Wednesday, June 11, 2008

America’s New Strategy after Bush: A League of Democracies to Manage the Globe

American foreign policy is at crossroads. Presidential candidates talk of Iraq and the War on Terror. WMD non-proliferation, rogue states, and the rise of Sino-Russian illiberal capitalisms are also critical issues. In face of new challenges, the next President of the United States needs to re-strengthen strategic partnership with allies.

Adrian Wooldridge, Chief of Washington Bureau at the Economist, warns that current debates between both parties are preoccupied with the War on Terror and Iraq, and America is not well prepared to deal with challenges by China and Russia (“America and the World: After Bush”; The Economist; March 27, 2008). Despite these difficulties, he says that America still fascinates people around the world. Global citizens watch the presidential election closely, because its dynamism is very dramatic (“Special Report: America and the World”; Economist Interview; June 8, 2008).

The Republican candidate, Senator John McCain has launched a new initiative to create a League of Democracies, which will be the core of the American world order in this century. This idea is widely supported among leading policymakers from liberals to conservatives such as Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, John Ikenberry and Anne-Marie Slaughter, Robert Kagan, and so forth. Can this initiative re-build US leadership, and help free nations stand against Russo-Chinese illiberal capitalism, rogue states like Iran and North Korea, and terrorists?

Let me review pro-con debates on a League of Democracies, and explore US relations with its allies after the Bush administration. A panel discussion, entitled “Is a League of Democracies a Good Idea?”, was held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on May 29 this year. The discussion was moderated by Morton Halperin, Director of US Advocacy for the Open Society Institute, a public interest group founded by George Soros. Discussants for a League of Democracies are Ivo Daalder, Senior Fellow at the Brookings institution, and Tod Lindberg, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Daalder is a foreign policy advisor and fundraiser to the Democrat candidate Senator Barack Obama, while Lindberg is a conservative policy analyst. This fact suggests extensive support for a League across ideological standpoints. On the other hand, Thomas Carothers, Vice President at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, refutes this idea, because democratic nations do not necessarily share common interests.

At the discussion, Thomas Carothers pointed out that the United States need to act with autocracies: Saudi Arabia, Gulf Arabs and Egypt for the War on Terror; China for North Korea, and Russia for Iran. Also, he mentioned that developing democracies like India, Brazil, and South Africa do not necessarily agree with US foreign policy. In addition, he says that European allies are not as enthusiastic with this idea as the United States.

On the other hand, Ivo Daalder argues that globalization and increasing interdependence has made dangers far away have immediate damages at home, even in a powerful state like the United States. Also, he says that existing international institutions are not efficient in promoting international cooperation to deal with new threats. However, he points out that democracies in Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world, are natural partners to the United States. Moreover, democracies together represent overwhelming majority of world wealth and military power. Therefore Daalder advocates the case for a Democracy League.

Tom Lindberg added his viewpoints. He says “The advantage of the United Nations is it’s a universal membership body. The disadvantage of the United Nations is that it’s a universal membership body. There are certain kinds of issues that you can only effectively address there and there are certain kinds of issues that you can never effectively address there because of the limitations that universal membership imposes on the nature of the dialogue.”

As mentioned by Daalder and Lindberg, a League of Democracies is expected to supplant existing international organization to some extent.

At the end of the event, Marc Plattner, Journal of Democracy, asked relations between a global NATO and a League of Democracies. Three discussants said this was a provocative question, as the Security Council of the United Nations is inefficient in many cases. Yet, no clear conclusion has been reached.

In a Carnegie Endowment Policy Brief, “Is a League of Democracies a good Idea?” (May 2008), Thomas Carothers criticizes this idea because democracies are not unanimous in their foreign policy, and the United States needs some strategic bargaining with non-democratic nations. However, he admits that the United States needs to rebuild credibility of its democracy promotion and foreign policy in general. Also, the rise of authoritarian powers poses serious troubles to democracies across the globe. Instead of trumpeting a grand initiative with strong ideological rhetoric, Carothers insists that the United States rebuild democracy promotion through quiet confidence-building measures, such as assisting democratic reform in authoritarian allies like Pakistan and Egypt, and strengthening democracy promotion in collaboration with existing multilateral institutions like the United Nations and regional organizations (See also another article by Thomas Carothers: “An Unwanted League”; Washington Post; May 28, 2008).

Carothers has right concerns that high-handed approaches for democracy promotion will provoke anti-American sentiments. The problem is, existing multilateral institutions cannot afford to manage new era challenges, and actions through these institutions are severely constrained by illiberal powers.

In order to understand why a League of Democracies is necessary, and how to reconstruct US leadership, I would like to mention two articles by Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and his TV interview. Currently, Kagan is a foreign policy advisor to the Republican candidate Senator John McCain. It is noteworthy that both McCain advisor Robert Kagan and Obama advisor Ivo Daalder advocate US-led League of Democracies to manage global issues.

In his article to Financial Times (“The Case for a League of Democracies”; 13 May 2008), Kagan points out that the idea of a concert of democracies was invented by liberal internationalists, not Republicans. This idea is welcomed among some European leaders such as Danish Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Robert Kagan denies widespread misunderstandings that a League of Democracies supplant the United Nations. He says a concert of democracies is necessary when UN Security Council cannot act in case of humanitarian crises like Darfur and Kosovo. While Kagan refutes alarmist viewpoint that policy collaboration of democracies will cause a new cold war, he points out that ideological competition between Russo-Chinese authoritarianism and Western liberalism is already underway.

Then, how should our democracies deal with critical challenges? Robert Kagan points out that early post Cold War assumption has turned out to be wrong, despite the fall of communism. The global economy has not led to disappearance of nation states, and hard power is still no less important than soft power in international politics. Market economy in Russia and China has not resulted in political reform. Today, ideological and geopolitical rivalry between Western democracy and Russo-Chinese autocracy, and clashes between Islamic radicalism and modern enlightenment, constitute power structure of the world. As autocracy and Islamic radicalism pose threats to our liberal world order, Kagan insists the democracies unite firmly together. (“Is Democracies Winning?”; Prospect; May 2008)

In a TV interview, Kagan commented that authoritarian powers resist the spread of democracy because they are afraid of its influence in their territories. Also, geopolitical concerns matter, as shown in Russia’s objection to NATO expansion. Though Kagan argues for a common front of free nations, he agrees with Carothers that the United States not impress arrogant image in the process of founding a League of Democracies (“A Conversation with Robert Kagan”; Charlie Rose Show; May 15, 2008).

I believe that John McCain’s staunch advocacy for a united democracies against autocracy is a good sign, as European allies regarded early Bush humble diplomacy as somewhat go it alone isolationism. Can the United States reconstruct leadership with a new initiative? Further attention to the development of this idea is extremely crucial.