Caveats to Authority

Article excerpt

In his Winter 2010 article "Authoritarianism after 1989: From Regime Types to Transnational Processes," Professor Jason Brownlee incisively points to the transnational character of authoritarianism. Indeed, while the end of the Cold War stimulated numerous studies of the ways in which external factors (such as diffusion, the spread of information technology, international NGOs, and bilateral and multilateral conditionality) promote democracy, scholars have only recently begun to examine how post-Cold War transnational forces may facilitate non-democratic rule. Brownlee draws attention to the frequent collusion between democratic and authoritarian states, a phenomenon rarely discussed in scholarly literature on regimes.

But he could have also noted the increasing cooperation among authoritarian regimes. Thus, the last decade witnessed a remarkable pushback by emerging regional powers such as Russia and Venezuela against Western democracy promotion. Venezuela has aided autocratic governments in Nicaragua and Cuba, while Russia has provided significant assistance to autocrats in Armenia, Belarus, and Ukraine. In addition, election monitors from non-democracies became increasingly assertive in blessing patently corrupt elections. Further, Andrew Wilson has pointed to the widespread use of Russian "political technologists" to help authoritarian leaders win semi-free elections throughout the former Soviet Union in the 2000s. Russian leaders have demonstrated adeptness in launching cyber attacks against countries such as Estonia and Georgia and spreading rumors both at home and abroad about politicians detested by the government.

At the same time, the impact of the "authoritarian international" should not be exaggerated. Such dynamics rarely supersede country-level factors in explaining regime outcomes in most parts of the world. For example, in Ukraine in 2004, the Kuchma regime fell despite receiving far greater assistance from the Kremlin than the opposition got from the West. In the most recent presidential elections in February, a pro-Russian candidate won only because the Kremlin gave its support to both major candidates. Perhaps most remarkably, Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia (a country 30 times smaller than Russia) has survived in power for seven years in the face of enormous Russian hostility--including significant increases in energy prices, a virtual economic blockade, and military invasion in 2008. …