developments of these countries (both democratic and authoritarian) pose an underlying threat to democracy worldwide. The essay is divided into three sections that discuss the following: the recent historical association between globalization and democracy, the effects of democratization on the world’s leading developing economies with a focus on the three democratic BRICS countries who have undergone the process, and finally some of the potential threats to liberal democracy in emerging economies (and beneficiaries of globalization) who have not. The last section specifically discusses the failures of China, Russia, and Turkey in implementing democratic governance, and why their authoritarian alternatives could prove to be dangerous for the rest of the developing world as the West loses influence. The ultimate conclusion of this piece is that although there has been significant progress in the consolidation of democratic processes and procedures throughout the world since the latter half of the twentieth century, in a world organized increasingly along regional and global lines the democratic political community faces greater uncertainty as it navigates the new challenges presented by integrated economies and a globalized world. A Brief History of Globalization and Democracy In theory and in practice, political and economic freedoms reinforce one another. Both Kupchan (2012) and Huntington (1993) emphasize the point that an expanding middle class and economic development provide a more nurturing environment for the creation and the expansion of a strong middle class. In turn, economic freedoms and rising income historically have created a more educated and politically aware class of citizens, willing to exercise their civic rights, Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the chief export of the West has indeed proven to be freedom and democracy. Perhaps the most concrete evidence of the impact of globalization on the process of democratization has been the adoption of democratic principles, and the basic principles of human rights that reinforce them, into many international organizations. For example, the United Nations historically has had the power to convene a war crimes tribunal to promote international justice. In the twenty-first century, the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction to prosecute for the most serious crimes affecting the international community, such as genocide and crimes against humanity. Regional institutions have also been affected by the infusion of democratic principles. The European Union requires democratic governance as a prerequisite for membership, and the promotion of democracy remains a core part of its foreign policy objectives, while the Organization of American States actively works to restore democracy if it is threatened in member states. This regional process, however, is limited by the fact that often the largest and most economically powerful members of these organizations are already democratic, creating an environment which applies pressure to nondemocratic nations to liberalize in order to be accepted by the international community. It would also seem that this process of regional cooperation to promote democracy is the product of a predominately Western society that has placed its hope in both the direct and indirect effects of globalization. In regions lacking a comprehensive and overt commitment to democratic reform, it is typical for both Western policymakers and nongovernmental organizations to instigate and impose greater popular pressures for democracy in exchange for economic benefits and trade agreements. Kupchan (2012) also discusses how the more centralized and authoritarian empires of the nineteenth century did not emerge as global leaders. Recent history has proven that liberal democracy reinforced by globalization is indeed the better alternative to highly centralized regimes, but this process also has the potential to give authoritarian leaders an edge. Latin America is a prime example of twenty-first century dictatorships using democracy as a tool to consolidate power, legitimize authority, and oppress citizens. In various forms and stages, these democratic regimes that embrace rather than reject democracy as a useful tool to legitimize brutal repression, are carefully crafted and gradually implemented. Unlike twentieth century dictatorships in the region, modern dictators use democracy to both attain and retain power, a phenomenon which can be observed in the countries of Venezuela and Nicaragua in the last decade. In addition, economic progress ushered in by globalization and democratization have the potential to impact and strengthen authoritarian regimes in two ways. If the immediate impact is positive, an improved economy and greater access to modern goods and technology may boost the favorability of a regime, and its legitimacy could be strengthened by the perception that it has delivered improvements. Indeed, Kupchan (2012) identifies China as another nation who, although not democratic, has earned its legitimacy through its ability to perform strongly and deliver prosperity to its citizens. Conversely, it is a possibility that negative economic outcomes may be attributed to globalization. If disillusionment with economic reform arises, the insistence of Western policymakers to forge a link between reform and democratization may be used as an authoritarian advantage. Furthermore, it is important that that the relationship between democracy and globalization in the contemporary era also acknowledges the relationship between democracy and development, as these two words can mean fundamentally different things in conflicting political discourses. Globalization has been the ultimate tool by which the West has embarked on a mission to assist developing nations and mold them in its image with the hope that they will return the favor by acting as strategic allies when called upon. For the West, there is no better way to promote development than through the ideological and political forces of democracy. Thus, historically the tendency to associate development with globalization further reinforced the fluidity of the relationship between democracy and globalization. Munck (2002) elaborates on this, saying that globalization and the subsequent spread of democracy that has accompanied it has disproven the once fashionable notion that dictatorships, or at least authoritarian regimes, were necessary to force development. Interestingly, while he may have been correct at the time Munck clearly did not anticipate the immense economic development that China would experience as a non-democratic global power. The more recent trends towards greater authoritarianism as a result of globalization are discussed later in this essay.Democracy in Emerging Economies ” the BRICS Any analysis of the contemporary relationship between democracy and globalization must also include a discussion of BRICS, the association between five of the world’s major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. These five countries account for 28% of global GDP and comprise 42% of the world’s