Democracies of the World, Unite: Cont'd.'

Comments by Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Evgeny Primakov, Bruce Jentleson, James Traub, Tod Lindberg, and David Yang. Ivo Daalder & James Lindsay reply.

Alexander M. Haig, Jr.

Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay have reminded us of an enduring international problem: The bigger the coalition, the harder it is to get anything done, but the smaller the coalition, the tougher it is to muster sufficient resources. These conditions are likely to prevail even if the Administration in Washington becomes more skillful, or the Secretary-General of the UN is more able.

The proposition before us is whether a larger coalition of democracies would make a real difference to our problems, not just an employment act for our diplomats. We already have a working democratic coalition. It’s called NATO, and my experience with it tells me that agreement on democratic values will take us just so far, and that may not be far enough.

NATO and the democracies were threatened throughout the Cold War. We all agreed on the values to be defended, but we disagreed—often and sometimes harshly—over the strategy to be applied. The same was true of out-of-area crises. It was easy to find the source of our disagreements: Not every state felt equally threatened and not every state could make an equal contribution. So the essence of alliance management became agreement first among those who could make a decisive difference and then a heavy diplomatic push to share out burdens and risks among the rest. NATO’s biggest troubles were almost always due to insufficient resources, or allowing some states an influence over decisions without a commensurate responsibility. That is why, to this day, the Military Committee—which excludes France—is more effective than the Council. The distance between France and the rest of NATO was and is, most assuredly, not a disagreement over democratic values.

Today, all the democracies agree on the threat posed by the likes of Osama bin Laden to democratic values. And to get to specifics, unlike Iraq, we all agree that Afghanistan, at least, has to be kept free of the Taliban. Yet not two months ago, we saw the absurd spectacle of NATO’s military and political high command barely able to raise another 2,000–3,000 troops for Afghanistan, and begging for more flexible rules of engagement for troops already there.

When I looked at the article’s practical recommendations, I found only a D-60 caucus at the UN; bringing Brazil, Germany, India and Japan into the D-60 concept, so it wouldn’t look like another U.S. ploy; and an Elder Statesmen’s board of advisors. As an Elder Statesman of sorts myself, you will forgive my skepticism about the wisdom of such boards.

This gruel is too thin. “The willing cooperation of like-minded states” comes about not only when we all agree on values, but also when “an increased say over the direction of common policy” is based on shared interests, shared risks and shared sacrifices. For some years now we have indulged in the sophistry that agreement on democratic values can compensate for all the rest. The D-60 formula therefore looks to me like a bigger coalition, but not a more effective one.

Alexander M. Haig, Jr. (U.S.A., Ret.) is a former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and U.S. Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan.

James Traub:

The UN suffers from a structural problem, which is in turn linked to an apparently fatal political flaw. The UN is a body of states at a time when many grave crises arise within, rather than between, states, and because many of the UN’s members, and several of its key ones, treat sovereignty as sacrosanct, it cannot act effectively to stem either intrastate cataclysms, like ethnic cleansing in Darfur, or borderless problems, like terrorism. The UN is also a universal body, and since such core values as respect for human rights do not enjoy anything like universal support, the organization is hard pressed to enforce its principles. The all-new and allegedly fortified Human Rights Council has thus proved as feckless as its scorned predecessor, the Human Rights Commission.

And so I generally agree with Daalder and Lindsay’s diagnosis, but I have a problem with the cure they propose. Their rationale for supplanting the UN’s security apparatus with a body open only to democratic states is that “democracies understand that international peace and justice in the era of global politics rests on protecting the rights of individuals.” In theory, yes, they do. But the nonchalance with which many democratic states have treated the atrocities in Darfur, and the lack of enthusiasm among them for a forceful human rights body, argue that states often make political calculations that have little if anything to do with their domestic political culture—as, of course, a classic realist would predict. Specifically, Western and non-Western democracies do not behave alike in the UN. Third World democracies like India view sovereignty in virtually the same absolutist terms as the autocracies do, and it’s no wonder, since they were all shaped by the experience of colonialism.

