DURING the past few years "the erosion of democracy" has been spreading in many of the newly independent states of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. This weakening of Western-style representative government has baffled and alarmed many of us. We do not understand it, and we often condemn it too quickly. Fortunately, a more sympathetic study of the problems of government in these countries has begun. Having concentrated so much academic research and assistance on economic development, we are realizing that we have failed to pay enough attention to political development. For if we fail to understand the dilemmas and challenges of the new politics, American diplomacy will be even more ineffective than it has been so far in the huge segment of the world where over a billion people are experiencing the difficulties and trials of new nationhood.
As is noted somewhat shrilly these days, the political globe is trisected into the Atlantic, the Communist and the Asian-Arab-African, with the third part contested between the other two. The political institutions of Asia, the Middle East and Africa can thus become a decisive factor for creating either world progress or world conflict. If they grow strong, they will help to maintain peace; if weak, they will open the way to situations as precarious as those we have seen develop in the Congo or Laos.
At the very time that the governments of these new states are struggling to get on their own feet and set their own course, they are overwhelmed by competing ideas, people and organizations descending upon them from the Atlantic and Soviet worlds. They have little or no time to reflect upon issues of national policy or to study new programs. Of course, the contest of which they are the object is also advantageous to them. It gives them an importance out of proportion to their strength; they can play one side off against the other to get more aid and to increase their own freedom of manœ
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