Home/Daniel Larison/The “League of Democracies”: A Bad Idea That Refuses to Die

The “League of Democracies”: A Bad Idea That Refuses to Die

Jim Arkedis dusts off a bad idea from the last decade:

With the Security Council too flawed and Congress too populist to take interventionist action, the United States should look to form a new body to address humanitarian, governance, and safety issues: the United Democratic Nations.

Whenever the idea of a “league of democracies” or something similar comes up, it is almost always because the U.N. failed to function as a rubber stamp for Western military action. This latest case for a “United Democratic Nations” is no different. The Security Council is “flawed” in this analysis because it is too representative of the world’s major powers, and at least some of those powers predictably have no interest in endorsing every war of choice the U.S. opts to fight. Let’s remember that if the Security Council were reformed to include more permanent members, there would be more states regularly voting against the U.S. on the Security Council. The “solution” offered here is to create a new international institution that would include many fewer states and would exclude at least two of the world’s most powerful governments for the sake of having an illusory “democratic” consensus on controversial questions of interfering in other states’ internal affairs and authorizing military intervention.

Arkedis continues:

Or think of it this way: a body of the world’s democracies would have so much legitimacy that it would make cases of worthy intervention–like Syria and Libya–easier, while making dubious interventions–like Iraq–more difficult.

No doubt, member governments belonging to such a body would believe that they were acting legitimately by attacking other countries, and maybe their constituents would agree with them from time to time, but any state that didn’t qualify to belong to this U.D.N. wouldn’t see its actions that way. There is no reason to assume that “dubious interventions” would be made more difficult than “worthy” ones. A “league of democracies” probably would have rejected the invasion of Iraq, but then the U.S. invaded Iraq without U.N. authorization anyway, so it’s not clear what difference the existence of this new body would make. A “league of democracies” would definitely have rejected the war in Libya and any attack on Syria, which defeats the purpose of creating the “league” in the first place. Presumably the decision of the “league” would be respected only when it already agreed with what its most powerful members wanted to do, and so it would suffer from the same weaknesses as the existing U.N.

A U.N. or “league” made up of nothing but democratic governments would refuse to authorize military interventions more often than it would enable them. Germany, India, and Brazil abstained on the Libya resolution because they didn’t support military action, but didn’t want to strain relations with Washington too much by voting no. They are also against military action in Syria. If there were a “United Democratic Nations” worthy of the name, all of these states would be charter members, and they would presumably wield significant influence in such a body. On occasion, they might agree with the U.S. that an intervention is justified, but it is more likely that they would vote against the U.S. That means that this so-called U.D.N. would not be much more likely to authorize U.S.-led interventions than the current U.N. In the meantime, creating a parallel institution designed for the purpose of evading the rules of the U.N. Charter would seriously undermine the U.N. and could render it obsolete. The world’s non-democratic governments would not recognize the authority of the U.D.N. from which they were excluded, and would pay no attention to its demands. If such a “league” were ever created, the U.S. would continue to run into concerted international opposition to its unnecessary wars, but it would no longer be able to pretend that the opposition can be reduced to Russian and Chinese intransigence.

The “league of democracies” is a very peculiar idea. As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no interest in any other democratic state to reinvent the U.N. from scratch in this way. What interest there is in America seems to be limited to those dissatisfied that the U.N. is not more willing to approve of international wars.

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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