Thursday, May 03, 2007

Concert of Democracy

[posted by Callimachus]

The arrangement of powers and nations in the world drifted after the fall of the USSR, waiting for the next alignment to emerge. 9/11 and all that has followed reveals the folly of letting things drift. Events and revelations since 2001 have brought into stark relief the defects of most of the likely candidates to succeed the Cold War superpower rivalry: UN-driven state-based internationalism, unilateralism, American hegemony, ad hoc coalition-building, Wilsonian idealism, ignoring festering sores and hoping they'll just go away on their own.

What to try next? This idea looks to be worth a try. The "Concert of Democracies" would be an alternative international organization; it was formally proposed in the fall by the Princeton Project, in a report printed here [pdf].

Neither America nor the world can wait forever for U.N. reform, no matter how desirable it is. The United States must take the lead and invest the time, energy, and resources to accomplish significant reform, on the principle of “mend it, don’t end it.” At the same time, however, we should work with our allies to develop a new global institution dedicated to the principles underpinning liberal democracy, both as a vehicle to spur and support the reform of the United Nations and other global institutions and as a possible alternative to them.

This alternative body would be a global “Concert of Democracies.” Its purpose would be to strengthen security cooperation among the world’s liberal democracies and to provide a framework in which they can work together to effectively tackle common challenges – ideally within existing regional and global institutions, but if those institutions fail, then independently, functioning as a focal point for efforts to strengthen liberty under law around the world. It would also serve as the institutional embodiment and ratification of the “democratic peace.”

Essentially, it is a return to the "Great Powers" diplomacy of the pre-1919 period. But instead of being exclusively European, measured by military might, and dominated by colonial empires, it would be worldwide, measured by democracy, and dominated by free peoples. It rescues the idealism of Wilson's 14 Points, while turning away from the errors built into the world system represented by the League of Nations and later the United Nations (notably the false extension of the "one man one vote" principle to nations). It could restore the old power of real diplomacy, as opposed to polemical posturing, without the cold-bloodedness of Kissingerite realpolitik and the dynastic rivalries that brought down the old order in the bloodbath of 1914-18.

The membership of the Concert of Democracies would be selective, but self-selected. Membership would be predicated not on an abstract definition of liberal democracy or on the labels attached by states to other states, but rather by the obligations that members are willing to take on themselves.

Members would have to: pledge not to use force or plan to use force against one another; commit to holding multiparty, free-and-fair elections at regular intervals; guarantee civil and political rights for their citizens enforceable by an independent judiciary; and accept that states have a “responsibility to protect” their citizens from avoidable catastrophe and that the international community has a right to act if they fail to uphold it.

... In one sense, the Concert would serve as an informal gathering of democratic states that are already allies, as it would include the United States, NATO and non-NATO European democracies, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. However, it would also include new democratic partners like India, South Africa, Brazil, and Mexico. This aspect of the Concert would constitute a major effort to integrate non-Western democratic powers into a global democratic order. At the same time, the Concert would be more substantial and exclusive than the already existing “community of democracies,” which is a broad but shallow organization that seeks to strengthen democracy within states.

The Concert of Democracies would not be – at least for the foreseeable future – a new alliance system or a substitute for America’s alliances in Europe and East Asia. Nor would it be a substitute for the United Nations or other global institutions, as long as those institutions can be successfully reformed. If UNSC expansion and reform proves impossible by the end of this decade, however, the Concert could become an alternative forum for the approval of the use of force in cases where the use of the veto at the Security Council prevented free nations from keeping faith with the aims of the U.N. Charter.

Should this necessity arise, Concert members would undertake an additional set of agreements approving the use of force by a supermajority of member states, with no veto power. They would have to seek approval at the United Nations first, but they would commit to accept authorization by the Concert as an equally legitimate and acceptable alternative. In this sense, the creation of the Concert would follow in the tradition of the creation of NATO, which was seen as a means of achieving the goals of the U.N. Charter, rather than undermining them.

A wonky idea, perhaps, but so was "containment" in 1948. I think it's worth a long look and a serious critique.

(More commentary on the idea here).

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