Does Globalization Promote Democracy? an Early Assessment

By Dalpino, Catharin E. | Brookings Review, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Does Globalization Promote Democracy? an Early Assessment

Dalpino, Catharin E., Brookings Review

An enduring tenet of the post-Cold War era is that globalization be a catalyst for democratization.In one formulation when democratic ideals sweep (or even trickle) across borders into authoritarian states, globalization makes democratization inevitable, Proponents of this view 'point to the contagion of democratic transition in the world over the past quarter-century and to the ability of technology to penetrate the most closed societies. Even the Orwellian North Korean government, they point out, has gone gingerly online, though the country's broader population has no electronic access to the outside world.

But these broad trends cannot yet confirm a strong and direct connection between globalization and democratization. The evidence is mixed and will continue to be so for some time. For every society in which a "people's power" revolution is helped along by international cheering squads and satellite television, another is daily becoming more cosmopolitan while adhering to traditional (and often authoritarian) practices. The city-state of Singapore, rated as "most global" on the A.T. Kearny/Foreign Policy magazine Globalization Index in terms of cross-border contact between people, has remained resolutely semi-authoritarian for the past 30 years and shows few signs of greater democratization. Moreover, while entire regions, particularly in the former Eastern bloc, embraced economic globalization and more open political processes at the onset of the 1990s, by the end of the decade many new democracies were faltering under the weight of globalization, whether because of unfavorable economic trends or greater transnational crime. It may not yet be possible to make a final judgment about the connection between globalization and democracy, but a closer look will clarify where globalization has helped democratization, where it has inhibited movement toward greater openness, and, assuming an increased pace of globalization, what the greater flows of people and ideas will mean for the world's governments and societies in the years ahead.

Toward International Norms of Democracy

Perhaps the most tangible evidence of globalization's impact on democratization has been the infusion of democratic norms, and the principles of human rights that support them, into many international and regional institutions. The principle of accountability for human rights abuse is increasingly unfettered by national borders, as the 1998 arrest of former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet in London demonstrated. The ad hoc United Nations war crimes tribunal that was convened for the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s was extended to Rwanda in the middle of the decade, presaging a broader move toward international justice. In the coming decade, the establishment of an International Criminal Court will be a watershed in that move.

Democratic principles are also reshaping regional institutions. The European Union, originally an economic community, now requires democratic government as a precondition for membership and promotes democracy in its collective foreign policy. The Organization of American States, once a diplomatic forum for both democratic and nondemocratic governments, now works actively to restore democracy when it is imperiled in member states. The Organization of African Unity, also a traditional diplomatic group, is attempting to forge a regional human rights code modeled after the Helsinki process in Europe.

But the process has its limits. Regional groups adopt codes of democratic practice where a quorum of democracies already exists or where the largest and most economically powerful states are democratic. In these cases, the weight of the democratic majority (and the benefits of membership in the club) are sometimes sufficient to help persuade nondemocratic states to liberalize. But the trend halts abruptly where the political spectrum includes an equal number of democratic and nondemocratic states or where authoritarian regimes are predominant. …

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