February 16, 2007


The Treaty of the Democratic Peace: What the world needs now (Tod Lindberg, 02/12/2007, Weekly Standard)

[W]e are still waiting for anything like the "attractive power" of the E.U. and NATO on a global scale. The best effort so far was a Clinton administration brainchild, the Community of Democracies. The CD is a loose affinity organization that first met in 2000 in Warsaw, where participating nations, typically represented by their foreign ministers, adopted the "Warsaw Declaration" pledging their commitment to democracy and the promotion of democracy. The problem is that a number of nondemocratic countries, such as Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, and Bangladesh, participated and signed the declaration. The CD has met on several occasions since but has yet to develop much in the way of institutional capacity. Worse, how you might transform it from what it is to what one would like it to be is an exquisite diplomatic challenge, entailing, as it necessarily would, kicking people out.

Some have proposed greater cooperation and coordination among democracies at the United Nations. A wide array of NGOs favor establishing a "Caucus of Democracies" within the U.N. in order to encourage promotion of democracy and human rights. The 2005 United States Institute of Peace Task Force on U.N. Reform (the Gingrich-Mitchell task force) strongly endorsed efforts to strengthen the Caucus of Democracies at the U.N. But the odds against using the United Nations to promote democracy are formidable, as the ongoing depredations of the Human Rights Council, the "reformed" successor to the widely discredited Human Rights Commission in Geneva, make painfully clear. As long as the informal mechanism providing for rotation within regional blocs remains entrenched--thus giving each dictatorship its day in the sun--the U.N. will be largely ineffectual in promoting human rights.

Efforts to strengthen cooperation among democracies are chiefly motivated by the view of proponents that democracies acting in concert have a special capacity to legitimize international action because the governments have a legitimate claim to be speaking for the people of their countries. Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay have been at the forefront of this argument, urging in the American Interest the creation of a "Concert of Democracies." An earlier incarnation of the "Concert of Democracies" idea became a marquee recommendation of the Princeton Project on National Security. Some proponents, such as Daalder, regard the legitimacy obtained by agreement among democracies as superior to the legitimacy represented by agreement of groups of nations that include nondemocracies, such as the U.N. Security Council or General Assembly. Others, such as Princeton's Anne-Marie Slaughter and G. John Ikenberry, co-directors of the Princeton Project, prefer to work through the U.N. to seek legitimacy but see democracies acting in concert as an alternative in the event of the inability of the U.N. to take effective action (e.g., NATO in Kosovo, Darfur).

The question of how to give democratic states the operational capacity to act collectively has remained a difficult one. Granting the fact that mature, liberal democracies live in peace with each other, agree on the unique legitimacy democratic governance provides, have a track record of assisting countries making a transition to democracy, and might wish to collaborate on at least some issues in a global forum that excludes the worst human rights abusers, tyrants, and authoritarians from the deliberations, maybe it's time to make a clean break. Maybe it's time for the United States to join other democracies in adopting a new Treaty of the Democratic Peace.

The parties to such a treaty would reaffirm, consistent with the United Nations Charter and their other international obligations, their commitment to democratic governance; note their long practice of living peacefully among themselves; affirm their intention to continue to do so permanently and to settle all matters between them peacefully; and commit to the extension of the democratic peace by pledging assistance to other states in the development and improvement of their practice of democratic self-government.

The treaty would create a council--it could indeed be called the Concert of Democracies or, as Kiso and Taylor propose, the Organization of Democratic States, or something else--charged with implementation of the treaty provisions. The council would be its decision-making body. The treaty would also create a secretariat to advise the council on matters of relevance to the treaty organization and to implement decisions of the treaty council. The treaty would provide for the accession of additional states upon invitation of the council and ratification by national governments; it would also have to grant contracting parties the right to withdraw within a short interval of renouncing the treaty, and it should include a mechanism to ensure that any member that abandons democracy can be excluded from future participation.

Without doubt, any proposal for a major new international institution has an idealistic and aspirational component to it. This has been true at least since Tennyson mused about "a Parliament of man, a Federation of the world" ushering in an era of common sense and universal law in "Locksley Hall," not to mention the fond hopes Woodrow Wilson pinned on his League of Nations as well as the similar hopes animating the drafters of the United Nations Charter. And of course the annals of 20th-century diplomatic history feature such notorious misfires as the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, signed by Germany, Italy, and Japan as well as the United States, France, and the U.K., renouncing no less than "war as an instrument of national policy"--which remind us of the regular failure of such initiatives to live up to the aspirations of their proponents.

