JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs at the Carnegie Council. I'd like to welcome our members, our guests, and C-SPAN Book TV.
This afternoon we are delighted to once again welcome the representatives of Freedom House, who will be discussing the findings of their annual global survey, entitled Freedom in the World 2008, which reflects worldwide events during the past year.
For anyone pursuing the subject of global freedom, Freedom House's annual survey continues to be the standard bearer for evaluating trends on this issue. And, if you are interested in comparing this year's discussion with the one presented at the Carnegie Council last year, which talked about freedom, stagnation, and the pushback of democracy,I invite you to do so by visiting our Website at www.carnegiecouncil.org.
Recent events on nearly every continent have painted a rather bleak picture for the advancement of democracy. From Myanmar to Kenya, from Pakistan to Venezuela, there is a real cause for concern, as civil liberties and human rights have gradually been slipping away. Therefore, it's not surprising that the subtext of this year's Freedom House survey is "Freedom in Retreat," as the researchers found a disturbing deterioration in the advancement of freedom worldwide.
Today our speakers will engage in a conversation about the findings of this year's annual global survey of political rights and civil liberties, and they will highlight key countries that you have been hearing about in the news.
We will begin the presentation with Peter Ackerman, Chairman of the Board of Freedom House. He will say a few words about this organization, which has been in existence since 1941, with the main objective to see that the global expansion of freedom remains a critical goal of U.S. foreign policy. After his remarks, Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House, will moderate a discussion between Larry Diamond and Arch Puddington. Larry is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a renowned scholar on democratic development. He is also the author of The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World, which will be available for you to purchase at the end of the program today. Arch is the Director of Research at Freedom House.
Thank you all for joining us.
PETER ACKERMAN: Thank you, Joanne, very much, and thanks to the Carnegie Council for hosting this event. I'm delighted to be here and to have the opportunity to introduce Jennifer, Larry, and Arch.
As Joanne alluded, Freedom House was created in 1941, just after Wendell Wilkie lost the election to Franklin Roosevelt. He teamed up with Franklin's wife Eleanor Roosevelt to form Freedom House, which was a counter-concept to the Brunhaus in Germany that was a representative institution of the Nazi government at that time.
The explicit purpose was to basically keep Americans interested in the risks confronting them with respect to the Nazi threat in Europe and to the fascist threat in Japan, because, as you remember, at that time there was an overwhelmingly strong sense among many Americans that these were problems that shouldn't be America's problems. They felt differently. What they did is they organized an extraordinarily diverse, competent group of labor leaders, business leaders, distinguished Democrats and Republicans, journalists, and members of the scholarly community to come together to say that we can't ignore these threats.
Now, these individuals came, as I said, from various backgrounds, and probably disagreed on a wide variety of issues, just like our diverse board does today. But we all do, then and now, agree on one primary concept: that freedom of the individual here and abroad is critical to the advancement of the human enterprise, and that the American government has a tremendous stake in promoting freedom and democracy and human rights around the world.
Today's board of trustees, as I mentioned, is composed of a very distinguished bipartisan group of people from the Republican side and the Democratic side in government. We have as my vice chairman Mark Palmer and Stu Eizenstat, who worked, respectively, in the Bush and the Clinton administrations. We have phenomenal scholars, including Andy Nathan, who wrote The Tiananmen Papers, and Ruth Wedgwood, who's a famed international legal scholar. And we have very distinguished businesspeople as well. I want to recognize particularly Walter Schloss, who just came in, who is one of our oldest and most venerated directors and a vital member of our Freedom House Board.
Freedom House is unique because of its diversity, and it has also maintained a tremendous focus on keeping its viewpoint and its tone nonpartisan and independent. We work very hard to do that, because that's the fundamental premise in which the credibility of our work is hinged.
Freedom House is also unique because we utilize three interrelated approaches that we think are synergistic to what our basic work is—and that is analysis, advocacy, and action. So, first, we analyze trends and the state of freedom and democracy throughout our various publications. Second, we advocate against repressive regimes and for U.S. foreign policy that puts as a priority, as I said, the expansion of freedom in the world. And finally, we try to be directly involved, supporting actions of reformers, the civic activists on the ground, who are put under pressure or who are in need of sharing best practices from other parts of the world.
