Concert of Democracies as a Shell Game?


The concert of democracies idea has been bandied about for quite a while in both liberal internationalist and neoconservative circles. (There is perhaps a reason for that as Professor Tony Smith has argued). But recently it’s been taken up by Sen. John McCain.
Some of his supporters of his like Charles Krauthammer are excited by this idea because they believe it’s the very Trojan horse they have been seeking to undermine the United Nations system, and with it the fanciful notions of internationalism. Somehow I missed this video ThinkProgress posted last month. Krauthammer states:

Well, I like the idea of the league of democracies, and only in part because I and others had proposed it about six years ago. What I like about it, it’s got a hidden agenda. It looks as if it’s all about listening and joining with allies, all the kind of stuff you’d hear a John Kerry say, except that the idea here, which McCain can’t say, but I can, is to essentially kill the U.N.

Krauthammer’s strike against the UN (in the guise of a purportedly liberal internationalist proposal) is worrisome for its cynical intentions and actual anti-internationalist sentiment — especially at a time when a host of writers, pollsters, and strategists argue that greater internationalism will not only be critical to the US image, but will be the currency of US power and influence.
Additionally, Michael Lind has pointed out that the concert of democracies proposal is equally troubling for its assault on the principles of sovereignty, a critical stabilizing organizing principle in the post-WWII international security order. That’s why, despite the best intentions, it easily falls prey to the pugnacious nationalist and neoconservative agenda that continues to harbor unrealistic ambitions of American primacy.

No doubt a consensus is solidifying that the UN Security Council’s formal structures are out of touch with the new geopolitical realities and thus something must be mended or created to bridge this gap. But instead of a concert of democracies, Lind has proposed a flexible, informal Great Global Power Council modeled on the G8 as well as regional concerts of power to manage respective security demands.
While recognizing the UN model is antiquated, rather than kill it, this move seeks to supplement it and bolster a reinvigorated internationalist regime. Decoupling great power security decisions from the UN might prove a useful, complementary multi-lateralist model.
The UN general assembly and security council, serve invaluable functions but are not necessarily suited for rapid decision making on issues of global security. The demands of global geopolitics will not be best served by another international government camp where everyone gets to play and have a role. Instead we need a more effective and efficient decision making process that is populated by the real global power brokers of the 21st century, not 1945.
–Sameer Lalwani


7 comments on “Concert of Democracies as a Shell Game?

  1. David says:

    Bingo, JohnH


  2. Eric says:

    Matthew Yglesias has a very good discussion of this point in his book “Heads in the Sand”. The major point was that creating a parallel organization to the UN in order to give more legitimacy to American military action will cause other nations to do the same thing in response leading to another cold war type situation where the possibility of true international cooperation is greatly reduced rather than increased. It makes sense for the Krauthammer’s of the world to believe this because they want to weaken international institutions but anybody in the liberal internationalist camp who subscribes to this idea has not thought it through.


  3. JohnH says:

    Let’s see. And who would be included in the concert of democracies? Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Azerbaijan, Angola? And who would be excluded, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Nicaragua?
    Um-humm. Not a concert of democracies, but a concert of the Democracy(TM) brand. In other words, if you’re with us, you’re a democracy. If you’re against us, you’re a terrorist state.


  4. Don Bacon says:

    If there is no doubt that “a consensus is solidifying that the UN Security Council’s formal structures are out of touch with the new geopolitical realities and thus something must be mended or created to bridge this gap” then perhaps someone could offer some evidence of why this is true, if it is.
    Just think, if the “antiquated” UN had been followed in Iraq . . .


  5. Tintin says:

    Dan makes a couple of good points.
    Clearly, if we’re talking about the mega problems facing us–
    climate change, proliferation, resource sharing–we need to
    include everyone who contributes to the problem and could
    benefit from solving it.
    This strikes me as a no-brainer. For example, how do you
    address global warming without China when 3.1 billion Chinese
    will soon be buying cars? Just as one “small” example. Who
    cares what the ruling ideology is–they’re pumping out millions
    of tons of greenhouse gases.
    As to starting a second Cold War, I have a slightly different take.
    If my memory serves, the first Cold War was BETTER than what
    we are moving toward now. The Cold War participants achieved
    a modus vivendi. They worked with each other. They talked
    with each other. There was bluster, but it was seen by the other
    side as just that. We knew we had to deal with the Russians, and
    they with us.
    So even though the world was neatly divided along ideological
    lines, we didn’t have the dangerous chaos and belligerency (at
    least for most of the time) that we see now. Yes, JFK was a bit
    of a cowboy, but mostly the US and Russia knew how to play well
    with each other.
    Part of our problem now is that we have many more players, and
    aspiring players, including non-state actors, and the lines of
    interaction are much more complex and fast moving. We also
    don’t have a good understanding of the ideologies involved, i.e.,
    why people do what they do, what they believe.
    I do think ideology needs to be taken into consideration–
    because it is does motivate action–but we have to get the
    ideology right at the very least.


  6. Dan Kervick says:

    For those with an internationalist bent, there are a number of different proposals out there for reorganizing or buttressing the international system. But ultimately they come down to two major types.
    On one view, the chief principle of organization must be a realistic assessment of how big a player someone is. If there are global-scale problems and challenges in the areas of environment, energy, economy, security and law they can only be addressed by including all of the states that are bound to have a significant impact on global events.
    The other group of proposals seeks to organize the world along ideological lines. Some see the world as some sort of Hegelian struggle of ideas, and ideology-based alliances appeal to them. Others see the world as primarily an arena of competing material interests.
    The ideological approach, in whatever shape it comes, is a recipe for Cold War II. Personally, I’ve already lived through one cold war, and I don’t want another one.


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