A Concert of Democracies would also face a real problem of legitimacy. The UN’s crippling universality is also the source of its legitimacy—the UN can claim to act in the name of “the international community.” The Concert, by contrast, would have only one member from the Middle East: Israel. What would happen if it intervened in Lebanon, as the UN just did? What about an intervention in a non-Middle Eastern Islamic state, like Sudan? The Concert would, in fact, intervene almost exclusively in the territory of non-members. The benevolence of the deed might be, let’s say, obscured by anti-neo-colonial wrath.

Limitation, of course, means exclusion. Daalder and Lindsay insist that China and Russia could live with being excluded from the Concert since it would only “complement”, rather than replace, existing international bodies. This seems ever so slightly disingenuous. The Concert aspires to shape a just and stable world order. China and Russia would view its creation as a hostile act. And in any case it’s hard to see how such a body could succeed absent China, the world’s great rising power.

On balance, I would rather see the United States try to encourage good behavior in the UN by modeling such behavior itself. Still, I think it’s right that democracies, in general, practice a more responsible foreign policy than autocracies do, and I recognize that, as Daalder and Lindsay hopefully suggest, the Concert could advance the Enlightenment values it embodies. So okay, let’s give it a try. I don’t share their high expectations, but the world would be better off if they were right.

James Traub is author, most recently, of The Best of Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006).

Evgeny M. Primakov:

The authors of “Democracies of the World, Unite” begin with the absolutely correct statement that the United States is powerful but not omnipotent. This has been amply manifested by the miserable outcome of the Iraq campaign undertaken on the basis of the neoconservative doctrine of universalism. I fully agree with the authors that only a multilateral mechanism can efficiently counter modern threats to security—such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, dangerous regional conflicts and massive annihilation of populations.

But “what kind of multilateralism do we need?” ask Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay. They reproach President Bush for the absence of a “strategic vision of how international institutions could be shaped to serve the longer-range American interests” (my emphasis). Certainly, every state has its own interests. However, in the present circumstances such interests must be protected while respecting those of other states and the entire world community, not by means of confrontation. This does not mean that forceful methods shall be totally excluded from world practice. They can be applied on a multilateral basis and only in the case of imminent danger to the world community. The main point is that the decision should not be made by a single state, a regional organization like NATO, or states (selected by whom?) privileged by a shared level of economic development and democratic advancement.
The United Nations is still the optimal option, but thorough thinking is needed in order to find ways to improve it and to adapt it better to the task of meeting the current challenges to security. In my view, it is quite disappointing to see no use of the proposals made by the so-called “High Level Panel” instituted by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. According to its authors (of which I was one), many realistically thinking people openly call for the formation of a new Community of Great Powers that would include the United States, Russia, Europe, China and Japan to neutralize all contemporary threats to mankind. This option is similar to the UN model, but it is not agreeable to Daalder and Lindsay. Their alternative is to build an organization that would unite the democratic governments of the world. But who would decide the membership of such an organization?

A Concert of Democracies would exclude Russia, China and many other states from the list. Without starting a fundamental dispute with the authors, I would just say that their approach is a near replica of neoconservative policy, which called for the United States to export its model of democracy to other states without regard for their conditions, traditions, history, social system, religions or geographic location. The result is amply visible in the case of Iraq. Other cases in point are available: for example, the U.S. support of some Latin American “democracies”, based on the principle that even if a country is led by a son of a bitch, at least he is “our” son of a bitch.

Another reason why the “community of democracies” is unacceptable is that, in practice, it would facilitate the dangerous division of the world by religion and civilization, because it closes its doors to almost all states of the world with Muslim populations. Does this not imply that a Concert of Democracies would undertake to control and govern these countries?