Now, before I introduce Jennifer, I want to mention one other initiative that we are about to launch that we are extremely excited about. Many people who talk to us, particularly in the last three or four years, as I think the image of the United States has declined somewhat, will come to us and say, "Well, you Americans are always evaluating others, telling others what to do. What about yourselves? What are you doing about yourselves?"
And so we are very proud to announce that next month we are going to be publishing a book, called Today's American—How Free? It is going to be, I think, the most extensive flashlight shined on America and the state of the individual American and his experience with freedom. It's, I think, going to, at the very least, lay a framework for a great deal of debate about who we are as a society and what we aspire to be.
Let me just say this: I have a very multipolar, bipolar, interesting, difficult board. I'd say that there was a virtually infinite number of places where there was disagreement on particular issues, from FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act], to the quality of opportunity and education. But even though there were these tremendous points of dissent, or frequent points of dissent, there was unanimity that this book had to go forward and it had to be published. So we'll be sharing it with you shortly.
Now I'd like Jennifer to take over. Thank you, Jennifer.
JENNIFER WINDSOR: I've had the privilege to work at Freedom House for the last seven years as the Executive Director.
We are going to talk tonight about our analysis portfolio, in particular our foundational survey, Freedom in the World. We have been actually undertaking Freedom in the World since 1972. It is a unique effort in many ways. It's an expert assessment that includes both narrative as well as numerical scores—grading, you might call it—of how each country in the world performs against the political rights and civil liberties that are enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This combination of numerical and narrative scores allows us to actually look at the progress or the reverses of freedom over time within countries, within regions, and globally.
I think over the years, and especially under Arch Puddington, who has ably led this effort for 15 years at Freedom House, Freedom in the World has gotten better. It has been subject to more intensive reviews, more intensive discussions. As we all know, there will never, ever be a complete agreement about the state of the political system in any country in the world, including our own. But it has become a document that has increased in its credibility and in its influence, particularly since the U.S. government has decided to link the findings of Freedom in the World in political rights and civil liberties directly to U.S. foreign assistance decisions. That has led many, many governments and individuals to look at our survey for the first time and to engage with us in a dialogue and a debate on what is this methodology, what are you measuring exactly. And it has opened up real opportunities, I think, for those of us who are committed to the promotion of freedom to talk with people who would have never listened to a human rights group report before.
So today we're going to have a little conversation, as opposed to just my talking here about what we are finding. I want to turn to Arch first and ask him what the five most important findings of our latest Freedom in the World survey are and what it means.
ARCH PUDDINGTON: The principal finding is that freedom is in fact, at least for 2007, in retreat. Our analysis showed 38 countries in decline, 10 countries moving ahead.
Second point: Many of the countries that were in decline are geostrategically significant countries, big countries, countries with big militaries, with influence regionally and globally. We're talking about Russia; we're talking about every country of the Indian subcontinent, except for India; we're talking about the Philippines and Malaysia; Nigeria and Kenya in Africa; Egypt, the P.A. [the Palestinian National Authority], and Lebanon; to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, energy-rich countries, and Venezuela.
Third point: Dictators are becoming smarter. We are seeing a phenomenon whereby dictators are showing strategic savvy, tactical sophistication, and real determination in developing ways to censor the press, marginalize the political opposition, and to cripple civil society, and to do these things in ways that are less overtly brutal than was the case in the past.
Fourth point: Freedom in the Middle East was in a state of decline last year. This is significant not simply because the Middle East is the target of the American democracy promotion initiative, but because actually since 9/11 the Middle East region had actually showed a modest level of progress on our survey. This year it moved in the wrong direction, and several of the countries that had moved in the right direction in the past moved backwards.
Finally, some of the countries that are in decline are also major countries that are poisoning the well for their neighbors. That is to say they are providing diplomatic assistance and cover for despotic neighbors and they are undermining neighboring democracies, as Russia has done in Georgia, in Estonia, and Ukraine.
So on those points I think I'll stop and let Larry comment.
JENNIFER WINDSOR: I just want to mention additional information about Larry Diamond for those of you who do not know him. He is the foremost scholar on democratization, and has written or edited over 20 books about every facet of the relationship between democracy development and democracy in conflict. He has been involved. He is not just a scholar and an editor of the Journal of Democracy. He actually tried his hand at trying to help the Bush Administration in Iraq, and he can comment on the possibilities for democracy in Iraq.
