Saturday, August 11, 2007

Toward a Concert of Democratic Powers?

There's apparently something of a little debate surrounding the current proposal by Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan for the establishment of a Concert of Democracies to give legitimacy for future U.S. military interventions in global security affairs.

Daalder and Kagan raised the subject in a Washington Post essay on Monday. They argue that American military intervention has been a common foreign policy tool in the post-Cold War era, and has been exercised by Democratic and Republican adminstrations alike. Even with American power stretched amid our continuing struggles in Iraq, no new peer competitor will emerge to replace American hegemony, and times may demand another round of forward, U.S.-led military power projection.

The question is whether U.S. intervention in upcoming crisis will generate international legitimacy. Daalder and Kagan - two analysts of different political persuasions, whose collaboration apparently seeks to leave a bipartisan imprimature for the proposal - suggest that American power can be deployed in league with a concert of powerful democratic states. Here's the gist of their argument, which begins by dismissing the effectiveness of collective action under the United Nations:

If not the Security Council, then who? The answer is the world's democracies, the United States and its democratic partners in Europe and Asia. As the war in Kosovo showed, democracies can agree and act effectively even when major non-democracies, such as Russia and China, do not. Because they share a common view of what constitutes a just order within states, they tend to agree on when the international community has an obligation to intervene. Shared principles provide the foundation for legitimacy.

A policy of seeking consensus among the world's great democratic nations can form the basis for a new domestic consensus on the use of force. It would not exclude efforts to win Security Council authorization. Nor would it preclude using force even when some of our democratic friends disagree. But the United States will be on stronger ground to launch and sustain interventions when it makes every effort to seek and win the approval of the democratic world.

Eventually, perhaps, these matters could be addressed and decided in a more formal arrangement, a Concert of Democracies, where the world's democracies could meet and cooperate in dealing with the many global challenges they confront. Until such a formal mechanism has been created, however, future presidents need to recognize that legitimacy matters, and that the most meaningful and potent form of legitimacy for a democracy such as the United States is the kind bestowed by fellow democrats around the world.
I'm a little late to this debate. I first noticed the attention to the Daalder and Kagan piece over at Duck of Minerva. Dan Nexon, in his post, "Concert of Democracies," puts the question of a new democratic concert in the context of the debate surrounding neoconservatism. Bush-style military intervention is out. How can power-projectors legitimize their hopes for maintaining the interventionist project?

One way, according to Nexon's reading of
the Princeton Project on National Security's endorsement of a concert, is that the concert form of international organization can bind U.S. power to a system of strategic restraint. The concert would:

...provide a more robust constitutional order to bind the US to strategic restraint and provide enhanced voice opportunities for other powers. In theory, at least, a Concert of Democracies would be more difficult for US policymakers to ignore; a supra-majority system would make it more attractive to small powers and also diminish the ability of the US to revert to Bush-style unilateralism, e.g., adventures like Iraq.
This is an interesting interpretation of the concert proposal, which sounds about right - at least according to international liberalism. I don't like the idea myself, mainly because I look at the establishment of a concert as a collective security organization designed to restrain the international system's hegemon, normally after a systemic war. The last time a true concert of powers was established was in 1815, when Britain, Austria, Russia, and Prussia formed the Concert of Europe to contain the reemergence of French power after the defeat of Napoleon's armies in 1814.

The problem is that the U.S. is not a vanquished nation. Liberal internationalists see optimal international outcomes arising out of multilateral cooperation. Yet, American interests as global hegemon would not necessarily be best represented by such an amalgamation. Should a new crisis call for great power leadership, U.S. unilateralism is most likely to work rapidly - and American legitimacy will rise in tandem with the severity of the threat to the global system, along with the degree of U.S. diplomatic and military effectiveness in addressing it.

But check out as well
Christopher Preble and David Rieff's denunciation of the concert of democracies idea over at the National Interest online. The authors reject the intervention impulse pretty much altogether, whether such efforts have multilateral democratic legitimacy or not:

Iraq should have taught us that these wars of choice, even those pursued with the best of intentions, are likely to encounter a host of unintended consequences that should call into question the wisdom of military intervention as an effective way of pursuing America’s foreign policy objectives.

Kagan and Daalder set the bar very low for when military interventions should be unleashed. In most cases, a massive commitment of military force is the wrong tool for dealing with the challenges they outline—terrorism, WMD and human rights crimes. Terrorism is best combated not by large-scale military intervention, but rather by targeted operations, usually conducted in cooperation with local officials. As for weapons proliferation, two of the three members of the "Axis of Evil" have ramped up their WMD programs, in part to deter the very types of military intervention that Daalder and Kagan advocate. As for halting gross abuses of human rights, the public has a right to ask whether military intervention is best suited to this task. An estimated four million displaced persons in Iraq are fleeing the killings and sectarian bloodshed unleashed by the U.S. intervention and occupation.
This is a surprising argument, particularly in that it comes from Rieff, one of the main interventionist boosters in the 1990s, who attacked the Western democracies for their failure to save Bosnia from a genocidal bloodbath amid the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The notion of a concert of democracies leaves a lot to be desire, in my opinion. We have a current collective security and peacekeeping regime that can work given the right circumstances (clarity of threats, conducive state alignments of power and interests, etc.). The policy proposals for a concert initiative reflect efforts at new foreign policy thinking in the remaining months of the Bush administration.

Yet, what's really needed is victory in the current U.S.-led missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, which should be followed by a period of U.S. recuperation and renewal, both militarily and diplomatically. With American preponderance rejuvenated, a spontaneous U.S-backed great power coalition can form to meet new strategic emergencies facing the next round of state leaders.

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