population (Branco, 2015). A decade ago it was predicted by many that BRICS would reshape the world economy as they forged ahead with new initiatives directed at revitalizing regional integration throughout the developing world. More recently, however, the BRICS countries have encountered numerous limitations to further integration. As Branco (2015) states, the BRICS association is made up of countries with vastly different histories and economic and political experiences, and the divergence between them over core issues ” as well as internal political and socioeconomic instability ” could prove to be detrimental to their functionality, and could stand in the way of real economic progress.Considering that India, Brazil, and South Africa (IBSA) are the only democratic states of the BRICS association, some analysts have posed the question of whether or not they have a greater responsibility to act as a model for other emerging economies. The alliance between these three nations has encouraged hope for a more equitable and stable transition of power away from the West and to the developing world as they share foreign policy objectives and democratic political systems. When analyzing the overall BRICS grouping that has emerged as one of the most significant associations of economic power throughout the last decade, the ideological divergences between the five nations are extremely interesting. All of the members have fundamentally different economies, political situations, and presumably reasons for wanted to be a part of the BRICS framework, yet arguably IBSA share more not only with each other, but also with the West in terms of values and political systems than they do with either Russia or China. Therefore, it no longer makes sense to address these five countries as a group with numerous and significant similarities. It is important, however, for the three democratic BRICS to exist as a role model for other developing economies, as democracy undeniably matters for sustaining growth and development. Although it would be a mistake to characterize the governments of Brazil, India, and South Africa as ideal democratic models, they are countries that are increasingly providing alternative global leadership to industrialized economies and therefore have the potential to be the new global leaders. India in particular has received glowing endorsements over the years for its commitment to democracy. Rizvi (2007) went so far as to state that the majority of India’s successes are owed not to economic integration, but to its own democratic institutions and processes. But for the moment, it would seem that these countries lack the necessary commitments to the liberal order as well as the ability to project their rising power. According to Schultz (2015), the benefits of IBSA’s development are still too unevenly distributed to achieve the significant growth needed for international competitiveness with China or the United States. The growing economic influence of IBSA is indisputable, yet their political strength is less obvious and there is doubt that their entry onto the stage of global governance would strengthen any developing international consensus. It is crucial that these new powers have the same commitment to the collective defense of democracy ” as well as other issues of international importance such as the protection of human rights, nuclear nonproliferation, etc. ” that the modern world’s traditional global leaders in the West have. Off additional concern is the fact that democracy might be losing appeal as increasingly authoritarian democratic leaders consolidate their hold on power, most notably in India and Brazil whose recent elections had significant implications for the global spread of democracy. They were both watched closely by outside nations, particularly Western nations who have a strong interest in seeing democratic governance prevail amongst their allies. In India, Prime Minister Modi was reelected in a landslide victory, though he ran on a platform of strong Hindu-nationalist ideology, ethnic cleansing, and intolerance of Muslims. With his victory, it can only be expected that religious divisions will widen throughout the country and the effects of this division in the world’s largest democracy could be devastating for the basic liberal principles of freedom, expression, and secular government.Somewhat similarly, Brazil’s newly elected president Jair Bolsonaro has made statements indicating that he is not opposed to the return of military rule, prompting many international actors to declare a Brazilian war on democracy. Although Brazilians are probably accustomed to a political spectacle, the heavy-handed Bolsonaro somehow rode his way into office on a wave of populism and anti-establishment backlash and the explicit backing of ultra-religious, conservative groups as well as dissatisfied popular sectors and the military establishment. As of right now, it would appear that Bolsonaro is currently incapable of delivering on many of his radical campaign promises due to a deadlocked congress and the corruption that has sadly become standard in the Brazilian government. Fears ” both domestic and international ” that he will begin to dismantle the country’s democratic institutions and limit participation continue to abound, inciting worry that Brazil’s potential impact as part of the IBSA coalition will be greatly diminished. The third member of the IBSA grouping is South Africa, an emerging power with fairly strong democratic institutions that were created during the transition from minority to majority rule in 1994. Against the backdrop of the dialogue and increasing debate on the promotion of democracy by emerging powers, South Africa provides an interesting example. Its process of democratization is considered to be a comparatively successful relative to its peers in Sub-Saharan Africa, although the post-apartheid shift has not been without significant problems. For all of its political progress, the country still faces enormous economic and social challenges rooted in inequalities that neither economic integration or democratization has managed to reduce. Gibson (2015) highlights extreme racial divides as one of the primary reasons as to why South Africa faces a tough road to building a strong democratic state and indicates that the success of democratization depends significantly on leaders’ abilities to minimize animosity and hostility amongst the country’s many racial and ethnic groups. From a more political standpoint, Khadiagala and Nganje (2016) argue that while the promotion of democracy was a prominent feature in South African policy in the years immediately following apartheid, more recent administrations have since faltered in advancing democratic norms largely due to their disregard for democratic principles and a failure to promote human rights.This is all particularly alarming because, while we know China and Russia are illiberal and do not embrace democracy, when the leaders of traditionally democratic countries like India and Brazil embrace strong nationalism and repressive bigotry it provokes the question of whether two