While the global balance of power, under the impetus of the steady rise of China, is shifting towards the Asia-Pacific, and because the future of US policy is uncertain after the election of Donald Trump, tensions in the South China Sea have once again become a major strategic concern. The South China Sea is witnessing a series of sovereignty disputes between littoral states defending rivalling claims to maritime rights and boundaries. Adding weight and urgency to the disputes are the significant natural resources found in the coveted archipelagos and sea beds as well as the rising national sentiments in many of the claimant states. The geostrategic dimension of these quarrels is largely transcending the region and the involvement of external powers such as the United States further complicates the equation. The recent legal victory of the Philippines over China can be seen as a supplementary cause for anxiety in a latent conflict that may at any time escalate into a regional or global confrontation. Henceforth the search for a negotiated solution becomes crucial as military budgets continue to soar in the region.
While the 20th century has been characterised by the generalisation of democratisation processes, the 21st century seems to have started with the reverse trend. An authoritarian-populist nexus is threatening liberal democracy on a global scale, including in its American and European heartlands. Charismatic leaders – thriving on electoral majorities and popular referenda – methodically undermine the rule of law and constitutional safeguards in order to consolidate their own power basis. Coupling inflammatory rhetoric with modern communication technologies, they short-circuit traditional elites and refuse to abide by international norms. Agitating contemporary scourges such as insecurity, loss of identity, mass migration and corrupt elites, they put in place new laws and mechanisms to harness civil society and political opponents. In order to better understand the novelty, permanence and global reach of “illiberal democracy”, this second issue of Global Challenges proposes seven case studies (Russia, Hungary, Turkey, the Middle East, Uganda, Venezuela and the United States) complemented by a series of expert interviews, maps and infographics.
Democracy at the CrossroadsReading time: 5 min
Russia: Haunting Western Democratic ImaginationReading time: 5 min
Orbán’s Lawfare against Liberal Democracy in HungaryReading time: 4 min
Turkey: Erdoğan’s Authoritarian TurnReading time: 5 min
Reinventing Authoritarianism in the Middle EastReading time: 5 min
Uganda: Managing Democracy through Institutionalised UncertaintyReading time: 5 min
Post-Truth Populism in VenezuelaReading time: 5 min
The United States and the Trajectory of DemocracyReading time: 5 min
Democracy on the Brink: Four Key Insights
We currently face a baffling paradox. While since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 a seemingly inexorable process of globalisation has been foreshadowing a peaceful and frontierless world, the number of walls across the world has been rising at a steady pace. Liberal and open societies buttressed by trade, international law and technological progress were supposed to implacably contribute to the erosion of frontiers and walls between nations. However, in a context of surging populist discourses, securitarian anxieties and identitarian politics as well as concomitant flows of migration alimented by climate change, conflict and poverty, nations have recently started to barricade themselves behind new walls.