Do you think that this decline in freedom is something that—I mean is freedom really failing? Is democracy failing, Larry? Is that what we're seeing?
LARRY DIAMOND: First of all, thank you, Jennifer for your kind words. Thank you, Peter Ackerman, for your warm introduction. And thank you to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs for bringing us all together.
This is an extremely important and timely moment to be talking about the future of freedom in the world. Jennifer, I don't think freedom is failing, I don't think democracy is failing, in general. We do public opinion surveys around the world. We have more public opinion survey data than we've ever had before from people around the world. There continues to be a broad belief, not just in the "Western world," but in Africa quite strikingly, even in parts of Asia, quite stunningly in the Arab world, believe it or not, that democracy is the best form of government and that people want to be governed under a democratic system.
One reason why people lose faith—and Arch was alluding to this in presenting the findings from the last year—is that when democracy doesn't function well, when it doesn't meet people's aspirations for governance, not just in "delivering the goods" in economic development—we tend to think too much in economistic terms—one thing people expect from democracy is that, at a minimum, a democratic form of government is going to meet its obligations in assuring a rule of law, in protecting civil liberties, in producing constitutional government and free and fair elections. If it doesn't do that, people do lose faith.
One of the things we find in looking at the public opinion survey data—we'll publish an article in the next issue of the Journal of Democracy that attests to this very point—is that people are more patient than they are sometimes given credit for in terms of expecting an economic transformation. But the thing that most causes a loss of faith in democracy is when the political performance of democracy—in terms of human rights, rule of law, protection for liberty, and, crucially, control of corruption—needs to be better than it is and people judge that that is failing.
Now to come back to your point, I don't think democracy as a concept is failing, but I do think it has stalled. One of the things we see from the Freedom House survey—and I talk about it in my book—is that there has been a kind of plateauing in terms of levels of democracy in the world over the last 10 years. The number of democracies in the world, which is now about three in every five states in the world—basically the overall levels have not changed in the last decade or so.
Freedom has progressed, until the last couple of years, and, as you note, in this year's Freedom in the World survey this is the first year in over 15 years, I think, when there have been two successive years of decline in terms of the net progress or regress of freedom in the world.
But the key in terms of assessing this, which Arch was doing in his opening remarks, is to look beneath the trends to understand why this is happening. I would point to a few key factors and in a way underscore what Arch has said.
One is bad governance. It's not enough to have free and fair elections. If democracy is going to be viable, it has to be democracy with a rule of law, with control of corruption, with government that is at least somewhat responsive to the interests and needs of the people. That is very much the spirit of democracy. If you don't have responsiveness and a rule of law, then democracy can seem a very hollow thing.
So we need really a total global assault on corruption in the world. One of the main themes of my book is that corruption is poisoning the prospects for democracy in many parts of the world. If you look at why Freedom House was compelled to downgrade the Philippines in this past year from an electoral democracy to something less than that, or what might be called a pseudo-democracy, corruption, which has rushed back into the government of President Macapagal-Arroyo, has to figure prominently. Nigeria, Kenya—you can't understand the political crises, and I would even say you cannot understand the ethnic violence in Kenya today, without understanding that corruption is rampant, that President Mwai Kibaki's chief corruption control official was forced to flee into exile to England because his life had been threatened because he was getting too serious about doing his job. So that's a huge problem.
I think Arch spoke very well about the pushback against democracy—the authoritarian learning, unfortunately, and coalescing of countries like Russia and China and the Central Asia states into a very pernicious alliance that we need to really watch very carefully, called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which has really become a club of dictators.
I would like to note two other things, if I may, before we move on, that I think we have to count very prominently among the reasons for democracy being under pressure now, or, as Freedom House says in its survey, "in duress."
One is oil. You can just draw a bar graph and see the rise in the price of oil and the decline in the prospects for democracy. I think this is one point where Freedom House and I don't quite agree, but democratic experts don't agree on this. I still don't think Venezuela can be called a democracy, even after the recent referendum. And so, if you accept that—and certainly Nigeria has long ceased to be such, and so has Russia—if you look at the 23 states that derive 60 percent or more of their export earnings from oil and gas, not a single one is a democracy. Well, if we are going to be pouring oil rents into these oil states, right into the centralized coffer of these states, we're feeding authoritarianism. It's another reason to get serious about moving away from dependence on oil.
