Sunday, April 30, 2006

Grading Freedom: Review of Freedom House Index

Today, one of key agendas in US foreign policy is promotion of democracy and freedom. For this purpose, it is necessary to evaluate political processes and civil rights. I decided to write on this issue when I saw a blog debate between Mauo and Mike Ross.

Both are my blog friends. Mauo is a Japanese and believes in JFK liberal policy. On the other hand, Mike has unique backgrounds. He is an American brought up in Kobe, Japan. Though he is a diehard American conservative, he acquired Japanese citizenship a few years ago.

Mauo pointed out that Norimitsu Onishi, Chief of Tokyo Bureau of the New York Times, said that Japan’s politics had been under one-party rule, and its democracy was less developed than those in South Korea and Taiwan, in his article "Why Japan Seems Content to Be Run by One Party" last September. Mike refuted him, saying that the Japanese authority does not interfere civil liberty at all.

Having joined their discussion, I felt it necessary to refer to some objective data to evaluate freedom and democracy around the world. Therefore, I visited the website of Freedom House.

Freedom House is an influential advocacy group, founded by Eleanor Roosevelt to prevail freedom under American leadership. During the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Freedom House played a core role to organize students’ movement against the regime. The board of trustee is composed of business and labor leaders, former senior government officials, scholars, writers, and journalists. Human rights agendas set by Freedom House are vital in American foreign policy to advance democracy throughout the world. Therefore, it is worth to see how they evaluate freedom in every country.

Freedom House grades the state in 7 levels, from 1 to 7. The smaller the number is, the better in this grading system. The result is shown in the Table of Independent Countries 2005. The best grade is 1-1: 1 in both Political Rights and Civil Liberties. As expected, the following Western democracies mark this grade.

United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Netherlands, Belgium, etc

It is quite interesting that many countries in New Europe mark 1-1 as well. They are new democracies, and I wonder whether former communist nations have transformed into free societies so rapidly. In any case, I show you 1-1 countries in New Europe below.

Poland, Estonia, Czech, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary

Is Japan really a free country? According to the table, Japan marks 1 in Political Rights, and 2 in Civil Liberties. This is not worse than South Korea, 1-2, and Taiwan, 2-1. Things are not so bad as Onishi says. However, I feel they are graded too highly, because their democracy is less developed than that in the West. A leading Japanologist Karel van Wolfren mentions unaccountable system in Japanese societies in his well-known books like “The Enigma of Japanese Power” and “Keeping the People Ignorant.” From this viewpoint, Freedom House over-evaluates Japan. South Korea needs to be graded much lower, because their police is authoritarian, and anti-American or anti-Jaanese emotionalism dominate its politics.

How does Freedom House evaluate freedom around the world? Their methodology is shown below.

Freedom House does not maintain a culture-bound view of freedom. The methodology of the survey established basic standards that are derived in large measure from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These standards apply to all countries and territories, irrespective of geographical location, ethnic or religious composition, or level of economic development.

It is noticeable that some developing countries mark 1-1. Certainly, their grading is fair, and not Western or Anglo Saxon centered. Developing countries mark 1-1 are the following.

Barbados, Cape Verde, Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Dominican Commonwealth, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Malta, Mauritius, Nauru, Tuvalu, Uruguay

Finally, let me see the grade of countries of critical focus: Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, China, and India. Despite US-lead intervention, both Iraq and Afghanistan are far from free at this stage. As expected, Iran, North Korea, and China mark poor grades. Though the Bush administration sees India a trustworthy democracy to make the controversial nuclear deal, Freedom House grades this country merely 2-3 level: not bad but dangerous to trust too much.

Freedom House Index may not be perfect, but it is apparent that there are no cultural biases in their grading system. More importantly, their evaluation has significant effects on US policymaking. Whether Republican or Democrat administration, promotion of democracy to defeat terrorists and rogue states will be a key agenda of American diplomacy. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to pay attention to this NGO.