Accessibility links

Breaking News

New RFE/RL Report: "Undermining Democracy-21st Century Authoritarians"

United States-- New report released by Freedom House, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia "Undermining Democraсy"

(WASHINGTON, DC) A new report finds that five influential authoritarian states - China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and Pakistan - are actively undermining democracy within their borders and abroad. Their efforts to taint international development and subvert organizations that promote human rights are organized, sophisticated and well-resourced. They serve as models of authoritarianism for the 21st century, increasingly employing their own brand of soft power. Call it “Authoritarianism 2.0.” [Find the complete report at]

The report, titled Undermining Democracy: 21st Century Authoritarians, was released by Freedom House, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia on June 4, the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in China. Undermining Democracy features analysis from prominent experts on the ways in which these five countries are preventing the emergence of an international system based on the rule of law, human rights, and free expression.

China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and Venezuela were selected due to their geopolitical importance, integration into broader economic, political, and security networks, and influence on international policymaking. Pakistan does not actively promote anti-democratic measures, but is included due to the weakness of its central government and enabling of extremism at home and abroad, particularly in Afghanistan.

The report includes five key findings:

Authoritarian Foreign Aid: By doling out billions of dollars in no-strings-attached foreign aid, these regimes are hobbling international efforts to improve governance and reduce corruption. China, for example, is now the largest lender to Africa, according to the World Bank.

International Organizations under Siege: These regimes are actively disrupting the human rights and democracy work of international bodies such as the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization of American States. They have also created new institutions to counter organizations that promote human rights and accountable governance.

Democracy Redefined: Authoritarian regimes are tarnishing the public understanding of democracy by distorting its meaning at home in state-dominated media and abroad through well-financed international media ventures.

Internet Under Growing Threat: Authoritarians are using sophisticated and well-funded techniques to subvert legitimate online discourse, especially in China, Iran and Russia.

Illiberal Education: By either actively promoting or enabling the distortion of history through a nationalistic or extremist lens, authoritarian regimes are creating a new generation that is hostile toward democracy and suspicious of the outside world.

“This study helps explain the causes behind the global political recession that has emerged in recent years and frames the serious challenges facing the Obama administration” said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director.

Jeffrey Gedmin, president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, observed that “These authoritarian states are devoting enormous resources to manipulating news and information. Countries such as Russia and Iran are among the worst offenders in denying their own citizens access to information of political consequence.”

“Twenty years since the Tiananmen crackdown, China has modernized its authoritarianism,” said Libby Liu, president of Radio Free Asia. “The sophistication of media ‘management’ by the Chinese authorities, including market-based censorship, suggests a system that is both repressive and resilient.”

The study was released in Washington, DC at a conference on Capitol Hill. Speakers included James Traub of the New York Times Magazine, Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Foreign Policy Initiative, Peter Beinart of the Council on Foreign Relations, Professor Perry Link of the University of California at Riverside (on China), Professor Javier Corrales of Amherst College (on Venezuela), and Daniel Kimmage of the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute (on Russia).