Especially since the end of the Cold War, the Council of Europe (CE) and the Organization of American States (OAS) have acted to protect democracy in their member states from erosion or reversals, with CE policies more robust than those in the Americas. What explains this variation? I develop an argument focusing on institutional permeability, or the extent to which those organizations are accessible to nonstate actors. Permeability consists of three dimensions: range of third parties allowed access, level of decision making at which access is granted, and transparency of IO information to those third parties. Higher levels of permeability are likely to produce higher levels of constraint on state behavior through increasing levels of precision and obligation in international rules and practices. Alternative explanations, summarized as regional democracy norms, domestic democratic lock-in interests, and the power of stable democracies cannot explain the variation in multilateral democracy protection. More broadly, this article suggests that “democratizing” IOs by allowing ever-greater access to nonstate actors is likely to result in stronger, more constraining international rules, even in areas where states most jealously guard their sovereignty, such as the nature of their domestic political institutions.
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