Growing populist and antidemocratic trends in Western democracies are receiving increasing attention as a result of the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union (Brexit); the 2016 presidential election in the United States; the strength of right-wing, populist parties during 2017 elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany; democratic backsliding in a number of Central and Eastern European countries; and the deeply troubling slide toward authoritarianism in Turkey.
The Economist’s 2016 Democracy Index clearly documents that a rise in populism and erosion of democracy has been underway for at least a decade in the United States and liberal democracies in Europe. These trends impact the internal political health of the affected countries and cause them to become more insular and nationalist, and less inclined or able to engage in multilateral cooperation. The U.K., for example, is withdrawing from the European Union (EU), and U.S. leaders have espoused an “America first” world view, downplaying the importance of global leadership and multilateral institutions. In addition, the backsliding of democracy in countries that are members (or aspirants) of NATO, the EU, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) (e.g. Turkey, Hungary, and Poland) presents challenges for the effective functioning of these organizations that are premised on shared values and intended to enhance cooperation and prevent violent conflict in the Euro-Atlantic region.
Russia’s increasing authoritarianism and aggressive support for anti-democratic movements throughout Europe and the United States makes the picture more complex. Friction between Russia and the West is evident in rising tensions, declining strategic stability, and the increased risk of conflict in the Euro-Atlantic region following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Combined, these trends increase the possibility of internal violence in the affected countries and of conflict between states. They undermine the cohesiveness, effectiveness and durability of the multilateral institutions and mechanisms that were designed to prevent conflict and enhance peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region, and they demand consideration of how the institutions can be strengthened, adapted and supplemented to enhance international security and prevent violent conflict.
NTI will form a study group of U.S., European and Russian experts to examine these issues and help develop a set of recommendations for publics and governments to strengthen domestic democratic institutions in the United States and Europe, build constituencies for international engagement and cooperation, and strengthen multilateral institutions intended to help prevent violent conflict in the Euro-Atlantic region. This will include recommendations for how NATO, the EU and the OSCE could address democratic erosion in member and aspirant states.Following a scoping phase, NTI plans to convene the study group in the fall of 2017 and issue recommendations in the spring of 2018.