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January 14, 2007

Hey, I Heard About This Democracy Concert
Posted by David Shorr

A lot of blog has already been spilt over merits and pitfalls of organizing democratic nations into some kind of alliance, but I'd like to take my shot. In case anyone missed it, the issue was the subject of an extended debate over on America Abroad; this tag gives a partial sampling. Formal articulations of the idea can be found by Daalder and Lindsay in American Interest and Ikenberry and Slaughter in their final Princeton Project report (potential terms as a basis for a concert of democracies are in an annex, but the entire report is a must-read).

My main problem is with the extremely strange timing of an American push for a major new international organization. This is hardly the time for the United States to go forum-shopping. I just don't know how to square this with the depletion of our moral authority account.

I don't have problems with the idea in principle. The presence of undemocratic regimes in the United Nations indeed undermines the UN's legitimacy, and a diverse, unified coalition of democracies could do a lot of good. Except for a crucial difference: the United Nations exists, and the Demoratic Concert does not.

The question of the time horizon for this project is critical. I can embrace the long-term vision of democracies combining to provide global leadership and impetus for progress. As ripe political conditions emerge, it will be a sign that the current deep and widespread fractures in the world community have healed significantly.

But to put it mildly, we're not there yet. If this is pursued now as a major American initiative, it cannot avoid the perception of Americans wanting international cooperation on more convenient terms. The real order of the day is to patiently rebuild our international stature and credibility; building a He-Man Woman-Haters clubhouse is not going to help matters (Spanky and Our Gang, for those who missed the reference).

All that said, I agree with Daalder and Lindsay on a couple of points, sort of. The political caucus system within the United Nations is a hindrance to its effectiveness, so a counterweight to the G-77 would be welcome indeed. A Bush Administration State Department official, Mark Lagon, and I make this argument in a forthcoming paper as part of the Stanley Foundation's Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide project. Except that we commend a strong Democracies Group within the UN as an alternative to the political impracticality of a more ambitious project.

Daalder and Lindsay also recommend enlisting other major democracies to help push for the concert. One new development might induce me to change my mind. If India, Brazil, and South Africa led this effort, it would be very hard to oppose. Sad it is to say, though, we're not the ones to be leading the democratic charge right now.


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How would the USA benefit by joining a debating society of democracies? Democracies tend to have to listen to their voters. They take random moral stands because their voters want them to. They back out of treaties and abandon wars when they feel like it. How would they be useful to us?

We'd do better with an alliance of nations that do what we tell them to, independent of their internal affairs.

If we want to do something with other democracies, why not work toward a constitutional amendment that would let us invite them to join us? Canada's biggest external problem -- essentially their only external problem -- is the USA. They'd do far better to have 26 senators than an embassy.

Mexico has a democracy in form, and they're probably as democratic as, say, Mississippi. They would be far, far better off as part of the USA than as a neighboring nation. And it would settle the question of illegal mexican immigrants once and for all.

Every democracy that has common interests with the USA should have the chance to join the United States. That gives them far more influence on the USA than they'd have as members of a democracy club. Once they join the USA we can't invade them, and nobody else is likely to either. We don't get to broker unequal trade deals, all that would be handled by the ICC.

We don't need a new organisation of democracies. The United States is an existing organisation of democracies that should be open to democracies everywhere.

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