Mission accomplished: voting in the Iraqi parliamentary elections in December 2005
Hussein Malla / AP

For three decades beginning in the mid-1970s, the world experienced a remarkable expansion of democracy—the so-called third wave—with authoritarian regimes falling or reforming across the world. By 1993, a majority of states with populations over one million had become democracies. Levels of freedom, as measured by Freedom House, were steadily rising as well. In most years between 1991 and 2005, many more countries gained freedom than lost it.

But around 2006, the forward momentum of democracy came to a halt. In every year since 2007, many more countries have seen their freedom decrease than have seen it increase, reversing the post–Cold War trend. The rule of law has taken a severe and sustained beating, particularly in Africa and the postcommunist states; civil liberties and electoral rights have also been declining.

Adding to the problem, democracies have been expiring in big and strategically important countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example,

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  • LARRY DIAMOND is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. He is the author of Ill Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency. 
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