Monday, May 19, 2008

The League of Extraordinary Democracies

So Jackson Diehl at the Washington Post has jumped on the League of Democracy bandwagon. Ambassador At Large has previously argued, in other fora, that this is a very bad idea. Allow me, if you will, to flesh those critiques out here.

1. It won't solve the world's problems and it will create new ones. Diehl says the presence of undemocratic powers on the UN Security Council -- China and Russia -- hamper it from taking action, thus implying that the League would have Security Council-like powers despite the fact that only a third to a sixth of the United Nations membership would be in it. This raises the question: what kind of power would the League have if Russia and China aren't involved? If the League decides to take action on Burma, what if the Chinese, and the Burmese regime, say no? As China's economic and military power increases significantly, it's worth noting that a League of Democracies could, simply put, restart the Cold War. Furthermore, not involving two of the world's great powers severely limits the League's ability to solve the world's most pressing dilemmas. What point are sanctions on an oil-rich state like Iran or Sudan if petrol-hungry China refuses to honor them? What could possibly be done on climate change without China? How can nonproliferation be enforced if at least two of the world's nuclear powers are actively excluded? And how would the League solve the problems of the Middle East if the only Middle Eastern country in the League is Israel? (Turkey, we can say, is now effectively in Europe.) How can the League solve the problem of Darfur or the African Horn when none of the countries in question has anything resembling a democracy, and when all of them will call the League illegitimate, since they are not members? And for that matter, let's not forget about African solidarity either. The Africans tend to vote as a bloc in the General Assembly and do everything they can to keep their strength in numbers to overcome their lack of power projection capacity. An attempt to divide them into "democracies" and "nondemocracies" would not go over well, especially since it's rather hard to tell the difference across much of the continent. Which brings me to my second point:

2. Who is a democracy anyway? Do democracies who are adversarial to the United Staes such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador or Nicaragua get to join? How about undemocratic US allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt? What about one-party states like Singapore? Coup-prone democracies like Thailand and Pakistan? Corrupt democracies like Nigeria? Weak ones that can't withstand a transfer of power without violence, like Kenya? Does Iraq get to play? Palestine? Do you want to be the one to decide whether to say "no" to a Liberia or a Democratic Republic of Congo following its first free and fair election? I don't. Finally, once you get them all in a room, there's this little bother:

3. How do you allocate decision-making power within the League? How would the League vote? Would every democracy get equal representation, allowing Haiti and the United States equal voting power? Would voting power be commensurate with population, a la the EU, allowing India to have greater weight than NATO? How about GDP, where the US would play second fiddle to the EU? The only way to guarantee the United States its appropriate degree of hegemony would be to base voting power on the size of the democracies' respective military budgets. I suspect that might not sit well in some quarters.

Basically, a League of Democracies is fine with me as a strategic negotiating forum among free states, but if you try to give it real power, you'll basically be dividing the world in half. The problem with that is that most of the world's problems come from failed states or autocracies, or are global in nature. All of these problems require dealing with authoritarian regimes. Pretending they don't count will not fix anything. Diehl says that those who say that the League of Democracies is a "radical neocon" idea are wrong. I say, why?

1 comment:

gary said...

I happen to like the idea of a "league of democracies". Clearly the UN hasn't worked out...nuclear proliferation is rampant, situations like Darfur go on endlessly, the middle east is no closer to resolution. I agree with your position that a democratic league shouldn't be a military power, but it still makes sense as an organization.

1. It won't solve the world's problems and it will create new ones.

Only if poorly implemented.

2. Who is a democracy anyway?

Clearly not an easy task, but possible. Very intelligent attempts have shown it possible. Here's just one...

3. How do you allocate decision-making power within the League? How would the League vote? Would every democracy get equal representation,

Yes, that's a good start. Much better than the silly UN security council we currently have. But defintiely not by military budget as you suggest. That's a recipe for proliferation and would only prove that might makes right.

Here's my own writeup of such a concept...

What do you think?