The interactions between authoritarian regimes are largely opaque, but they have become evident as methods of repression are replicated from country to country, direct assistance is provided across borders to crack down on dissent, and joint efforts are made to chip away at international protections for fundamental freedoms. Authoritarian internationalism is manifested in multiple ways:
Photo Credit: Malika Khurana
The “China model”: China,
with its combination of rapid economic growth and political repression,
presents an appealing policy model for other authoritarian regimes. It
offers a supposed alternative to democracy as a route to prosperity, and
its vague ideological emphasis on national sovereignty and the guiding
role of a permanent ruling party is easily transferrable to other
regimes that seek to resist international pressure and crush political
opposition. However, the sustainability of China’s economic growth under
the existing system is increasingly questioned by experts, and
dictatorships that claim admiration for the Chinese example often
function as mere kleptocracies, where economic gains come from the
extraction of natural resources rather than industrial expansion and
accrue largely to the benefit of a small elite.
Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka at Hugo Chávez's funeral.
Screengrab from Canal de n24fuenteno
Close ties between dictatorships: Authoritarian
regimes have built extensive economic, military, and political ties
with like-minded governments, both in their neighborhoods and further
afield. The government of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, for example,
provided $82 billion
in grants and subsidies to more than 40 countries from 2005 to 2011,
according to the opposition’s estimate, and established close
relationships with distant countries, such as Iran,
that have little in common beyond a shared opposition to democracy. The
mutual affinity of dictators around the globe was on display during
Chávez’s funeral on March 8, when Belarusian president Alyaksandr
Lukashenka bade a tearful farewell to his Venezuelan counterpart.
Counter protesters attack LGBT rights advocates peacefully demonstrating in Voronezh, Russia.
Photo Credit: Article20.org
Replicating worst practices: Authoritarian regimes tend to adopt the same kinds of restrictive laws
and policies as their peers. Their laws on nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs), for instance, often share features like ambiguous
or onerous registration requirements, wide discretion for authorities to
block NGO activities, and restrictions on foreign funding. Foreign
prodemocracy groups have increasingly become the targets of repression;
they were put on trial in Egypt, kicked out of the United Arab Emirates
and Russia, and vilified in the media in Azerbaijan. The pattern of
copying worst practices was evident most recently in a wave of bills to
ban “homosexual propaganda” that were introduced in Russia, Ukraine, and
China has set the standard for sophisticated methods of control over
the internet and actively exports technology for monitoring digital
communications. It has reportedly supplied telephone and internet
surveillance technology to Iran and Ethiopia and provided several Central Asian governments with telecommunications infrastructure that may increase their ability to spy on their own citizens.
Security service collaboration:
While authoritarian regimes naturally try to avoid notice of
cooperation between their security services, indications of such
cooperation have surfaced. Cuban intelligence officials
are reportedly working within Venezuelan government and military
structures. Central Asian governments appear to have carried out several
renditions of their citizens from Russia, probably with the complicity of Russian officials. And Russian opposition activist Leonid Razvozzhayev
was abducted last October in broad daylight in Kyiv, where he was
seeking political asylum, then driven to Russia, abused, and pressured
into signing a confession.
When heavy-handed police methods are insufficient to quell unrest,
authoritarian regimes at times intervene militarily to save a fellow
dictator. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent troops into Bahrain
in March 2011 to help put down peaceful protests. Iran’s Revolutionary
Guards are reportedly advising Syrian generals and using Hezbollah to build a large Syrian militia to fight in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Challenging international norms:
In an effort to blunt international criticism, authoritarian regimes
seek to water down accepted international standards for human rights.
Russia has sponsored a series of resolutions at the UN Human Rights
Council to recognize “traditional values,”
which serve as a handy excuse to infringe on the universal values of
human rights that are codified in UN conventions. At the World
Conference on International Communications last December, Russia, China,
Saudi Arabia, and other authoritarian states pushed for an international treaty to give governments greater control over the internet.
Undermining international institutions: Authoritarian
governments have tried to impede and even gut international
institutions that protect political and civil rights. Russia and
like-minded Eurasian dictatorships have made concerted efforts to hamper
the ability of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE) to issue hard-hitting observation reports on flawed elections.
Meanwhile, Ecuador is leading leftist-populist governments in its region
in attempts to stifle the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,
particularly by defunding the special rapporteur for freedom of
expression, who has strongly criticized restrictions on media in Ecuador
and elsewhere in Latin America.
Muratbek Imanaliyev and Vladimir Putin.
Photo Credit: Premier.gov.ru
- Counter-organizations: At the same time, authoritarian regimes have built up their own regional organizations to provide a counterweight to existing international institutions. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a prime example. It promotes security and economic cooperation between China, Russia, and neighboring Central Asian states. The Commonwealth of Independent States’ Election Monitoring Organization directly challenges the OSCE by white-washing flawed elections. It called Ukraine’s parliamentary elections last October “transparent and democratic”; the OSCE said they were “a step backwards” and criticized the lack of a level playing field, of transparency in campaign finance, and of balanced media coverage.