I also disagree with the main point of the article, which negates the sovereignty of non-democratic states and proclaims the principle of interference in their domestic affairs as an allegedly justified means to realize world order. Certainly, there may emerge a situation in which domestic developments in one state would pose a threat to the peace and security of others. But how could a single state, a regional organization such as NATO, or some “democratic community” be in a position to define the emergence of such a situation? We have already heard such arguments, when the United States undertook its military operation against Iraq on the grounds of nonexistent nuclear weapons in Iraq and its alleged ties with al-Qaeda. Isn’t this a lesson worth learning?

“If we don’t press forward, we will fall back”, the authors conclude. But one can press forward to the precipice, as well.

Evgeny M. Primakov is former Prime Minister of Russia.

David Yang:

Daalder and Lindsay’s proposal for a Concert of Democracies is a compelling addition to the debate set off within these pages by Francis Fukuyama’s call for “multi-multilateralism.” Yet the authors’ argument is weakened by their ambiguity on a fundamental question arising from this debate: Should a Concert of Democracies support or supplant the United Nations?

On the one hand, Richard Perle interprets the authors to mean the latter: “They are to be congratulated for making a strong case for abandoning (they don’t put it that way) reliance on the UN.” Perle’s interpretation is reasonable, given the authors’ plea that the Concert should have “a full-time secretariat, a budget, ministerial meetings and regular summits”, and given their sketch of an ambitious tripartite agenda for the Concert in the fields of security, economics, and democracy and human rights.

On the other hand, the authors themselves argue that the Concert should “make UN reform . . . its top priority, thereby highlighting the reality that a Concert of Democracies would not necessarily be a replacement for the UN, but a spur for its adaptation and improvement.” By “reality” and “not necessarily”, the authors hint that a Concert should ultimately act with independence, but such is not politically possible now.

Given the underlying tension in their argument, the authors would most likely respond that the Concert should both supplant and support the UN. That is, they would agree with the conclusion of the recent Princeton Project on National Security that a Concert should be both a spur for UN reform and a successor institution waiting in the wings: “If the United Nations cannot be reformed, the Concert would provide an alternative forum for liberal democracies to authorize collective action.”

However, the ambiguity of both the present article and the Princeton Project is unproductive because a Concert of Democracies could play a key role in strengthening the United Nations only if democratic governments roll up their sleeves and truly make UN reform their highest priority, rather than threatening to abandon the UN altogether. Indeed, the existing Community of Democracies (CD) and its democracy caucus at the UN have failed to make any significant contribution to UN reform or other global issues, not because democracies have been stymied by autocracies in the “Third World’s sandbox” on Turtle Bay, but because of an ironic deficit in the CD’s own democratic legitimacy.

Since the founding of the CD in Warsaw in June 2000, the UN’s leadership has fully supported the CD’s mission and encouraged it to play a leading role in UN reform. At the Warsaw conference, then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated that the CD “represents my own most profound aspiration for the United Nations as a whole.” He added, “When the United Nations can truly call itself a community of democracies, the Charter’s noble ideals of protecting human rights and promoting ‘social progress in larger freedoms’ will have been brought much closer.”

In his message to the CD’s most recent ministerial conference in Santiago in April 2005 (which took place shortly after the release of the Secretary-General’s blueprint for UN reform, entitled In Larger Freedom), Annan said: “I trust the [CD] will support a true reform of the United Nations. I urge you to ensure that the support of UN reform be embodied in the agreements that will emerge from this meeting.” Unfortunately, the most the CD governments could muster in their “Santiago Commitment” was to “actively engage in the discussion of UN reform initiated by the Secretary-General’s recent report.”

The CD’s paltry support for UN reform at Santiago and later in New York demonstrates Fukuyama’s view that the CD has been “virtually invisible.” He wrote, “the organization has been kept alive but has no clear sense of mission or accomplishment.” But the too-short explanation by Daalder and Lindsay of the CD’s ineffectiveness—that it stems from excessively lax membership criteria (thereby including too many illiberal democracies or non-democracies)—misses a more fundamental cause: The CD is led by an executive committee that is self-appointed and thus lacks democratic authenticity. The current 16-government “Convening Group” was not elected by the CD’s general membership but rather handpicked by a few of its founding members. Such an arrangement may have been acceptable for its establishment, but as the CD approaches its seventh birthday this lack of internal democracy is inexcusable. Thus it is not surprising that the CD is directionless, paralyzed alike by a lack of internal political will and external political legitimacy.

