Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 28, 2008
By: Neil Sinhababu

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN....Below, Cheryl Rofer joins Thomas Carothers in criticizing the idea of an active 'League of Democracies'. The reason some people want such an organization is so that they don't have to listen to China and Russia in deciding when to undertake coercive action. That's an understandable motivation -- getting approval from dictatorships with serious human rights problems can often prevent us from achieving genuinely valuable ends. But I was pretty impressed by an argument that Matt Yglesias made in Heads In The Sand against relying on such an organization to legitimize sanctions and military action.

Suppose we were to ignore Chinese opinion, and only seek the approval of our friends in the League of Democracies before undertaking coercive action. With the threat of being invaded or sanctioned by democracies, the dictatorships of the world wouldn't just shrug and plod along one by one in their oppressive way. Faced with an external threat, they'd form alliances against all those mean democracies that keep invading and sanctioning them. Nuclear proliferation is a particularly big problem here -- what's to stop China from selling nuclear weapons to dictators who promise to keep selling it oil or promise not to sanction it? As Yglesias points out, there's a serious danger that you'd end up in a great power conflict like the Cold War, with its Vietnam-style quagmires, huge sums of money wasted on armaments, brutal proxy conflicts that rip apart Africa and Latin America, and possibility of nuclear war.

That, obviously, isn't where we want to go. It's not even clear that this kind of polarized situation would be good on democracy-promotion grounds -- when your undemocratic country finds itself threatened with invasion by democracies, being a local democracy activist might make you look suspicious and unpatriotic. So as annoying as it is to look for Russia and China's approval on stuff, it's worth some restrictions on our freedom of action to avoid a situation where the world is embroiled in decades-long negative-sum great power conflicts.

A lot of this is moot right now -- after the Iraq War, our fellow democracies aren't exactly itching to follow the United States into battle. But building a substantial 'League of Democracies' that wields massive power and excludes countries we don't like isn't even really a goal to build towards. Truly inclusive organizations like the UN, even with their obvious drawbacks, are the kinds of international institutions to work through.

Neil Sinhababu 2:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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there's a serious danger that you'd end up in a great power conflict like the Cold War, with its Vietnam-style quagmires, huge sums of money wasted on armaments, brutal proxy conflicts that rip apart Africa and Latin America, and possibility of nuclear war.

To Rove's GOP, those are all features, not bugs.

And I'd guess that that scenario is probably even more attractive to McCain,

Posted by: The Confidence Man on May 28, 2008 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

I can certainly imagine such a League encouraging this organization's growth and prominence:

http://tinyurl.com/66w4v9

DU

Posted by: The Mechanical Eye on May 28, 2008 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

But people like John McCain would feel fully comfortable with a new Cold War. It's a return to the world they grew up with and think they understand. There's a clear set of good guys and bad guys, and therefore anything they do in support of the cause of Good is justified.

Posted by: Joe Buck on May 28, 2008 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

OK, enough of this. "To sanction" means to give approval. It does NOT mean to impose sanctions. Please stop ruining my language.

Posted by: Don on May 28, 2008 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

As I've stated many times before, I'm not so sure your country would qualify for membership. Sure you've got the infrastructure of a democracy but what else? I would suggest the following as the starting point for membership in any "League of Democracies." How does your tiresomely self vaunted "democracy" do?

1. equal access of voters to the polls... nope
2. equal access of candidates to the media... nope
3. an easily understandable and difficult to manipulate voting system... nope
4. votes that can be verified 100%... nope

There are many countries that claim the form of a democracy. That doesn't mean they are in fact countries where the people get to exercise much control over their own destinies. The last thing us citizens of real democracies want is to get enmeshed in yet an instrument designed to leverage the strength of American oligarchs. Those fuckers need taking down.

Posted by: snicker-snack on May 28, 2008 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

Wait, when did Russia stop counting as a democracy?

Posted by: Scu on May 29, 2008 at 2:22 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, the hell with those silly old democracies. Dictatorships are great! Its much better when we make friends of tyrants, and arm them. Besides, their labor policies are so much more enlightened. I think its a wonderful idea to move our manufacturing to a place where you can have someone arrested if they ask for a raise. Let the ungrateful american worker compete with that!

I'm just curious; do you people call yourselves liberal because you believe it means not having to fight for anything, by definition?

Posted by: on May 29, 2008 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Doesn't the EU qualify as an international organization with massive power (as international organizations go) that excludes countries it doesn't like?

I think there's an excellent argument in favor of keeping non-defensive coercive intervention decisions in the hands of inclusive global or regional orgs. If you don't have all the key great powers, it isn't going to work. In some regions, all the great powers are to a good extent democratic and that simplifies things, but that model doesn't apply in many parts of the world.

However, certain forms of deeper cooperation require some level of shared values. Nothing wrong with that, different orgs for different problems.

Posted by: Greg Sanders on May 29, 2008 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

If I can directly elect my representative to this league of democracies - and if this league is open to any state willing to let their citizens elect their representative - then I'd be for it.

If we can't directly elect our representatives, then the league will be just another tool available for powerful governments to impose their will on others.

Posted by: sjk on May 29, 2008 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

anon at 2.15. When you have such obvious reading comprehension problems, be a good idea for you to read, reread and then count to 500 before you post... It might save you from making a complete fool of yourself, off lunging in directions where there be no one. And if you're a Yank, don't even talk to me about democracy until you clean your own reeking sty! Its stench clogs the world.

Posted by: snicker-snack on May 29, 2008 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK

Suppose we were to ignore Chinese opinion

How do we know Chinese opinion? If the Chinese people have no say in who runs their country, they are not represented by definition. So ignoring Chinese opinion makes no sense unless you are only referring to those in the palaces.

With the threat of being invaded or sanctioned by democracies

Please don't assume that the charter of such an organization would include the power to invade. Or even maintaining a standing army. Suppose the charter only include the right to beam free internet across the globe, arrest those convicted of human rights abuses when they enter member countries, and monitoring of elections. Would you then support the organization?

gary

Posted by: on May 31, 2008 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

Suppose we were to ignore Chinese opinion

How do we know Chinese opinion? If the Chinese people have no say in who runs their country, they are not represented by definition. So ignoring Chinese opinion makes no sense unless you are only referring to those in the palaces.

With the threat of being invaded or sanctioned by democracies

Please don't assume that the charter of such an organization would include the power to invade. Or even maintaining a standing army. Suppose the charter only include the right to beam free internet across the globe, arrest those convicted of human rights abuses when they enter member countries, and monitoring of elections. Would you then support the organization? I don't claim this is the league's charter...I'm just trying to understand if you're against ANY such organization of democracies or just the one being posed by McCain...

gary

Posted by: gary on May 31, 2008 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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