And finally, there's another thing that functions as rents, as bounty easily captured by the corrupt central ruling elite, and that is foreign aid. Many of the states in Africa derive 50 percent or more of their recurrent budgets from foreign aid. We're not doing enough to question how the money is being used and to set standards for good governance that are going to ensure that the aid is used for development—after all, it's being called development assistance—rather than to nurture and entrench in-power ruling parties and enrich the governing officials. And so, if we don't get more serious about expecting higher standards for the utilization of foreign aid, I think it is going to continue to foster bad governance and, therefore, in some ways even undermine democracy.
JENNIFER WINDSOR: I want to raise an issue. You talked, Arch, about the backslide in the Middle East. The Middle East has been one of the least free regions in the world. You also saw a number of countries in Africa backsliding. Many of these countries that we're seeing either not make progress or slide back have ethnic or religious divisions. Is this the cause of the backlash against freedom? Are there certain societies that are so divided that you shouldn't try to bring freedom; freedom should not be valued, it should be unity?
ARCH PUDDINGTON: No, I wouldn't agree with that.
First, I would say that in each case you have to look at the particular situation. In Kenya, yes. What you have uncovered here since this crisis began are these simmering ethnic rivalries, these hatreds even. But if that election had taken place—that is to say, if democracy had worked as democracy should have worked—if the election took place and the counting had been honest and the correct person had been designated as president, I think you would not have had any of this. That's number one.
Number two, there is a point of view out there that we have these ethnically divided societies, and that what you need is not democracy and elections but something else, some other kind of system. Some people call it a different kind of democracy. But it is presumably some system that meets the people's needs for freedom and economic growth and also provides security. But in what country has this existed without there having been some kind of autocrat at best, and tyrant at worst?
Iraq? Whatever mistakes the United States has made in Iraq, just remember what Iraq was before. It was a society that was controlled, and it was controlled by one of the most brutal dictators of our time.
JENNIFER WINDSOR: So, Larry, speaking of Iraq, if Iraq is the centerpiece of what democracy promotion is, and we look at the real setback in the Middle East and other countries in the world, does that mean that the U.S. government has failed to effectively promote democracy? Does that mean we should give up the goal?
LARRY DIAMOND: Well, fortunately, Iraq is not the centerpiece of democracy-promotion efforts, I wouldn't even say in the Middle East, but certainly not in the world. I don't think we can learn much from Iraq about democracy promotion, except we should never seek to invade and occupy another country for the purpose of promoting democracy.
JENNIFER WINDSOR: Which wasn't the purpose.
LARRY DIAMOND: It was actually not for the Administration its leading purpose, but for some people it was a prominent element in the mix. I think they didn't think it through well enough. But, more importantly, coming back to a previous book I wrote, called Squandered Victory [see Carnegie Council talk], they certainly didn't implement it very well, if that was their goal.
In any case, I think one of the things we learned from the last few I'd say fairly tragic years of America's stated aspiration to promote democracy in the Middle East is that these efforts really need to be very sensitive to the country, cultural, and regional context. People look at the electoral victory for Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, which was, by the way, not a majority—it wasn't even close; it was barely over 40 percent—at the gains for Hezbollah in Lebanon, at the gains for Islamist parties in Iraq, at the electoral inroads that the Muslim Brotherhood made in the first two rounds of the parliamentary elections in Egypt before President Mubarak finally cracked down on them, and they say: "Oh, look what happens when you promote democracy in the Arab world."
Well, I think this is not all that happens when you promote democracy in the Arab world. We saw a very different electoral outcome in Jordan recently. We saw in the Arab country that has gone the furthest toward political liberalization and might be described as the least authoritarian now—Morocco—the Islamists actually not doing all that well in the recent parliamentary elections there.
