The UN is ineffectual partly because many of its members are not held accountable—even by their own citizens. Would a new league of democracies be a good idea?by Philip Bobbitt / November 23, 2008 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2008 issue of Prospect Magazine
A piece related to this article, in which whistleblower Michael Soussan reflects on the UN’s failings, can be read here.
3rd September 2008
The idea of an “alliance of democracies” is sufficiently vague that both its appeal and its dangers can be superimposed by the beholder. I know you have written and spoken eloquently—latterly in the House of Lords—of the shortcomings of such an idea, and I look forward to learning from your objections to my particular arguments. For I, too, have a certain sort of alliance in mind.
The provenance of any proposal is no reason for its adoption—or rejection—but I would note that Madeleine Albright was an advocate of an alliance of democracies in the 1990s, and since 9/11 its principal authors have been Ivo Daalder, a senior adviser to Barack Obama, James Lindsay, a former NSC official in the Clinton administration, the Republican nominee for the presidency, John McCain and one of his senior advisers, Robert Kagan. This bipartisan support may be simply a function of different conceptions of the same concept, but it is indicative at least of the broad interest in such an idea in the US.
What is the source of this interest? Initially, it was the impotence of the UN security council whose efforts to enforce its own resolutions vis-à-vis Iraq and Iran, and to protect civilians in Kosovo, Darfur, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and elsewhere were frustrated by the unanimity rule of the council. It was clear that some alternative architecture was required in order to avoid the listless inaction that has characterised the post-Gulf war council. At first this shifted interest towards Nato but ultimately this shift also gave momentum to the alliance of democracies notion, for Nato was conceived to address a regional problem and although it has performed manfully in out-of-area theatres like Afghanistan it is clear that our problems are no longer principally confined to Europe, that they are global in nature and require global institutions. As it became clear that the UN security council would not be enlarged to include Japan, India, Nigeria, Brazil, South Africa and other great states this too increased interest in a forum in which these states could be members if they chose. Finally, although some of us hoped Russia might become a member of Nato after the end of the cold war, this is no longer on the cards; but Russia is a democracy and those of us who wish to integrate Russia into global institutions must consider an Alliance of Democracies as one option—unlike EU membership, which is not a realistic possibility—that might be made sufficiently attractive to Russia and strengthen the constituency there for democracy.