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FREEDOM has always been a rarity, and even after two world wars to make the world safe for democracy, it has been besieged by either Communist tyranny or other forms of authoritarian rule around the world.

During 1990, however, the concept of democracy made a tremendous leap forward, becoming the generally accepted form of government or the goal most nations were striving to reach. The annual survey by Freedom House, a U.S.-based human rights organization, listed 67 percent of the world's population as free or partly free. Of 165 nations surveyed, 65 are now free, 50 are partly free and 50 are not free.

The map prepared annually by Freedom House once was dominated by "not free" areas, colored solid black, throughout the former Soviet empire, China, Africa and South America. Today, the only areas colored in black are China, part of the Middle East and Africa, and even in Africa, there have been major moves toward freedom.

The most dramatic gains during 1990 were in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, almost all of which are now either free or partly free. The fragility of the new democratic institutions in some of these countries makes it premature to list all of them in the "free" category.

In Latin America, there were notable gains for freedom in 1990 in Panama, Nicaragua, Chile and Haiti. In Africa, despite the prevalence of authoritarian rule, there were elections or plans for elections in Algeria, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Madagascar and Zambia. South Africa freed Nelson Mandela af
ter 27 years and lifted the ban on black African organizations. Namibia not only gained its independence but moved into the "free" column.

A glance at the Middle East on the Freedom House map starkly demonstrates the totalitarian nature of most nations there, including not only Iraq but many of those allied with the United States in opposing Iraq's seizure of Kuwait. Drawn in black, denoting nations that are "not free," are Saudi Arabia, Syria, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

While the world community is right to oppose aggression, the undemocratic nature of the nations of the region, including Kuwait, raise serious doubts about the massive nature of the American commitment.

A little freedom leads to demands for more freedom, and this often comes in the form of the assertion of ethnic, religious or national rights. Such demands are threatening to tear the Soviet Union apart, and they are causing threats to order and freedom in India and Sri Lanka. Despite such concerns, however, India remains the world's largest democracy.

Since World War II, the ability of the United States to work with the world community on global problems has been impaired not only by the Cold War, but by the authoritarian nature of most members of the United Nations. With the Cold War over and democracy now making unprecedented gains, the door appears to be opening to a new era of constructive international cooperation.

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