This treaty proposal certainly has its aspirational element as well. Yet it begins not with a dream but with the fact of democratic peace. It is not merely aspirational. It differs from the Kellogg-Briand Pact in a number of decisive ways. It is at best unclear that the Kellogg-Briand signatories were sincere in their undertakings, and in any case, little more than a decade had passed since a number of the signatories were at war with each other. In addition, the governments of a number of the parties to Kellogg Briand were not democratic or were at best illiberal. India was "represented" by British imperial authorities. Italy still had its monarchy, Japan its emperor. By contrast, the parties to the Treaty of the Democratic Peace would be states that have long lived peacefully with each other, in some cases for two generations or more, and expect to continue to do so. They are mature, liberal democracies whose internal democratic processes have been tested by internal and external political shocks without disruption. They have a track record of working cooperatively on matters of mutual interest.

Given the current configuration of power politics internationally, the United States is a lonely "hyperpower" (in the coinage of former French foreign minister Hubert VĂ©drine). Having explored the limits of unilateralism in the first Bush term, the second Bush administration has placed a much higher value on working with others, and future administrations are likely to make even more pronounced efforts along those lines. Decisions made in Washington ramify around the world in ways that are often discomfiting or worse to those affected by them but who have no say in them. This is never going to be a source of American popularity, including among democracies. Others want influence over the United States, and who can blame them? For them, the treaty body offers the forum in which, as Daalder and Lindsay note, the United States is most likely to be influenced: among like-minded democratic states seeking a basis for cooperative action.

Nevertheless, the historical record argues for a cautious approach and limited aspirations. The treaty should explicitly assign only the most general role to the treaty council and the secretariat. The institutional point is not to assume the treaty council and the secretariat will be playing major roles on the world stage, but to create these entities in order to respond to the needs of members as they see fit. It is quite possible that the treaty council and the secretariat will be rather sleepy places for some time. But they will be available for members to take action whenever the members themselves find utility in acting as a body of democracies. The NATO alliance was hardly founded with the expectation that member-states would one day convene at its Brussels headquarters to decide to undertake a combat mission in Afghanistan against Islamist extremists. That institution continues to prove its utility for members even though the threat the alliance was created to defend against is no more.

Insofar as a Treaty of the Democratic Peace affirmed a commitment to the spread of democratic principles and liberalization, there would seem to be an organic role for the council and secretariat to play in supporting states making transitions to democratic governance. It would be hard to imagine the council turning down a fledgling democracy's request for technical assistance and "best practices" guidance. A parallel example would be the process by which NATO became involved in Darfur. In early 2005, the North Atlantic Council found itself blocked from considering support for humanitarian operations there because of the view of some allies (notably France) that NATO had no business in Africa. Yet when a formal request for NATO's assistance came in from the African Union, which under U.N. mandate was providing a peacekeeping force in Darfur, the position of those allies opposed in the abstract to the idea of a NATO role in Africa became untenable.

Beyond offering such assistance when asked, the treaty council also might want to involve itself in work to promote democracy and liberalization and to support those working peacefully toward those ends. Here, of course, we enter a more controversial sphere of activity, as it is by no means clear that all the member states (or whatever majority of them would constitute the basis for a council decision) would want to risk antagonizing nondemocratic states by promoting activities that autocrats deem subversive. Nevertheless, in certain instances they might. The case of Ukraine 2004 comes to mind.

An essential element of the democracy promotion possible under the treaty would be its openness to new members. A state that demonstrates a commitment to democratic governance and declares its commitment to the democratic peace should be eligible for participation in a process that leads eventually to an invitation to join. This process should not be too hasty, insofar as the Treaty of the Democratic Peace would have its origins in the actual, demonstrated commitment of democratic states to live in peace with each other. But states should also receive benefits and encouragement for a genuine demonstration of an intention to accede. The treaty council could designate states in train for accession as eligible for observer status. With such status might come funds to assist with democratic transitions and democracy-building. Here is the potential for the global extension of the "attractive power" incentives of the E.U. and NATO.

Since the accession process would be intended to help and encourage states in transition to deepen their commitment to democracy, the treaty council, acting through the secretariat, might want to advise aspirant states about measures they should consider to improve their democratic governance. The council could also set conditions for eligibility and a process to evaluate potential members' candidacies on a country-by-country basis, as NATO and the E.U. have done.

In the end, since accession would be by invitation of the treaty council and ratification by national governments, the parties themselves would have final say on whether a country met the test of being truly democratic and truly committed to the democratic peace. Admission would be by democratic "peer review." The evaluation each national government would perform, taken collectively, would be a better test of how democratic an aspirant was than the application of an abstract set of criteria. This mechanism would likely prevent states about which genuine questions remain with regard to their commitment to democracy and the democratic peace from acceding to the treaty and diluting its essential character.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 16, 2007 8:29 AM

Sorry, off topic...

Does the blog no longer page multiple days?

Clicking a day on the calendar brings up one story with comments only and not all posted news for the day.

Posted by: Perry at February 16, 2007 9:05 AM

I propose...The Justice League (aka The Just US League ;)

Posted by: KRS at February 16, 2007 12:25 PM

If there's no enforcement or way to easily kick out those who slip away (like Venezuela has in the last decasde) then what's the point?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 16, 2007 1:04 PM