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Against the League of Democracies

This has obviously gotten pretty lost in the bailout shuffle, but at Friday’s debate John McCain went back to touting his notion that the United States ought to form a “League of Democracies” that, allegedly, could supplant the UN as the major multilateral actor in international crises. CAP Senior Vice President Nina Hachigian did a great post yesterday highlighting the major problems with this idea. I thought, though, that I might also take the opportunity to point out some less-major problems with it:

— Who wants to join? I see no sign whatsoever that major non-NATO democracies have any interest whatsoever in signing up for a venture like this. One could imagine Australia joining and presumably Israel and maybe a few others would. But India? South Africa? Brazil? New Zealand? Argentina? I don’t see it.

— Who decides on eligibility? Some countries are uncontroversially democracies (Norway) and others are uncontroversially not democracies (North Korea) but there’s this vast middle ground. The convention in the United States is that a penumbral case that’s geopolitically aligned with the United States is a democracy, whereas one that’s perceived as “anti-American” in its geopolitical orientation is not, but that hardly holds as a universally applicable standard.

These aren’t the main problems with the LOD concept, but the total failure to think them through tells you something about the intellectual heft behind latter-day neoconservative thinking about grand strategy. Meanwhile, back when I was working on Heads in the Sand I was pretty worried that a number of progressive thinkers seemed inclined to adopt a variant on the LOD idea. One beneficial impact of McCain’s embrace of this idea, is that I think it’s led some folks on the left to rethink their previous positions and move away from this unsound vision.

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