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June 08, 2007

Legitimacy Synonymous With Democracy?
Posted by David Shorr

One of the latest papers in the Stanley Foundation's Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide project is a piece by Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan on America and the Use of Force: Sources of Legitimacy. I agree with much in the paper (disclosure: I"m a co-editor), but when they argue that only democratically elected governments can lend legitimacy at the international level, I see a real problem.

The authors take the emphasis on regime character to its logical extreme: undemocratic governments are members of the international community at our sufferance. Now I'm no neo-realist, but to me, this dismissal of the Westphalian order is liberal internationalism run amok. And as we try to revise the concept of sovereignty to hold leaders accountable for how they treat their own people, I actually see the Daalder-Kagan position as a threat to the emerging -- and important -- Responsibility to Protect norm. It's the difference between viewing the Community (Concert) of Democracies as a long-term project, which is a fine thing, or seeing it as a soon-as-we-can-slap-something-together replacement for the UN, which is not such a good idea.

First, here are the relevant passages of the paper:

...real sovereignty, like real legitimacy, resides with the people rather than with the states. That is why the decision of states to intervene in the affairs in another state can be legitimate only if it is rendered by the people’s democratically chosen representatives rather than the personal whims of autocrats or oligarchs.


Would anyone seriously argue that an action supported by authoritarian regimes would, by garnering more votes, be legitimate in a way that an action supported by the world’s democracies would not?

Well, yes actually, I would. Being a model citizen in the international community is not an all-or-nothing proposition. If authoritarian regimes stand behind nuclear nonproliferation norms, that lends the added legitimacy that any broad and diverse political coalition does. Democratic empowerment of people is a core UN ideal, and democracies certainly carry the highest degree of moral authority. But more basic membership in the international community depends on more basic norms.

Which brings me to the Responsibility to Protect. In order for this emerging norm to gain international support -- and normative force -- it must be set apart from some of the other debates over sovereignty and non-interference. Humanitarian intervention must be reserved for the most severe abusees to avoid any impression that it might be mobilized in response to a broad range of human rights violations. The threshold for legitimate use of force must remain high: i.e. mass violence, ethnic cleansing, systematic and severe repression (sometimes called acute rathern than chronic vilations). Regardless of whether such clarity would win over hard-core sovereigntist countries, it could only help tilt the weight of the arguments in the associated debate. What doesn't help is to deny any legitimacy to non-democracies and discount their support.

As to the Concert of Democracies, Daalder and James Lindsay wrote a quite practical proposal in The American Interest last winter. The position Ivo and Bob Kagan take here pretty much pulls the rug out from under the UN.


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Is it just me, or has Ivo Daalder grown more strident and radical in recent months? I used to think of him as a sort of milquetoast internationalist with more or less conventional neoliberal views, and a few neocon friendships. Lately he seems to have moved more decisively toward the dark side.

Re: The American Interest

It was the UN's fault that the US had to invade Iraq:

"The UN Security Council proved unable to achieve a consensus on how to address Iraq’s failure to comply with its many resolutions, leaving it sidelined when the United States, the United Kingdom and a few other countries decided to take matters into their own hands."

And the US had to use NATO for the Afghanistan killing fields:

"Washington has repeatedly turned to NATO as its primary vehicle for effective multilateral action. . . . robust peacekeeping forces were needed to stabilize post-Taliban Afghanistan." Stabilize?

The answer is a Concert of Democracies. Who will play in this band? Not the US, apparently, because of the strict entry requirements:

"Who should be able to join the Concert of Democracies? One obvious criterion for membership is regular, free and fair elections."

That lets us out. Whew.

It gets weirder.

"Can a Concert of Democracies succeed if it excludes large countries such as China and Russia? Of course it can. Many successful international organizations do not count China or Russia as members. Neither country belongs to NATO, the European Union or the OECD. China doesn’t belong to the G-8, and Russia stands (at least for now) outside the WTO. Yet no one argues that these institutions are ineffective because of these exclusions."

When someone says "no one argues" something I wonder what kind of democracy they envision. China and Russia do belong to the Shanghai Alliance, and 125 other countries belong to the Non-aligned Movement, but, hey, we love NATO, right? Just call us Euro-centric, even though world power is clearly shifting to Asia. No one argues otherwise.

What would the Concert actually do?

"military deployments . . providing the vast bulk of both official and private development resources and expertise . . " sounds like the US agenda, all right. "the American Interest" for sure.

It's time to enlist members. We won't allow Brazil, Germany, India and Japan onto the UN Security Council, so they're Concert candidates.

And why are we doing this? " . . .September 11 . . ."
That's it!!

Either Sudan and Germany are more or less equal or they are not. The position that a non democratic regime is not the equal of a democratic regime is both not an aspect of international law and a truism. India, the largest democracy in the world, does have a more legitimate regime than Egypt. This does not mean Egypt's regime is illegal or that it's legal to come in by force and change it but neither should it mean that all nations are treated equally all the time.

Non democratic actors should not be allowed all the privileges of democratic nations. They should not be allowed to chair international human rights organizations. It should be understood by all that non democratic regimes do not represent the people from that nation but rather keep them enslaved. The worlds democracies should not encourage slavery and where possible should oppose it even if only by example.

One flaw of the UN is that non democratic regimes have equal voice to democracies in violation of the UN Charter. The 2nd line of the Preamble mentions the "equal rights of men and women". Article 1 of Chapter states that the purpose of the UN, in part, is promote friendly relations based on the "equal rights and self determination of peoples". What the UN has become violates the legal framework under which it operates.

And who's going to judge this 'democra-cicity'? Why, the US, of course, the land where:
*The president is ordained by the Supreme Court in violation of the Constitution.
*The electoral college determines that a voter in Nevada has about three times the weight of a voter in California.
*The Congress regularly enjoys a 99% return rate as a result of gerrymandering.
*A change in congressional power results in an opposite turn in the largest issue (Iraq).
*Congress has been bought and paid for by moneyed interests.
*Third parties are virtually shut out of contention by restrictive laws in the states governing ballot access, by exclusion from presidential debates managed by the two major parties and by lack of media access.
*Only half the eligible voters try to vote; the other half has given up on the system--their views are not represented.
*There is widespread election fraud, with minorities being disenfranchised.
*An imperialistic foreign policy demands that other democratic world leaders adopt policies not popular in their countries.
*The president routinely violates the laws.
*The government has a policy of favoring corporations over the general welfare of the people, in violation of the Constitution.

I just returned from a visit to the Republic of Ireland where a national election was going on. They have a complicated scheme of proportional representation and had twelve candidates running. Some of the pub talk, when they learned that I am an American (not difficult to discern) included jokes about American elections. They know what's going on and they probably find the US promotion of democracy abroad amusing. I know I do.

Interesting. I think the long-term emphasis on any Concert of Democracies proposal is right. The U.N. is still necessary and trying to completely exclude autocracies from the discussion would undermine the attempt to build a responsibility to protect.

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