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The Despot's Accomplice:

How the West is Aiding and Abetting the Decline of Democracy

"This efficient and thought-provoking plea for the U.S. and other Western countries to prioritize democracy promotion is a must-read, especially with the pending development of President Trump’s foreign policy." --Publishers Weekly

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For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the world is steadily becoming less democratic. The true culprits are dictators and counterfeit democrats. But, argues Klaas, the West is also an accomplice, inadvertently assaulting pro-democracy forces abroad as governments in Washington, London and Brussels chase pyrrhic short-term economic and security victories. Friendly fire from Western democracies against democracy abroad is too high a price to pay for a myopic foreign policy that is ultimately making the world less prosperous, stable and democratic.

The Despot’s Accomplice draws on years of extensive interviews on the frontlines of the global struggle for democracy, from a poetry-reading, politician-kidnapping general in Madagascar to Islamist torture victims in Tunisia, Belarusian opposition activists tailed by the FSB, West African rebels, and tea-sipping members of the Thai junta. Cumulatively, their stories weave together a tale of a broken system at the root of democracy’s global retreat.

Review from former US Vice President Walter Mondale:

‘This is an important book for all who want to understand and do something about the crisis of democracy in our turbulent world. Klaas tells a disturbing story, but he offers hope — and a dose of humour — while showing how the West can turn the tide, if it acts wisely and quickly. Essential reading.’

Review from G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs

"In this spirited and contrarian book, Klaas makes the case for pushing back against this global authoritarian tide. He does not defend the West’s many botched efforts at democracy promotion or the misuse of military intervention; instead he argues that the core of Western strategy should be confronting despots rather than seeking pragmatic accommodations with them."

Review from Mark Leonard, ECFR

"For the last few decades, liberal democracy was on the march. Today, however, the world is going through a democratic recession. In this thought-provoking book, Brian Klaas points the finger at a surprising villain: the West itself. He argues that Western governments have too often been accomplices to authoritarianism; through sins of commission and admission. An enjoyable and challenging addition to the literature on democracy promotion."

Review from Publishers Weekly

"This efficient and thought-provoking plea for the U.S. and other Western countries to prioritize democracy promotion is a must-read, especially with the pending development of President Trump’s foreign policy. Klaas, a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics, is no armchair academic, and his analyses of policymaking challenges are informed by extensive, and sometimes dangerous, field work. This accessible read does not sacrifice depth for breadth as Klaas reviews the history of democracy before making convincing cases for his 10 principles for nurturing its expansion, which include “stop trying to improve democracy with war,” and “encourage new democracies to include the old regime during transitions.” He’s a vigorous opponent of Kissinger-style realpolitik, but he also advocates positions that he anticipates will be opposed by the left. The volume’s seriousness, appropriate given democracy’s global decline over the past decade, is leavened by gallows humor, as when he notes that a USAID program reported that Cambodia had exceeded expectations for democratic values—a year after an anti-democratic coup. Klaas is able to make his points simply and clearly, as in his observation that democracy, like free speech, must be protected regardless of whether it yields a preferred result."

Review from The National

"The book is replete with interesting anecdotes from Klaas’s visits around the world as a researcher and election monitor. It is written with precision and learning, with lively prose and dark humour. His proposals combine the conviction of an idealist with the experience of a technocrat. At a time when democracy is in retreat and the world seems headed for turbulence, this book can be the shot that revives this ailing patient." 

Review from London School of Economics Review of Books

"This dynamic book offers convincing insight... fascinating and innovative...Klaas’s new book is as vital as it is timely, and should be required reading. As Klaas forcefully argues, ‘Global democracy is in decline. As a result, the world is becoming less stable, less prosperous, and vastly more dangerous."