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The Dangerous and Unnecessary “League of Democracies”

Jonah Goldberg revives a lousy idea:

So I return again to an old hobby horse of mine (and many others). Let us set about to create a new League of Democracies. The standards for entry wouldn’t have anything to do with race or geography or even wealth (though wealthy countries tend to be democratic countries, so long as the wealth is derived from broad prosperity and not merely natural resources exploited by oligarchs). The standards would be simple: democracy, the rule of law and respect for individual liberty. A formal consensus among such countries would actually have the moral authority the U.N. only pretends to have.

The preoccupation that a few Americans have with establishing a “League” or “Concert”of democracies is very strange. The U.N. now has more democratic and semi-democratic members than it has ever had, but it is only in the last few years that we hear about the need to create a new multilateral organization specifically for democracies. All arguments for such a “League” that I have ever seen justify it as a way to make end-runs around the U.N. Charter in order to attack (sorry, liberate) countries ruled by abusive authoritarian governments. It is normally intended as a sort of institutionalized “coalition of the willing” to be used to intervene militarily without having to deal with the pesky Security Council and bothersome international law. Goldberg doesn’t mention these things here, but we know from previous arguments that this is what he thinks the “League” should be doing. Instead of putting together coalitions for unnecessary and illegal wars on the fly, the “League” would provide a permanent forum for wrecking other countries in the name of democracy.

Besides being a rubber-stamp for new military interventions, what would be the purpose of such a “League”? I suppose the members of the “League” could join together to condemn other governments on account of their abuses, but they can presumably do that now without going to the bother of creating a new organization. Then there is the other obvious problem with this proposal: very few eligible governments would see any reason to join the new organization. Many democratic governments wouldn’t want to undermine the U.N., since they don’t share Goldberg’s contempt for the organization, and so wouldn’t join such a “League.” This grand alternative to the U.N. would probably be able to lure in extremely dependent U.S. allies and maybe a handful of smaller countries that want to gain American favor, and all the other major democratic powers would look at it as a weird club designed to facilitate American wars, which by the admission of its supporters is more or less what it would be. Having few important members might make things easier for “League” decision-making, since the whole point is to create the illusion of broad multilateral support for U.S. meddling, but it would underscore that most democratic governments would want nothing to do with the project. It would widely be viewed as a transparent attempt by Washington and a few allies to evade their obligations as U.N. members, which is exactly what it would be. It’s a terrible idea, and fortunately one that will never be realized.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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