I think a lot of it has to do with the strength of political alternatives. One of the problems in Egypt, and Mubarak has been quite clever about this—I talk about it at length in my book—is I think he got deliberately the outcome he wanted. He repressed the secular forces. He imprisoned Ayman Noor as soon as the election was over, who was the leading secular alternative. He let the Muslim Brotherhood contest for a while, to scare the United States and send a message, "See what happens when you promote democracy?" while brutally suppressing the secular alternatives precisely to manipulate Western countries into thinking that it was him or the deluge, his dictatorship or the Muslim Brotherhood.
And that is not the only choice in the Arab world. I think the key imperative in these countries is to follow strategies of political opening that will allow time for moderate Islamists to emerge and compete, for secular forces to emerge and compete, and, crucially, for other institutions, non-electoral institutions, of democracy and rule of law to emerge and become effective. So that you don't get a situation where, if you have an election, all the imaginable levers of power are at stake in the election. So that you have a court that can constrain whoever rules; so that you have institutions of corruption control and good governance that can constrain who gets elected; and so that over time, if you have an Islamic-oriented party that is somewhat more reasonable and is allowed to compete, it may go through the process of evolution that the Justice and Development Party in Turkey went through. So that if you have an Islamic-oriented party like that, that's the kind of, if I can say, Muslim democratic party, tantamount to the Christian democratic parties in Europe, that we can live with, frankly. Turkey has done very well in recent years under the rule of the Justice and Development Party. It has made progress in terms of democracy. It has made progress in terms of economic development.
JENNIFER WINDSOR: Arch, you've been at Freedom House for 15 years. Everybody always says that Freedom House gives the United States a pass and just picks on those countries in the developing world. Do we find any flaws in the United States in Freedom in the World findings this year? How does the United States rank? Does it get a perfect score? Is it the top performer?
ARCH PUDDINGTON: We have several different gradations of rating a country. There is the blunt instrument—whether a country is free, partly free, or not free. Then, there is another scale, a one-to-seven scale, with one being the best score for political rights and one being the best score for civil liberties, and seven being the worst. And then, there is yet another more granular way of measuring, which provides scores for some of the subcategories that we use to measure specific areas of freedom.
So if we look at this more granular area, the best scores in the world, which will come as no surprise, are in Scandinavia, and I think New Zealand usually gets nearly a perfect score as well. The United States scores somewhere along the lines of the United Kingdom and France; that is to say, a high score, a score that is equivalent to many of the West European countries, but by no means a perfect score.
Where does the United States suffer?
First, the political process. The United States has—it is not just the election of 2000—but yesterday there were breakdowns in the voting machines and problems with lists all over the country. We've had these problems for a number of years. The federal government has adopted a new law to deal with these problems, but they still exist. That's one area.
A second area is in corruption. The United States gets some points off for corruption, even though the United States does a pretty good job at policing corruption.
Then, of course, the United States is penalized for the constellation of issues that you could sum up by Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, renditions, and the like. These are rule-of-law issues. There are also issues of whether all people are treated equal. The United States gets some points off for its labor policies, which are not up to the highest global standards.
So these are the areas where the United States does more poorly than Sweden or Finland or Norway.
Where the United States does very well is where you might expect, on civil liberties—freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of belief, academic freedom, pluralism, minority rights, and actually treatment of immigrants, in which, despite the ugliness of the debate over illegal immigrants, we perform better than most countries in Western Europe today.
LARRY DIAMOND: Can I just come in and say a couple of things?
First of all, I think that this book that Freedom House is producing, I guess, at the end of March, Today's American—How Free?, is a very honest, I'd say surprisingly objective and unsentimental, and I think historically important work, that takes a very searching look at the state of democracy in the United States. I think its publication is going to be very important.
Second, we really have serious problems of democratic functioning in the United States that are not just captured by numerical scores. People around the world look at the United States, they look at the functioning of its democracy, and they are surprisingly aware of these things. They look at the number of incumbents that are reelected to Congress. They look at the way that congressional and state legislative districts are drawn, in obscenely partisan ways, with these tortured districts to preserve incumbency and partisan advantage. They look at the flow of money from lobbyists into the congressional earmarking process, which is still, I think, even after the recent reforms, quite scandalous. This does take some of the moral edge off our own efforts to promote democracy, and it provides just a bit of cynicism toward America's efforts, and a sense that at times maybe we're being a bit hypocritical.
