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Five Rising Democracies and the Fate of the International Liberal Order

Five Rising Democracies and the Fate of the International Liberal Order by Ted Piccone. Brookings Institution Press, 2016, 350 pp.


The book presents an appraisal of the liberal democratic world order. The present global context is witnessing ever-increasing demand for human rights, better livelihoods, and accountability from governments. In this regard, the book examines the rise of five major rising democracies: India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, and Indonesia. These five countries lie in between two extremes: closed autocratic regimes on the one side and powerful democracies of the West on the other. An assessment of the trajectories of these five rising democracies with respect to human rights and foreign policy is presented. The central hypothesis of the author is that “democratic societies,” with their emphasis on human rights, tolerance, and cooperation, are the essential prerequisite towards the “quest for international peace and development” (p. x).

The book has eight chapters. The first chapter seeks to argue that democracy and human rights have proliferated in past three decades. The chapter uses descriptive statistics to push forward the claim that democracies are good and important. Presenting a generalised argument in favor of democracy with respect to the five chosen cases, the chapter argues that “democratic models of development” have improved the “livelihood of people” (p. 5). Democratic governance, freedom, and rule of law are seen as the major indicators of progress and the cases chosen testify the same on various democratic indices. The shift from being a foreign aid recipient to foreign aid donor is one such positive development (p. 27). The second chapter reiterates the inevitability of democratic order and situates the five rising democracies within the global context of international norms and developments pertaining to the same. After assessing the debates around domestic versus international and nonintervention versus responsibility to protect, the central point of assertion remains in favor of a “robust human rights and democracy order.”

The next five chapters are case studies of the five rising democracies. The choice of adjectives for the five are interesting: while on one hand India is labelled as a “reluctant leader,” South Africa as a “conflicted mediator,” and Indonesia as a “quiet player,” on the other hand, Brazil is seen in “pursuit of strategic autonomy,” and Turkey is viewed as possessing a “questionable model.” The third chapter provides an overview of India’s interaction with global norms and examines the shift owing to the change of leadership under Narendra Modi with respect to the outward projection of India’s power and assertions in terms of “strategic autonomy” (p. 94). The fourth chapter, on Brazil, focuses on its ambitious economy-driven approach and its claim for “global leadership” in the context of major global changes and challenges (p. 127). The fifth chapter engages with developments in South Africa and present it as a “stable and inclusive society” that requires substantive “economic and political reform” (p. 159). The sixth chapter is on Turkey and locates the country’s response specific to context of an “authoritarian legacy” (p. 162). The author engages with Turkey’s regional and global ambitions and praises its economic progress despite regional turmoil. The last case study, of Indonesia, constitutes the eighth chapter and traces the country’s path towards “modest internationalism” (p. 192). The chapter concludes by assessing domestic, regional, and global imperatives.

The final chapter seeks to provide concluding generalizations. Conceding the fact that there are multiple avenues of divergence in the path towards democratization, the author focuses on the optimistic nature of convergences in the case of the five rising democracies (p. 247). Multiple issues are highlighted in this regard: promotion and defence of civil society; more towards right to access information and growing freedom of internet; promoting basic human rights like right to life, food, water, health and shelter; focus on the education of women and girls; and controlling and combatting corruption. Even though there are major roadblocks, the future does seem promising. The rise is further contextually global where democracies, based on accountable governments, are seen to have a “special role” in securing stable democratic peace (p. 247).

The book is a great addition to the existing literature on perceived benefits of democracy. The book further successfully tries to present a balanced picture owing to the choice of cases. It notices the decline in “norms of civil liberties, transparency, and accountability” as “worrisome trends” (p. 29). The analysis of the five chosen democracies present a holistic picture: the domestic, the regional, and the global aspects of the rise of each country is presented in great detail. However, the book, despite its effort to present a balanced picture, slips into the trap of being over-optimistic about certain changes. It glorifies certain trends that suit the advocacy of democratization and under-examines other developments that could counter such trends. The case of India is a representative example. While the country is successfully showcasing its rise, marginalized sections of the society are yet to benefit substantially from the claimed democracy. Recent protests against the failings of the Indian government in managing agriculture, economy, education, and women’s safety are glaring examples in this regard.

Overall, the book is a detailed analysis of democratic governance of the chosen cases and succeeds in convincingly fitting the analysis in the broader normative argument of the book: democracy is the best possible model that would promote human rights and peace and improve the livelihood of people all around the world. The book would be an interesting read for scholars interested in examining the process and prospects of democratic governance. It would also be beneficial for policy circles to understand the problems and prospects of achieving a truly democratic order.

Abhishek Choudhary

Doctoral Candidate

Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament

School of International Studies

Jawaharlal Nehru University

New Delhi, India


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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