Our guest blogger is Nina Hachigian, Senior Vice-President at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
I thought Senator McCain was backing away from his idea for a “League of Democracies” because he had not mentioned it much lately, but he raised it again in the debate on Friday in response to a question about Iran.
The League is one of McCain’s more radical foreign policy proposals. He has described a “global compact” that will “harness the vast influence” of some 100 nations to “defend our shared interests” and “revive the democratic solidarity that united the West during the Cold War.”
While, as my Dad points out, “it sure sounds lovely,” the League is an unworkable, divisive waste of time.
First, no one else wants to do it. Though McCain suggested in the debate that Britain, France and Germany would sign right up, on the contrary, diplomatic reaction in Old Europe has ranged from cool to dismissive. The bigger developing democracies like India, Brazil and South Africa appear no more enthusiastic, perhaps because they saw Charles Krauthammer on Fox News explaining that the ulterior motive of the LOD is to “kill the UN.” And they like the UN.
Second, the LOD is fundamentally conceptually flawed because one’s form of government is not the principal driver of a country’s foreign policy stances. In a 2002 report, (pdf) a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute laments that he cannot report a “high correlation” of voting behavior at the UN among democracies and, in fact, that “the democracies of Africa, Latin America and the Carribbean, with a few exceptions, have voting patterns that correspond more closely with the dictatorships of their regions than with the United States.” That should not come as a big surprise. Why does the United States cozy up to Saudi Arabia and look the other way at Egypt’s non-democratic behavior? Because we have strategic interests at stake. Other democracies have those interests too, and sometimes those interests conflict with ours, despite our shared ideals.
McCain uses the case Iran to illustrate the utility of the League, but it actually reveals why it will not work. Like many, McCain is frustrated that the UN Security Council will not approve tougher sanctions against Iran because of China and Russia’s veto power (though they have agreed to some sanctions). But the LOD would not do any better at providing a united, sanction-seeking front. India, the LOD’s largest would-be member, claims a “strategic partnership” (pdf) with Iran and has been negotiating for a large natural gas pipeline to meet its growing demand for imported fuel. Moreover, it is hard to imagine how you can cut a nuclear deal with Tehran if China, its largest customer, and Russia, its arms dealer, are not fully engaged.
Third, do we really need another “us against them” construct motivating US foreign policy? Remember that Cold War strategy of trying to drive a wedge between Beijing and Moscow? The LOD is the opposite– another reason for them to bond in solidarity against the west.
Fourth, what could the League do about global warming or non-proliferation or disease? Not much because key non-democracies hold cards in all those areas.
Of course we should deepen cooperation with democracies individually and in groups, like NATO. We should also continue to promote democracy abroad in effective and peaceful ways because it is the best form of government around. But we shouldn’t spend another 10 minutes thinking about the future of the League.