After progress in the early 1990s, the march of global freedom
that President Bush advocates has stalled - from countries of the
former Soviet Union to parts of Africa and East Asia.
To understand one reason why, take the case of Burma (Myanmar).
The US has spotlighted the southeast Asian country's despotic
regime for years. But when it sought to raise the international
pressure on Burma last week - in the form of a United Nations
Security Council resolution calling on the country's military rulers
to release political prisoners and open up to democratic reform -
the move was vetoed by China and Russia.
The US and other Western democracies may favor an expansion of
what they see as universal human and political rights, but powers
like China and Russia are pushing back - especially when they
believe a state's national sovereignty is being threatened.
The emergence of such antidemocratic "push back" is just one
factor in what is being called global "freedom stagnation" by
Freedom House, a Washington-based organization supporting expansion
of political rights and civil liberties.
In its "Freedom of the World 2007" report to be released
Wednesday, the organization finds that not only has the global state
of freedom changed little over the past year, but it has remained
largely unchanged for nearly a decade, with slightly under half of
the world's countries and population judged to be free.
"If you look at the world in five-year intervals beginning in the
late 1970's, there is no question that freedom was advancing - more
countries were becoming democracies, elections resulted in more
orderly changes in administrations, and more citizens were enjoying
a greater array of civil liberties," says Arch Puddington, vice
president for research at Freedom House. "But beginning in 1998 that
trajectory stagnated, with some notable ups and downs since then but
a halt to overall improvement."
One key factor in the stagnation is the "push back" from
countries that practice subtler ways of curtailing freedoms than the
mass imprisonments and physical abuse practiced by defunct
dictatorships. These countries are also finding support from
neighboring powers that themselves are squelching freedoms: from
Russia and China to Iran and Venezuela, Mr. Puddington says.
"Russia has ... gone out of its way to support the region's
autocrats and to oppose efforts by the UN and other bodies to
condemn or impose sanctions on dictatorships with records of blatant
human rights abuse," he says.
Another case of regional antidemocratic influence getting a lot
of attention: Venezuela. …