With the arrival of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his own set of priorities, the CD has a rare second chance to get its support for UN reform right. To do so, the CD must meet three basic challenges. First, it must forge an internal democratic process that includes a procedural charter and a transparent method for electing its Convening Group and selecting its overall membership. Second, the CD must use the legitimacy deriving from such a process to drive Ban’s reform agenda in New York. And finally, apropos the primary mission of Daalder and Lindsay’s Concert, the CD must develop a limited but concrete agenda of democratic cooperation on global issues as a means to demonstrate the efficacy of a revitalized United Nations.

In this manner, the world’s democracies can lead in the creation of a more effective and legitimate multilateralism instead of stumbling into “a new round of needless polarization” against which François Heisbourg so aptly warns.

David Yang was senior coordinator for democracy promotion at the State Department from 1997 to 2001 and is senior adviser in the Washington office of the United Nations Development Programme. The views expressed here are his own.

Tod Lindberg:

To what extent do we hope for or expect a Concert of Democracies to be a bearer of “legitimacy” in the international system? Legitimacy is a notoriously difficult concept to wrestle to clarity, even more so than the related question of what makes certain actions lawful or unlawful. Rather than try to settle the matter at a high level of abstraction, however, let’s ask a practical question: Would a unanimous judgment of a Concert of Democracies convey greater legitimacy than a unanimous Security Council resolution, lesser legitimacy, or the same legitimacy?

My first inclination would be to regard a unanimous Security Council resolution as the gold standard, not only of lawfulness in the international system—a position that is reasonably well grounded in member states’ ratification of the UN Charter and easy for the United States to accept because of its veto power on the Council—but also the gold standard of legitimacy in the broadest sense. Certainly, many other people, including citizens of democratic countries, take the view that the Security Council’s status in this regard is peerless, and that is important because legitimacy is at least partly a matter of what people regard as legitimate. But one wonders: What “legitimacy” does the judgment of a non-democratic country privileged to hold one of the rotating seats on the Security Council convey—or, for that matter, that of a non-democratic country with a veto on the Council?

Even if one regards democratically elected governments as uniquely legitimate, as I do, a unanimous Security Council resolution would entail agreement on a course of action by a number of governments possessing such legitimacy, including the United States, France and the UK, plus certain non-democratic governments. The others, though non-democratic, would be value-added in terms of legitimacy.

But are they really? Or do we just tell ourselves they are when the others happen to agree with us, while dismissing their views when they don’t, precisely on the grounds of their lack of domestic democratic legitimacy? And if that’s true, aren’t we really viewing their participation in entirely instrumental terms, as a means of promoting action in accordance with our conclusion, rather than as partners (even junior partners) in the determination of the legitimacy of a course of action?

In that case, the gold standard of legitimacy is not the unanimous Security Council resolution, but the agreement among governments possessing domestic democratic legitimacy that underlies it. Needless to say, China will not accept this view. But is it not, after all, what we really think? The nod to the Security Council in terms of greater status in the granting of legitimacy is therefore a form of hypocrisy in the classical sense of playing a role: If there were a body whose actions bestowed not only legality but also legitimacy, then we would respect its decisions about what is legitimate. The Security Council acts like such a body, so we act as if we respect its decisions about what is legitimate, at least in a general sense—until, that is, we want to take military action to prevent genocide in Kosovo, for example, at which point we look elsewhere, citing the “failure” of the Security Council to take effective action.

