The Foreign Policies of Emerging-Market Democracies: What Role for Human Rights and Democracy?

The Managing Global Order Project of the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy program and the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies co-hosted a two-day international conference to examine the foreign policies of emerging-market democracies. The category of emerging-market democracies (EMDs) comprises those developing countries that are governed democratically and also play a significant role in the world economy. Given their growing economic and political influence on the international stage, the foreign policies of these countries, and specifically the weight they give to supporting democracy and human rights abroad, deserve greater attention and analysis.

Over the course of the two days, experts from Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey assessed their countries’ willingness to promote democracy and human rights in their dealings with other countries both bilaterally and at the multilateral level. Experts provided examples of these states’ efforts (and failures) to support human rights and democracy in other countries and explored the diverse domestic drivers behind these decisions. The conference highlighted that each of these states has unique traditions and histories that have shaped their definition of national interest and values. Despite these differences, they share some common features in their approach to the international democracy and human rights agenda:

  • a heightened concern for traditional principles of nonintervention in internal affairs;

  • an abundance of caution in working with the United States and other Western democracies on a more robust approach to supporting democratic transitions and human rights, with a strong preference for multilateral mechanisms and modest steps;

  • a growing willingness to lead by example in their neighborhoods and, in some cases, around the world as states that have made major economic advances while deepening democratic governance and values; and

  • a preference for maximum flexibility to sustain and strengthen ties with a wide range of countries regardless of regime type.

Views were mixed on the future trajectory of these states as key actors in advocating political reforms. As their own democracies mature, they may be more confident in sharing their own experiences, but their expanding economic interests in a globalizing world may cut the other way.

The following report summarizes the presentations of the speakers and commentators at the conference.