So I think the ability of Americans who care about freedom in the world to question the quality and effectiveness of our own democracy is extremely important. It is why I titled the last chapter in my book "Physician Heal Thyself." I think we do have some work to do to improve the quality of our democracy and to renew its transparency and competitiveness if we are going to summon the maximum level of effectiveness in promoting democracy in the world.
JENNIFER WINDSOR: Before we open for questions, I know Arch wanted to say one thing, which is—I'm going to set you up here, because I know what you were going to say—so should we wait for the United States to be a perfect democracy to preach to others?
ARCH PUDDINGTON: What I was going to say is this discussion is taking place in the context of what transpired yesterday. The United States, compared to Europe and many of the other consolidated democracies, is a pretty wild and crazy place. It is a place where money plays a much bigger role in our political system than it does in Europe. It's a place where we do have these gerrymandered political districts. There are things wrong with our political system.
On the other hand, I cannot imagine in any European society anything approaching the Obama phenomenon. So that, just as we have our sometimes glaring faults, we also have proven, I think, this year that the dynamic element of the American electoral system still pertains.
JENNIFER WINDSOR: I'm asking everybody in the audience—I've come up with some of my toughest questions, but I'm sure there are tougher ones out there, so I'd like to open it up.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: What is the relationship between what we might call political democracy—that is, the processes that go into creating and running government—and the quality of life, the standard of living? It seems to me that under some authoritarian regimes in the political sense, the standard of living is a good deal higher than it is in some so-called political democracies. How do these two considerations mesh?
JENNIFER WILSON: Arch, is Freedom House ignoring what really is on people's minds, in terms of getting food in their stomachs and health care and an education for their family? Are we really over-valuing civil and political rights in our Freedom in the World surveys?
ARCH PUDDINGTON: Several points.
One is our survey does look at issues of equality. Our survey is basically focused on traditional civil and political rights, but we also look at the level of inequality, for example, or property rights, rights to move around a country, rights to start a business, and this sort of thing. That's number one.
Number two, yes, we are for the first time—not historically, but for the first time in decades—confronted with a situation where there are a very few countries that are providing economic growth and an improved standard of living for their people that are dictatorships or autocracies. Many of these countries are oil-rich countries, energy-rich countries, and they are distorting their economies, distorting their political systems, and doing damage to the future of their countries. But nonetheless, in the short run yes, in Venezuela Hugo Chavez can use that oil money and he can hand out goodies to his people and he can win elections. It's a fact. But it will not last forever, and it is going to do crippling damage to his society.
Then there's the question of China. I mean China is a different case here because China is not energy-wealthy. China is something of a model for other societies. There is no other society that has succeeded the way China has in combining a Leninist political system with a kind of state-driven market economy. It is one of the very few, if not the only, economies that has succeeded in this. Here again, I think you will eventually see the development of a middle class, demands for rights. You are already seeing the demands for rights in that country. How long China is going to be able to hold the lid on is not entirely clear.
LARRY DIAMOND: A couple of additional points.
Number one, the relationship holds at the top end of the distribution of standard of living in this way. Of the top 25 countries in the world in terms of the UNDP's Human Development Index, which is the best index we have of standard of living because it measures not just money income but health and welfare as well, only one is not a democracy, and that is Singapore. You can't make generalizations from a tiny island-state like Singapore, where even survey data shows now that younger Singaporeans want a more politically open and competitive system.
Secondly, if you look at the bottom distribution, the 59 poorest countries in the world, the bottom one-third of countries in terms of standard of living, we have, according to the Freedom House data of electoral democracy, a reality now without precedent in the history of the world: 40 percent of those countries are democracies. And, as Amartya Sen has written quite eloquently in Development as Freedom, it is not just because it has been imposed on them; poor people actually increasingly see the value of democracy as a tool to improve their standard of living, to defend their rights, to express them in the political process. And so I think we're going to see more of this.
We see very high commitment to democracy in sub-Saharan Africa now. They have seen "developmental dictatorship," and they realized it didn't bring development and it isn't going to protect their rights.
QUESTION: When you measure countries around the world as far as the level of freedom and democracy, and you also measure the number of people living under those various governments, it seems to me that places like Scandinavia and Iceland have very small populations, and they excel, but most of the very densely populated countries in the world probably have very low grades.