Some observers regard NATO’s action against the Milosevic regime as illegal (because it was unauthorized by the Security Council) but legitimate (because NATO’s democratic governments judged it to be the right thing to do). Legitimacy, in this view, trumps legality. Such a bold statement is troubling for many of those who seek a law-based international order, implying as it does a willingness to flout the law in circumstances of one’s choosing. As a result, some rely on different ideas about the sources of international law to reach the conclusion that the action was not only legitimate but also legal (or not illegal). But the question of legitimacy, construed as agreement on the right thing to do, comes first.

A unanimous decision of a Concert of Democracies would be in accordance with the democratic legitimacy of each and every member. If China supported the decision, that would not, in my view, add to its legitimacy, and if China (alone or in conjunction with other non-democratic countries) opposed it, that would not detract from its legitimacy. There might be other reasons, perhaps related to power politics, that would make Chinese support desirable, but if Chinese support is a priority, then the proper venue is the Security Council—not because the Council has a higher claim as a bestower of “legitimacy”, but for entirely prudential considerations.

A divided Concert of Democracies presents a different problem: Whatever the decision-making procedure, will those on the side that does not prevail be willing to give up on their substantive concerns because of their acceptance of a decision by the Concert as the determination of legitimacy? In the case of the United States, I don’t think so, because of deep-seated American skepticism that the way to resolve disputes over right and wrong (as opposed to legality) can ever be entirely procedural. First principles, whether Christian, Kantian or other, matter most. That’s a reason to view the Concert not as a super-national parliament, but as a place where democracies try to find agreement on what they think is right. Agreement may elude them, but, then again, it may not. When there is agreement, it is likely to be more robust than agreement in the Security Council, because of the higher degree of agreement on first principles that a Concert of Democracies would enjoy.

Tod Lindberg is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and editor of Policy Review. He was the originator of the Princeton Project for National Security, a proposal to ratify and institutionalize the “democratic peace” by treaty.

Bruce W. Jentleson:

I largely agree with Daalder and Lindsay’s starting point in their critique of the United Nations. The limits of what has been achieved in the latest UN reform efforts are telling. The criteria that a new major institution needs to meet, though, are that the institution both substantially improves on the flaws of existing institutions and that it does not bring significant problems of its own. There are four reasons why I don’t think the Concert of Democracies meets these criteria:

Who gets in? Daalder and Lindsay talk about some sixty countries that would be charter members. Some are straightforward, others less so, but valid. There are some clear non-members, too. But what about countries like Jordan and Morocco? They would bend the criteria. There are those who would push to include them (especially since without them there would be few, if any, Arab states), and there are consequences in excluding those and others in the grey area. At minimum this would gobble up the agenda and divert attention away from the Concert’s founding purposes of foreign policy coordination.

Who gets kicked out? I’m guessing Thailand would have been a member prior to the recent coup. Would it now be kicked out? What about the less blatant coups we sometimes see in Latin America? Here, too, at minimum there would be agenda diversion to the internal business of membership, which would detract from the original foreign policy coordination goal.

Is democracy necessary for foreign policy cooperation? I continue to think not. We are cooperating with China in a number of areas, recently including even Darfur, where in its own diplomatic style China has been putting some pressure on the Sudanese government. In areas where China and the United States are not cooperating, it is usually because of divergent interests rather than the nature of our regimes. Better strategy and diplomacy, even with our differences, can achieve better American-Chinese cooperation. There are other cases when we can and should cooperate with non-democracies, as we did in Libya when Qaddafi agreed to stop terrorism and give up his WMD programs.

Is democracy sufficient for foreign policy cooperation? This gets into the “democratic peace” debate, which applies insofar as democracies are much less likely to fight wars against each other. That’s not to be understated, but it still leaves large areas of foreign policy cooperation in which sharing democratic ideals does not suffice. I give credence to the argument, as made by Christoph Bertram in these pages, that U.S.-European cooperation has been driven as much by our shared histories, cultures and security interests as by our democratic governments. In the contemporary context and looking ahead, expect democracies such as Brazil and Argentina to be less than cooperative on a host of issues. Both countries are emerging as regional powers with their own interests and with historical contentions against the United States.

