The expansion of democracy has long been characterized as occurring in waves, a mode of thought popularized by prominent intellectual Samuel Huntington. Currently the globe appears to be either in an extended portion of the so-called Third Wave of democratic expansion, or perhaps in a new Fourth Wave brought about by the Arab Spring. Regardless of the nomenclature assigned to democratic development in the present and near-future, it is clear that democratic development will play a major role in foreign affairs for some time to come.

The implications of democratic expansion across the world are manifold. Of all forms of governance that have been developed and tried by humanity over the course of its civilization, democracy is arguably the most effective in preserving the rights of individuals and groups within society, and ensuring fair treatment of all citizens of a democratic system. Democracies tend to be the most economically dynamic and developed nations, with low levels of political violence and poverty. In addition, thus far few democratic nations have gone to war with one another, which brings security implications to the fore in discussions of democratic development. If democracies tend not to fight one another, it may mean that democratic development holds promise in the realm of establishing global security and peace.

Democratic development has other implications in foreign policy, however. Typically new democracies have experienced significant tendencies to backslide back into more repressive forms of government. Some current democracies like South Korea, Spain, and Greece were only recently still run by military regimes or dictatorships, even though all held major roles in the international system set up by the victorious powers of World War II on the side of the United States and its allies. Even long-established democracies are not immune to this backsliding tendency, as witnessed by the growing restrictions on civil liberties and citizen privacy in the United States and United Kingdom, two otherwise stellar examples of established, successful democracies.

In addition, the democratic development of long politically repressed or economically depressed nations has given them newly legitimized voices on the international stage. Long standing rhetoric in favor of democracy has forced powerful nations like the US to give additional credence to nations that have recently democratized, but often these very nations seek dialogue with the US and other powers to redress long standing grievances related to economic exploitation. If more nations become democracies and demand to be treated equally on the international scene, this may force current powers to re-evaluate their policies and relationships with other nations.

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