JENNIFER WINDSOR: Except for India.
ARCH PUDDINGTON: Well, you could start with India. We rate India as a free country. It's got a vibrant democracy. Brazil, the largest country in Latin America, has a free rating. It is also a vibrant democracy. There are plenty of problems in both Brazil and India, but politically these countries are doing well. And actually, economically they are on the move as well.
There are other countries that are not doing as well. But I don't think you can make the generalization that very large, highly concentrated countries are incapable of democracy.
JENNIFER WINDSOR: Also, when we do our measurements of freedom in the world, we not only look at the number of countries that are moving but we look at the world's population and we split it up into those that are living in free, partly free, and not free countries. There is a lot more work that needs to be done. Two-and-a-half billion people are living in not-free countries. Sixty percent of those are in China.
QUESTION: The president-to-be of Russia, Medvedev, has just suggested that Russia start imitating China in terms of organizing itself. What do you see that as bringing?
LARRY DIAMOND: Probably an effort to institutionalize dictatorship, of course. I don't think Russia is going to be able to imitate China, and I don't think China is going to be able to imitate Singapore, which is the goal of the communist Chinese leadership, to make a soft landing to a kind of pseudo-democracy, where the Communist Party will rule and dictate indefinitely. And, if the Russians do want to imitate the Chinese, good luck to them, because there are deepening cracks in the Chinese system, which I also write about at length in this book, which are not being paid much attention to but I think are going to bring a deep, profound, and probably fatal political crisis for Chinese communist rule in the next 20 years if they don't rapidly accelerate the process of introduction of institutions of real rule of law and democracy.
Everyone trumpets the introduction of village elections in China. These elections are not for any meaningful level of authority. They are for a very, very tiny village committee that has very little power or control over resources. When I was there observing the village elections in 1998, I spoke to the Chinese official at the Ministry of the Interior who was responsible for operating them and developing the system. We asked him: "Okay, it's at the village level now. When will you have competitive elections at the township level?" He said, "In five years." And I said, "When at the country level?" He said, "In another five years, and then provincial in another five years." He thought in 20 years they'd have national democracy. Well, we're now a decade later and it's not even very present at the township level.
For Russia to introduce that kind of system, they'd have to really codify what they have already done, which is really the shutting down of democracy. And I think they still crave sufficient attention and respect in the Western world, even though they won't admit it. So they are not going to formally end multiparty competition.
I think much of Putin's popularity now is tied to the price of oil. We come back to this cyclical phenomenon and to the money that has gushed into the treasury of the Russian state to be able to be distributed in a variety of ways, subtle and not so subtle, to improve life, particularly in cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg. But this is not going to last. It is not built on an organic capitalism, of real entrepreneurship. It is certainly not built on good governance.
And so I'd say both the Russian and Chinese experiments have very acute vulnerabilities that are going to widen and become apparent over the next decade or two.
JENNIFER WINDSOR: There is obviously a lot of debate about what is happening in China, and Freedom House is quite fortunate to have one of the foremost experts on China, Andy Nathan, who I see has joined us on our board. Of course, the debates are when you have a country as big as China, how do you describe it in one brief narrative. That's why people like Andy write volumes, as opposed to putting one measure on it. But I think the answer is we don't know. Some people say there are cracks. Some people say that it's a tight system that has undergone a successful succession. But, you know, the experts have always been proven wrong, right?—in almost every country.
QUESTION: Don't we make a mistake thinking that we can actually export democracy? Having elections, as you just said, Mr. Diamond, doesn't necessarily promote or develop democratic behavior. We have to change the culture of these nations before we can change the way they live politically and any other way. That's sort of a statement but it's also a question.
My other question is: I'd be interested to know what your methodology has been in terms of getting these data collected for your book. Do you send people to the field? Do you look it up in here, in libraries? What is your way of doing that?
ARCH PUDDINGTON: Jennifer, you were one of the architects of American democracy promotion policy in the Clinton Administration. Why don't you tackle question number one?
JENNIFER WINDSOR: You know, I'm supposed to be the moderator, by the way.
My answer to that is any successful democracy-promotion effort is based on responding to local needs and requirements. Any effort that the United States or any governmental or non-governmental effort has ever made that is about telling another society what to do has failed.