To pursue the Concert of Democracies would be a major commitment of resources, attention and focus. It would require an enormous commitment from any president and the State Department in terms of public relations and diplomacy. While it would have some benefits, I’m not convinced that it would produce sufficiently positive results to warrant this kind of effort.

As to the political argument for the Concert as a big idea, an embodiment of interests and values that would resonate with voters and help give Democrats the credibility they lack on foreign policy, I’m also not persuaded. Where is the evidence of the great political value of the democracy theme? It cannot be found in the public opinion polls that show strikingly low support levels for democracy promotion. Only 17 percent ranked democracy promotion as a very important U.S. foreign policy goal in the 2006 Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey. Americans do not see it as a priority, and they have pragmatic doubts about its feasibility.

Members of the Democratic Party do need to know what they’re for, not just what they’re against. Their anti-Bush Iraq policy was sufficient to prevail in the mid-term congressional elections, but it will not be enough in the 2008 presidential context. Their policy needs to be big picture and paradigmatic, not just a laundry list of issue positions. It has to show that Democrats understand what the principal forces are that shape today’s world, what America’s key interests and values are, and what overall strategy and approach will achieve them. The Concert doesn’t strike the right notes.

Bruce W. Jentleson is professor of public policy and political science at Duke University and currently a visiting senior research fellow at Oxford University and the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He served as foreign policy adviser to Vice President Al Gore.

Daalder & Lindsay respond:

We very much welcome the debate that our proposal to create a Concert of Democracies has provoked—not only here in the pages of The American Interest, but in academic circles, in the blogosphere, and in the corridors of power around the globe. The question of how to best promote international cooperation in a globalized world is one of the great diplomatic challenges of our time, and it deserves to be debated with great intensity.

We are particularly appreciative of the thoughtful comments that so many distinguished scholars and practioners have made in response to our article. They help us push our argument—and the debate—forward in a productive fashion. To that end, while very much appreciating the support for our idea from Gary Hart and others, we focus here on rebutting five main criticisms our respondents have leveled against the idea of creating a Concert of Democracies.

The first criticism is that the United Nations should be, in the words of Evgeny Primakov, “the optimal option” for international cooperation. The UN’s presumed primacy of place rests on claims that its universal membership gives it special legitimacy. Tod Lindberg ably lays out the reasons we do not share that assessment. An equally important and more immediate reason not to look to Turtle Bay for solutions to pressing global challenges is that, as François Heisbourg, James Traub and Bruce Jentleson all acknowledge, the UN does not work terribly well. The new Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, promises to fix things during his tenure. We’ve heard that before. Ban’s early appointments, though, are hardly suggestive of radical change. And while the UN’s democratic members can surely do more to help fix matters, as David Yang suggests, they confront a majority that actively resists reform—radical or otherwise.

Does the UN’s very real limitations mean it should be tossed on the ash heap of history, as Richard Perle prefers? No. His dismissal of the UN as a “sandbox for the Third World” pushes the critique too far. A forum where all the world’s countries can participate serves a function. Some of its specialized agencies perform great services. But the limitations inherent in any universal body do mean that we should not rely on the hope that the world’s business can only be done in one body. This has never been the case, and never will be. To contend otherwise is to condemn ourselves to a diplomatic version of waiting for Godot.

A second criticism leveled against a Concert of Democracies is that it would spark a new Cold War. Heisbourg, Jentleson and Primakov worry that even if China, Russia and other authoritarian states did not erect a new Iron Curtain, they would refuse to cooperate with the Concert on matters of mutual concern. Why this is so is not exactly clear. Realists have long preached that states act to advance their interests; they do not cut off their noses to spite their faces. By this logic, Beijing will cooperate on climate change or the international financial architecture when it sees it in its interest to do so, not because democracies have declined to work together.

Arguments that a Concert of Democracies would trigger a new Cold War also rest on an unpersuasive binary logic: Democracies either can work to advance their common interests and values, or they can work with non-democracies. But no democracy faces this choice. They can do both at the same time. Most major democracies, including the United States, have extensive public and private ties to all major authoritarian states. That is not going to change.

