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Across the globe, democracy has come to represent hope for a better, freer, and more prosperous future. In 2012, with citizens in 82 countries heading to the polls, more people than ever are freely expressing their choice of leaders. For so many, democracy has moved from a distant ideal to a thrilling reality. World Policy Journal examines the opportunities and challenges facing democracy, exploring the forces that prevent its expansion and can facilitate its spread.
To help illuminate this issue, World Policy Journal has talked with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as well as artist and dissident Ai Weiwei. Our first Autocracy Index ranks the world’s most totalitarian dictators. U.S. Army colonel (ret.) James L. Creighton takes us back to the fraught 2009 and 2010 elections in Afghanistan, which his troops helped secure, parsing the lessons that can be applied to the all-important 2014 presidential election. And in countries as diverse as Jamaica, Nigeria, and Serbia, as Linda Kinstler cautions, American-style presidential debates may be a Trojan horse for American influence.
In our Portfolio, photographer Brent Stirton travels the world, showing how water can best be harnessed to maintain the health and prosperity of societies. In Ivory Coast, Robbie Corey-Boulet scrutinizes violence by the current president’s forces that goes unpunished—warning that the International Criminal Court's reputation is at stake. We travel to Spain’s Basque Country with Judith Matloff, watching as onetime separatists are pacified by wealth and autonomy—a response that could ease ethnic conflicts elsewhere. In Argentina, Emily Schmall explains why the nation is reverting to Peronism and isolationism and warns of the dangers this poses for its Latin neighbors. In the world’s oceans, Ron O’Dor and Edward Vanden Berghe reveal how their Marine Census uncovers the shrinking bio-diversity of the sea, though plans for vital future ocean tracking remain dangerously and unconscionably vague. Finally, World Policy Journal editor David A. Andelman chronicles the concept of Change in different societies and suggests how to cope.
In this edition of the Big Question, we ask our panel of global experts about the most intense threats to democracy in their nations. Politicians, democrats, and activists from aspiring, nascent, and established representative governments discuss the perils they face and argue what should be done to make sure their fears never come to pass.
With a career that started in Cambodia as hostage under the Khmer Rouge and took him to Beijing, Kiev, London, Washington, and Paris, Le Monde journalist Patrice de Beer has seen democracies flourish and others wither away. De Beer’s essay is a passionate call to action to become personally involved in politics, lest democracy atrophy.
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Democracy in Decline?
Voter turnout has dropped globally. Does this signal the unraveling of democracy worldwide? Michael Zelenko suggests decreasing voter participation doesn't tell us the whole story, but there are a few easy steps countries can take to fend off the problem.
Ai Weiwei, who recently endured 81 days of solitary confinement in a secret Chinese prison, sits down with veteran journalist Paul Mooney in Beijing, on assignment for World Policy Journal, to discuss dissent and democracy in China. The world’s most renowned dissident warns of growing instability if the Army and the Party remain above the law and says China cannot become a strong and creative nation while it censors the Internet. Even in China, change, he concludes, is inevitable.
Using a weighted series of scales, the World Policy Journal Autocracy Index ranks the top 10 most autocratic leaders.
James L. Creighton, a retired U.S. Army colonel, chronicles the lessons he learned securing elections in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province and argues that continued American support, along with courage by local officials, will be needed to sustain a democratic system in Afghanistan.
An accompanying Map Room reinforces Creighton’s fear that corruption places an additional burden on the electoral process—as voters turn out less readily in precincts where there has been corruption in the past.
Linda Kinstler examines the U.S. Commission on Presidential Debates and its efforts to export American-style debates to other nations. She argues that the CPD needs to loosen its rigid guidelines, which are stifling debate around the globe. While it attempts to foster a homegrown democratic culture, it often only legitimizes corrupt politicians instead.
World Policy Journal speaks with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who describes his own experiences with democracy beginning as a student demonstrator under a Korean dictatorship. Today, as he begins his second term as secretary general, he faces violent challenges from the likes of Syria and Mali. Ban plans to make sustainable development a centerpiece of his new term, arguing that it has the potential to prevent conflict around the world.
Representing more than two decades of travel, photographer Brent Stirton’s Portfolio shows the horrors borne by water. From flooding in Bangladesh to desertification in Tunisia, Stirton’s images demonstrate, on a deeply personal level, how water transforms lives and why water needs to be high on the list of the world’s most crucial policy challenges.
In Ivory Coast’s 2011 post-election violence, some 3,000 died, over 150 were raped, and hundreds of thousands were displaced. While the killings continue, the International Criminal Court has prosecuted only one side of the bloodshed, giving the victors de facto immunity. But without proper resources or international support, Nation Institute fellow Robbie Corey-Boulet argues, the ICC cannot be blamed. To end the clashes, Ivory Coast needs to take domestic security out of the hands of the army and put it into the hands of an independent police force.
Spain’s Basque population has been fighting to attain or retain autonomy for almost 2,000 years. As recently as the 1980s, political violence was rampant, and the Basque region’s economy was in the doldrums. But since then, this violent stewpot has transformed itself into a tourism magnet that thrums with business activity. Judith Matloff argues that the Spanish solution—giving the restive ethnic enclave wealth and autonomy—is a model that could end strife across the globe.
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Islam Rises from Chechnya's Ashes
On the surface, Chechnya is enjoying the fruits of Judith Matloff’s autonomy and wealth hypothesis. But in this case, the successful implementation of theory veils dark and radical developments in this mountainous state. Michael Zelenko investigates.
Under the leadership of its firebrand president, Cristina Elisabet Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina is returning to the isolationist economics of Juan and Evita Perón. Designed to insulate Argentina from the caprices of global capitalism, Kirchner’s economic regime instead seems destined to push Argentina into recession. Argentina, Emily Schmall argues, needs to drop its regulations that force companies to produce goods domestically and start being honest with its people and investors about its economic predicament.
The recently concluded, decade-long Census of Marine Life revealed dangerous truths about the world’s oceans. Species are rapidly disappearing. Phytoplankton are producing less oxygen, and coral reefs are dying. But according to scientists Ron O’Dor and Edward Vanden Berghe, the Marine Census also shows that if properly protected, species and ecosystems can recover. Researchers just have to know where the marine life is and where it goes. For this, the world needs desperately to fund another Marine Census.
In a world of growing discontent and unease, World Policy Journal editor David A. Andelman argues that too many people have enthusiastically embraced a throw-the-bums-out mentality and pushed leaders out of power regardless of their accomplishments. While a few countries, notably members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, now conspire to maintain a non-democratic status quo, Australia’s Liberal Party claims embracing spin-free politics is the best way defuse the accelerating demand for change.
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