The wave of democratization that spread throughout Latin American and Southern and Eastern Europe in the past 25 years was one of the 20th century's most important developments. It improved the quality of life for tens of millions of people by providing them with new freedoms and liberties, and it laid the groundwork for economic reforms, a higher standard of living, and hope for a brighter future. Recent history, however, shows that this "third wave" of democratization has slowed and that many fledgling democracies failed after only a few years of existence. Thus, hundreds of millions of people in the Middle East, East Asia, and Africa were untouched by democracy's third wave; tens of millions of others live in fragile democracies.
If the recent wave of democratization has indeed crested and broken, the family of democratic nations faces an important choice. These nations can attempt to insulate themselves from hostile, authoritarian regimes. Or they can adopt policies and pursue strategies that foster the spread of democratic values and institutions. Recent history has demonstrated the futility of isolationism in a highly globalized, interdependent world. But it has also demonstrated the importance of developing informed strategies for the constructive engagement of different cultures.
If democracies choose a strategy of constructive engagement, they must address several challenges in the 21st century. One is to understand why significant clusters of non-democratic regimes remain in the developing world, as well as how to foster responsiveness and accountability within this diverse group of nations. Another is to strengthen democratic norms and institutions after a transition from authoritarianism has occurred. It does little good to "seed" new democracies if they fail to ripen and blossom. Unless we learn how to strengthen new republics, we will re-live the experiences of the1930s and the 1960s when dozens of new democracies were replaced by authoritarian regimes.
Meeting these challenges will require the concerted efforts of a diverse range of democracy advocates, including both individuals (pro-democracy activists, political leaders, policy makers and policy implementers, ordinary citizens) and institutions (democratic nation-states, the UN, the World Bank, the IMF). The efforts of these advocates will be aided immeasurably by a refined understanding of how democracies emerge and are consolidated. Thus, democratization scholars and institutions of higher education can play an important role in helping address the challenges that democracy advocates must meet in the 21st century.
Intellectual leadership in this area is provided by Professor Jose Antonio Cheibub, the Center's Boeschenstein Professor of Political Economy. See current projects under this program.