The world’s emerging democracies are “inconsistent” democracy and human rights advocates, judging by their votes on the UN’s Human Rights Council, General Assembly, and Security Council, writes Ted Piccone. But domestic advocacy groups may be able to pressure governments to adopt foreign policy stances more consistent with their democratic character.
The world’s six most influential rising democracies—Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey—are at various stages of democratic consolidation. Freedom House ranks them all as Free in terms of political rights and civil liberties except for Turkey (which is at the top of the Partly Free category), and all six have enjoyed remarkable economic growth and improved standards of living in recent years. Yet when it comes to supporting democracy and human rights outside their borders, they have differed quite a bit from one another, with behavior ranging from sympathetic support to borderline hostility.
One revealing indicator of their stance toward international action to support democracy and universal human rights can be found in the votes that they have cast on relevant issues in international organizations. United Nations voting data compiled since 2004 by the Democracy Coalition Project, as well as a review of each country’s behavior at the UN Security Council and on the international stage reveal positions ranging from pragmatism to fairly strict allegiance to traditional principles of state sovereignty and non-interventionism.
As their UN voting records show, the emerging democratic powers of Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey are inconsistent advocates for democracy and human rights on the international stage, though recent trends are favorable. These countries, just like developed democracies, prioritize other interests—whether security- related, economic, or ideological—over support for democracy and human rights.
One important difference, however, is that the advanced democracies consider democracy and human rights as key contributors to political stability, international peace, economic growth, and sustainable development. The emerging democracies share these goals but undervalue the instrumental role democratic governance and human rights can play in reaching them. In addition, these countries lack strong national voices—parliamentarians, intellectuals, civil society, businesspeople, and media—demanding that their governments’ foreign policies reflect their societies’ democratic values.
This is gradually beginning to change, however, as domestic advocacy groups are building international networks and learning how to pressure their governments to alter their behavior at the international level.
Ted Piccone is senior fellow and deputy director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. This is an extract from a longer article in the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy, Do New Democracies Support Democracy? The Multilateral Dimension.