Community of Democracies

Over at TPM Cafe, they're discussing the Princeton Project of National Security's final report. In his trenchant critiques I think Stephen Walt makes a few good points, but is also being somewhat unfair and John Ikenberry's reply is pretty convincing. The real problem I have with the PPNS report is its idea of a Community of Democracies. I could imagine supporting versions of this idea but the PPNS has some suggestions that I think are seriously pernicious. In particular, Appendix A of the report suggests that "Action pursuant to article four and consistent with the purposes of the United Nations, including the use of military force, may be approved by a two-thirds majority of the parties." Article 4, meanwhile, says "The Parties recognize that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe – mass murder and rape, ethnic cleansing by forcible expulsion and terror, and deliberative starvation and exposure to disease – but that when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the international community."

To many liberals, this is going to sound nice. Nevertheless, it's going to play as an anti-Chinese, anti-Arab, anti-Russian military alliance and we can expect the excluded countries to respond accordingly. This goes back to what I was saying yesterday about priorities. The problem this is designed to address, presumably, is that authoritarian countries, especially Russia and China, can use their power at the UN to block authorization for humanitarian military interventions. Without denying that this is a problem in the world, I don't think that it makes sense to think of it as the problem.

On much more pressing issues for American security, we could really, really use the cooperation of Russia, China, and the Arab states. Issues like nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea and trying to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict. If we want cooperation from these states on our top priorities, that's going to mean we need to defer to them on issues that are less important to us. The Community of Democracies, in this formulation, is the exact reverse, creating a new fault-line in the international community and essentially saying that we regard these countries as second-class members of the world order who would be smart to obstruct our designs.