International News Round-Up

Syria

  • After a meeting of the ‘Friends of Syria’ group, the USA has decided to recognise Syria’s opposition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.  Most of the scores of countries present have at least recognised the opposition as a legitimate representative.  Politically this will be another victory for the opposition, but it may also have an impact ‘on the ground’.  William Hague has discussed the possibility of arming the opposition if President Assad does not strive further for national dialogue.
  • Syria has also been reported to have fired several ‘scud-type’, Soviet-made missiles into opposition-held areas in the north of the country.  This appears to be the next stage of the government’s response.  When repression failed they sent in the army; when they were losing to the opposition’s guerrilla warfare they began shelling cities; when this failed to defeat the rebels they began conducting air raids; and now the opposition are increasingly wielding anti-aircraft weapons it appears the regime has turned to missiles.  They are becoming increasingly backed against the wall.  The next logical stage in this escalation would be chemical weapons, which would essentially be suicide for the regime.

North Korea

  • North Korea has launched a rocket, breaking several United Nations resolutions.  Although North Korea insists that this is for peaceful means, but countries such as the USA, Japan and South Korea believe this is a test for ballistic missiles, which could eventually reach the West coast of the USA.  Despite having the capabilities to bomb any country in the world, the thought of its own territory being under threat terrifies the American government.    Though I don’t think anyone wants to see a nuclear-armed North Korea with the capabilities  to launch inter-continental ballistic missiles.

Venezuela

  • Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, has returned to Cuba for cancer treatment, despite claiming during his election campaign that his cancer had completely been cured.  Cancer can make sudden reappearances so I wouldn’t like to make any assumptions one way or the other.

South Africa

  • In other health-related news, Nelson Mandela, the first black African to be President (from 1994 – 1999) and leader of the anti-Apartheid movement, has been rushed into hospital with a lung infection.  He is apparently doing well, but at the age of 94 his health is bound to be frail.  I think the world is united in hoping he has a full recovery.
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Democracies in the World

How do you define a democracy?  A quick Google search gives me the definition, A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.”  Sounds easy enough.  Of course, it isn’t.  Every country in the world fits somewhere on a Democratic spectrum, but telling where on this spectrum a country is can be challenging.

Most countries in the world these days, besides a few oddballs clinging onto the 20th century (such as China, North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, etc) have regular multi-party elections.  Most countries allow universal suffrage, with even the Gulf monarchies slowly moving towards giving women the vote.  So does this mean that nearly every country in the world is democratic?  Unfortunately, no.  Many countries have blatantly rigged elections to keep the ruling elites in power, while others use more furtive methods such as domination of the media and gerrymandering voting districts.  This makes dividing the world into ‘democracies’ and ‘dictatorships’ very hard to do.

There are some obvious countries to throw into each category.  The aforementioned one-party states are clearly not democratic, while on the other hand many countries in Europe and the Americas are bastions of freedom throughout the world (to varying successes) and would surely land on the ‘democracy’ pile.  But then there are countries where power seems to have found a crevice between the people and the rulers, where power is sometimes in the hands of one party or ruler in what appears to be a democratic system, or where even the entrenched rulers can be voted out democratically.  Examples of countries like this would be Venezuela, Ukraine and Egypt, among others.

So how do you map democracy?  Here is my attempt:

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(Black countries are those I consider dictatorships; the others democracies).

USA-based pro-democracy group ‘Freedom House’ has a bleaker map:

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Notice many discrepancies between the two.  Going for the professional organisation which has conducted research may be the best idea.  This map by the Economic Intelligence Unit is a good indicator of the complexities involved in defining a democracy, throwing in phrases like ‘flawed democracy’ and ‘semi-dictatorship’:

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So, whichever measure you choose to use for defining a democracy, here is roughly the state of play in the world today.  One thing we can be sure of is that the proportion of democracies in the world have grown massively since the Second World War, particularly following the Fall of Communism in 1989.  This graph shows shifting global trends since 1945:

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(which also complicates things further by introducing the term ‘anocracies’ for these ‘semi-democratic’ countries).

The rise of democracies seems to have faltered in recent years, despite movements towards freedom in many countries and in the wake of the Arab Uprisings.  But the trend does appear to be moving in favour of democracies, with countries such as North Korea appearing increasingly bizarre and existing in the wrong century.  I believe the 21st century will be, for the first time in human history, an era of democratic rule throughout nearly the whole world.