If a League of Democracies was formed, what would its members seek to achieve?
While Senator McCain focuses on its geopolitical/security potential, more promising is if a different, more grounded emphasis emerged: democracy consolidation & support.
Struggling democracies suffer from a governance deficit:
Leadership (Corruption, Sectarian Loyalty, Inadequacy) Abilities (Resources, Funding, Organization)
vs. Actual Requirements
and a response vacuum:
Citizens feel their input (voting, complaints, protest) is not received or interpreted by elected officials and/or that their government is adversarial to their interests.
Though each democracy in question has essentially a different set of these symptoms (problems), the root of the overall condition is usually being unable to bridge this gap.
The overarching goal of this organization must be to consolidate democracies, especially those in danger of reaching the threshold of authoritarianism, civil war or collapse (Philippines, Kenya, Mexico).
To do this the organization will need capital (limited at first due to the need to focus on success in two to three democracies over 6-18 months) to pursue specific goals aimed at shoring up emergent problems and giving struggling democracies room for maneuver to tackle long-term challenges, avoiding the abyss.
A decision-making body of nearly a hundred countries could have a formal Assembly (one country, one vote) to begin with. Improvements can be weighed after early results of League activities have been evaluated for effectiveness and room for growth. Immediate questions placed before the Assembly would center on (a) supporting member governments in times of crisis with a variety of help measures (b) trade matters (c) technology exchanges and (d) creation of associated social and financial infrastructure to support said governments in crisis and those in prime need of consolidation.
All too often, in development schemes, assistance planning and policy execution, democracies and non-democracies have been weighted equally. This could change with an organization that looked after its members more actively. Assistance to non-democracies would obviously continue for economic, political or security reasons, but the greater emphasis would be on democracies. They are the low-hanging fruit, all too often overlooked in favor of countries with less hope for reform and revitalization but more potential upside.
When a democracy accepts League help, they will agree to a reconfiguration of all existing aid projects after a Copenhagen Consensus style review has been completed by local and foreign figures with expertise in governance, markets, security and civil society. They rank priorities for consolidating democracy. Future aid projects for the time being until the mission departs are considered on the basis of these results.
Infrastructure and development referendums on a provincial level can be used to complement the top-down results of the review with input from the bottom up. Voters can choose in order what projects or priorities they wish to see in their province. Projects of a national nature can be voted upon on the national level.
Preferential trade agreements would be utilized for a limited range of products (both as an incremental means of reform for more protectionist Western nations and as a revenue opportunity for the affected country).
Long-term challenges could be met with assistance from League missions that work for several years alongside and with society and government, requiring trained individuals from League nations with skill sets such as urban planning, security and economics, matching the specific challenges with appropriate manpower.
Democracies accepting League help would be agreeing to address the governance deficit by implementing minimum League standards on governing and financial transparency. These would include data available to citizens upon request (much like the database used for USAspending.gov) as well as reports issued by local auditors trained by the League.
Next: A test brief and the geopolitical case for the League Of Democracies.
In “The Spirit Of Democracy”, an expansive tour of the present state of democracy (currently in what may be termed as a “democracy recession”) and its future prospects, Larry Diamond describes several types of governments with various degrees of democratic characteristics.
Liberal democracies (USA, UK, Spain, Germany, India)- where the achievement of “thick” characteristics of democracy (such as rule of law and growth of independent institutions and a broader civil society) has occurred.
Illiberal democracies (Mexico, Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil)- where the achievement of said characteristics has been stalled. diminished (i.e. failing) or not yet achieved.
Pseudo democracy (South Africa being a prime example, to some extent Japan & Singapore)- where the people are not able to vote the party in power out (whether for lack of competitiveness or a more sinister stifling of competition by those in power). Some democratic institutions persist within and the rule has not calcified to the extent of the following….
Electoral Authoritarian Regimes (Iran, Jordan, Russia, Morocco, Singapore to some extent)- where the action of voting and limited competition among approved parties cannot obscure the lack of open elections and free choice, as well as close control from largely unaccountable leaders above… also can be construed as competitive authoritarianism.
The implications such distinctions and others make for a “League Of Democracies”:
1. A considerable bit of the vagueness around (that Soob helpfully pointed out earlier) democracy is removed. Democracies can be liberal, illiberal or even questionable clones of the authentic brand) but once they cross the threshold of authoritarianism (Russia’s slip from near pseudo democracy to electoral authoritarianism, Thailand’s retreat into autocratic tendency) they cannot be considered an active member of the democratic community.
2. Said threshold must be rightfully viewed as the terminus of struggling democracies.
All too often military coups and popular revolts staged by illegitimate opponents (both of which have occurred in Thailand and could happen in the Philippines, Ukraine, Bolivia, Indonesia, for example) are treated as natural or unavoidable outcomes by other democracies.
Some democracies plot to undermine others (as the US seems to be doing now to undermine the extreme leftist Evo Morales in power in Bolivia), but the relative wisdom of this and coups themselves is best left for discussion another day.
3. A network utilizing analysis, assistance and relationship-building must be developed within the League for members to take ascending steps to forewarn, assist and pressure struggling democracies before the terminus occurs (as well for a collapse or civil war).
Security and stability could be a lowest common denominator. The consequences of a democracy’s collapse in Georgia, Indonesia, Kenya, Thailand, South Africa, Pakistan, Mexico, Venezuela, Bolivia or elsewhere are all different, but in most cases could be construed as seriously negative to a neighbor’s interests.
Law and order may eventually be reestablished or may not, which could increase crime across the border as well as refugee flows and the spread of diseases and armed conflicts.
Trade, transport and resource exploitation may be disrupted or be rendered dysfunctional, potentially imperiling neighboring economies who are part of that supply chain, economic relationship or resource development cycle.
There are other consequences, some in the near term, many more in the medium to long term. These costs elaborate that while the spread of democracy may not be in the lowest common denominator of all democracies, sustaining an existing democracy could be.
Small steps they may seem, but sustaining existing democracies is a challenge most democracies would then have a stake in meeting.
So what if, instead of some sort of alternative United Nations Security Council or General Assembly that would be relatively dead on arrival, the League Of Democracies was utilized as the first AND last option of help for emerging and struggling democracies?
Relatively young democracies in Africa especially are in need of basic resources, from civil service development (teachers, urban planners, nurses) to agriculture infrastructure.
The League could fund and assist with specific programs that have targeted goals (much like an MCA on steroids), usually through the pairing of a pool of democracies to assist specific countries. Success then becomes a point of necessity and pride not only for the beneficiary country but the nations cooperating on their progress.
Above all, both emerging and struggling democracies (sometimes one in the same) can use:
internal security (police)
favorable trade environment
physical and civil infrastructure development
In Part 3 of this series, I will propose that struggling democracies (as in Georgia, Kenya, Thailand) could be the focus of a working group of democracies that approaches the situation much like a small community with a sick or in need neighbor.
In Part 4, I intend to explore how this could be marketed and intended not as a threat to China or other autocracies, but a compliment of their policies. China, Russia and others do an impressive job propping up their fellow autocracies. We have done a very poor job of building up and assisting our fellow democracies.
“How can we help?”