The question is: Do these people not want to have their leaders to be held accountable? Ultimately, we have not been able to find another mechanism that allows governments to be regularly held accountable other than elections. Even if we decided that we were going to no longer provide any funding for elections—which, by the way, is 10 percent of the entire U.S. government's democracy-promotion budget, which itself is under 1 percent of the foreign aid budget—they'd still have them. It's a universally accepted right.
The U.S. government does not have the power to export democracy, but it also doesn't have the power to tell people that they have to wait until they are ready. The only way people become ready is to actually engage in political contestations, meaningful political contestations, for power. That's what we should be trying to foster.
I think it is an illusion to think that we can sequence. I have a great respect for many of the thinkers that have written this—Natan Sharansky, Fareed Zakaria. We cannot orchestrate for other societies that they cannot choose their leaders. I think we tried to do that in Iraq. We held back elections right from the beginning in terms of local elections, in order to have an interim constitution and an interim government that was supposedly representative. That didn't work.
LARRY DIAMOND: Let me just add a couple of things.
I completely agree with Jennifer. I never use the words "exporting democracy." First of all, it has a ring of imposition, which is I think ill advised and culturally arrogant. And second of all, it does carry the implication that we are literally exporting our model of democracy. Our model of democracy is very expensive, first of all, and it has significant problems of its own.
So I think democracy has to be fitting in its institutions, presidential or parliamentary; the type of electoral system, and so on, to each individual country and its needs. One reason why you have this outburst in Kenya in this deadly violent sense is because power is so centralized there that if one ethnic group captures the presidency the other feels like they've lost everything.
Well, a centralized government might work well in some parts of the world, or more centralized. But in many countries if you don't have federalism, if you don't have devolution of power, then democracy just can't work. By the way, that is also true in Iraq.
Secondly, Jennifer is absolutely right. We are working, whether it is with the official institutions, like the Democracy in Governance Program at USAID that Jennifer was involved with, or the National Endowment for Democracy, or Freedom House itself. We are working with people on the ground who are risking their lives because they believe in democracy, who have bet their livelihoods on this, who have mobilized very creatively, very courageously. They don't need us to tell them that democracy is a value to do this. When they do that, when they come forward and say, "We want a democratic system," I think we, having the privilege of living in a democracy, frankly have a moral obligation to help them as we can.
QUESTIONER: How would you relate that to the Iraq situation? I think that's on all our minds.
LARRY DIAMOND: I'd say that in my view—it's one that I have friends on the other side—but in my view the invasion of Iraq was a mistake at a number of levels. I was opposed to the war from the beginning. But now is not the time to debate that.
I think once we are there, we have some obligation to try and help bring about the emergence of decent governance and a rule of law, even if it's not a perfect democracy. I don't think that obligation extends as a blank check for decades on end.
But there are signs of some better governance emerging. There are signs of democracy taking hold. There is certainly less violence in Iraq now than there was a year ago. I do think that we have to find a way to get the Iraqis to assume more responsibility and wind down our engagement there.
But I don't think you can draw lessons from Iraq about democracy assistance generally in the world, because almost everywhere else in the world it is being done without having invaded a country, by purely peaceful means, and typically as a result of partnerships with democrats in the country.
PETER ACKERMAN: Before I get to that, one quick note on the question of culture and democracy. After World War II, many social scientists were absolutely convinced you could not have consolidated democracy in Catholic countries, and today you have democracy in almost every Catholic-dominated country. There was also a time in which it was widely believed you could not have democracy in Slavic countries, and then the Berlin Wall fell and all of a sudden Slavic countries wanted democracy.
Now, on the methodology question, we have a battery of about 50 analysts and experts who travel to the region, study the region. They are experts on particular countries or on particular regions. They come together. They write their analysis. They propose scores for the particular countries.
We meet together. We have a series of regional rating meetings where all of the analysts plus some academic advisors come together. We assess the countries' performance for the past year. We look at every question. We have 25 checklist questions on our methodology. We debate every one of those questions. We analyze them, we go through several layers of editing and checking, and eventually we publish the results.
QUESTIONER: Sounds good.
JOANNE MYERS: I want to thank you, Peter, Arch, Jennifer, and Larry, for joining us this afternoon for a very interesting discussion.