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Undermining Democracy: Strategies and Methods of 21st Century Authoritarians
Javier Corrales et al.
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Freedom House, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia undertook an examination of five pivotal states — Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, and Pakistan — to advance our common understanding of the strategies and methods these regimes are employing, both within and beyond their borders, to impede human rights and democratic development.
The countries assessed in Undermining Democracy were selected because of their fundamental geopolitical importance. They are integrated into larger economic, political, and security networks and exert a powerful influence on international policy at the regional and global levels. They are also geographically, economically, ideologically, and politically diverse.
The authoritarians examined in this study are pursuing a comprehensive set of illiberal poli- cies that are contesting democracy in practical terms, as well as in the broader battle of ideas. Increasingly sophisticated and backed by considerable resources, these efforts are challeng- ing assumptions about the inevitability of democratic development.
While there are indisputably major differences among this group of countries, the analysis in Undermining Democracy reveals important common traits. Each of the five is ruled by a relatively small in-group — usually with a limited degree of internal rivalry — that uses the power and wealth of the state primarily to serve its own interests, and secondarily to ensure either the explicit or passive support of the masses. In keeping with this oligarchic power structure, each is also promoting or enabling antidemocratic standards and values, both at home and abroad. An absence of institutional accountability leads to repressive and arbitrary governance, and to entrenched, rampant corruption. Finally, the lack of built-in corrective mechanisms like genuinely competitive elections, free media, independent civil society organizations, and the rule of law make these systems inherently unstable, as basic problems and irresponsible policies are allowed to fester and grow into major crises.