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Halting the Authoritarian Drift

In a globalized world, the task of containing rising authoritarianism cannot be left to individual countries, because one rogue leader’s malfeasance can affect everyone. Can international law be used to change the incentives that turn political leaders into tyrants?

LONDON – Last week, the International Criminal Court indicted Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, alleging that he is responsible for the forceful removal of Ukrainian children to Russia. This means that the ICC’s 123 member states now have an obligation to arrest Putin if given the chance. It is a groundbreaking development. Although diplomatic engagement with Putin has always been difficult, he has now evolved fully into a ruthless and unbridled tyrant.

Worse, Putin’s conduct is symptomatic of a broader trend. Around the world, democracy is increasingly under siege. The latest report on “The Global State of Democracy,” issued by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, documents an alarming erosion of democratic institutions worldwide. Over half of the 173 countries investigated in 2022 registered significant assaults on democracy. From Afghanistan to Nicaragua, “almost half of all authoritarian regimes have worsened,” the authors conclude. In the Asia Pacific region, only 54% of people live in a democracy, and almost 85% of those live in countries where democracy is weak or sliding toward authoritarianism.

This is a worrisome trend. In a globalized world, the task of containing rising authoritarianism cannot be left to individual countries. As we can see from recent global supply-chain disruptions – with Russia’s war in Ukraine exacerbating food shortages and inflation in Africa – the fallout from authoritarianism can be felt far and wide. The question, then, is what international organizations like the ICC can do about it.

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