In testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Dr. Matthias Matthijs assessed the role the United States, European Union, and NATO have played in the democratic backsliding of Poland, Hungary, and Turkey. He recommended the U.S. and EU do more to encourage democratic values among NATO member states by supporting civil society groups and free media in countries experiencing democratic backsliding. Furthermore, Matthijs reminded policymakers that the U.S. and its allies should focus on long term results when promoting common values because the current leaders of Poland, Hungary, and Turkey will not be in power forever.
- Today some NATO member states can no longer be described as liberal democracies but instead demonstrate the traits of competitive authoritarian regimes. The characteristics of such administrations include free but unfair national elections, an erosion of checks and balances on political power, laws that are simply rubber-stamped by the legislature, loss of an independent judiciary, curtailed media freedoms, a stifling of civil society, and severe limitations placed on academic freedoms. Turkey and Hungary can be more accurately labeled as competitive authoritarian regimes, while Poland is gradually moving in the same direction.
- Though NATO was founded on a common commitment to democratic values, it has no mechanism for responding to or sanctioning behavior that is not in line with its democratic principles, nor should it. Instead, the United States and the EU should step up to defend democratic values among member states by doing more to encourage common values. Both the U.S. and EU must play the long game and remember that none of the leaders currently in power in Turkey, Hungary, and Poland will be there indefinitely.
- Going forward, the U.S. can continue to support civil society organizations and free media in countries experiencing democratic backsliding and emphasize to member states that NATO membership means rights and responsibilities beyond the goal of spending 2% of GDP on defense. NATO has proven strong and useful in the past because of its commitment to shared democratic values, but it cannot continue to prove relevant in the future if this shared commitment is broken. The appeal of liberal democracy to voters around the world has not diminished. The views of voters have not changed; what has changed is politicians’ willingness to exploit voters’ fears, leading to democratic backsliding and the establishment of competitive authoritarian regimes worldwide.