Of course, creating a Concert of Democracies will require careful diplomacy, especially when it comes to dealing with Beijing and Moscow. Symbolism and national pride can at times override interests and rationality. Therefore, Washington and others creating the Concert should make clear that the new organization is not containment by another name, nor their only way to engage the world. Bilateral relations can be strengthened. Regional initiatives can be launched. And perhaps most obviously, China can be invited to join the G-8.

The broader point here is that the case for a Concert of Democracies is not axiomatically a case against great power cooperation or bilateral collaboration or regional relationships. We can and should try to create multiple partnerships. An international community with overlapping, cross-cutting political networks is likely to be far more durable than one with only a few fault lines because it blurs sharp divisions and creates opportunities to build new coalitions.

A third criticism of the Concert of Democracies is that there is nothing magical about democratic cooperation. Christoph Bertram, Alexander Haig, Heisbourg, and Jentelson correctly note that democracies disagree on many things, so their cooperation cannot be assumed. But the same thing can be said of any group of countries. And the real question is whether democracies are more or less likely to agree than such other groups of countries. Here the answer is yes. Democracies have a proven track record of cooperation, far better than the one compiled by non-democracies. They work better together because their shared commitment to the rule of law enables them to trust one another. They have achieved these successes even though they have never been in the habit, at least outside of the Atlantic Alliance, of thinking of themselves as a group. Brazilians think of the United States as a great power to the North. Italians think of Japan as an Asian power. Indians see Great Britain as a former colonial power. But the Concert, by constructing a common identity among liberal democracies, will change how democracies interact and thereby facilitate their cooperation.

It is precisely this point that Bertram’s contention that culture and history explain Western cooperation gets wrong. The extensive “networks of personal relations” that existed in Europe in 1914 or 1939 did not prevent the Continent from sliding into war, nor did they convince the French and Germans once the fighting ended that they shared a common future. The European identity and the broader notion of the West were instead deliberate constructions, to which people like Bertram greatly contributed. Indeed, they were so successful that we now mistake them for a natural evolution. We now have the opportunity—the need, really—to repeat that success on a global scale. Globalization has prepared the way by creating vast, well-developed personal networks among the community of liberal democratic nations. Moreover, such a step is necessary precisely because globalization is creating new powers in India, Brazil and South Africa, which must be embraced by and become an essential part of the West rather than kept foolishly apart from it.

A fourth criticism of the Concert of Democracies is, as Primakov has it, that the United States cannot export its model of democracy. This complaint gets our argument wrong. We do believe that a Concert can help promote the spread of democracy, but not because it will compel nations to do so. Such a strategy won’t work, and we didn’t need Iraq to learn that lesson. What a Concert of Democracies properly constructed can do is replicate the success of the European Union and serve as a powerful lure to persuade non-democratic societies to choose democracy for themselves. The distinction between attraction and compulsion is crucial, and it is what separates our argument from those made by the neoconservative thinkers with which Heisbourg and Primakov would like to lump us.

The final criticism of what we propose is that it will not be easy to create a Concert of Democracies. We agree. Our proposal challenges traditional thinking about how to promote cooperation. But the obstacles are not insurmountable. Democratic cooperation is at the heart of the Transatlantic community, even if we are not accustomed to thinking of it as such. Jentleson worries that a Concert will face squabbles over who gets in and that it will have to punish backsliders. The history of the European Union suggests that both concerns are overstated. Membership disputes are not inevitably organization busters, and the fear of losing the privileges that come with club membership can be a powerful deterrent against backsliding in the first place.

The bigger challenges are those that Tony Lake identifies. We make no claim to having provided definitive answers to the questions of how best to promote the Concert idea, or how to structure its legal basis, or how quickly it should seek to evolve. All of these questions deserve further discussion and debate. Given the challenges that await us in the 21st century, it is a debate we all should welcome.

Appeared in: Volume 02, Number 4 | Published on: March 1, 2007
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