Keeping the League Alive

The Russian and Chinese vetoes of the US-sponsored sanctions resolution on Friday July 11th (along with South Africa’s negative vote) has done much to keep the question of a ‘league of democracy’ alive in global governance circles. Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) has written recently a useful examination of the League of Democracies concept in the most recent issue of Foreign Policy. His article entitled, “A League of Their Own,” reviews the origins, history and even the influence of the concept of the League of Democracies.

Born in the academic byways, the concept discussed by John Ikenberry and Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter in their report of the Princeton Project on National Security, has since evolved into a partisan reflection of presumptive Republican candidate, John McCain. In the candidates vision, the League would be a “global compact” that might well harness more thaan 100 democratic nations to, according to Carothers, “advance our [US] values and defend our [US] shared interests.” Such a League could put pressure on autocratic states - read that in part as Russia and China - to act on tough issues such as Myanmar, Darfur and Zimbabwe.

It is evident that the League could act outside the UN including the P5. As Carothers suggest, “It is precisely the United Nations’ universality - which the league would undo - that is so highly valued in many countries, unwieldy though it may be.” In previous posts we have identified the attractiveness of the UN model - its universality notwithstanding the veto of the P5. Many view the League as being nothing but a thinly veiled effort to cloak US unilateralism within a new multilateral organization that reflects and accepts US preferences and interests.

Indeed, some of the proposals, especially the overtly US partisan ones seem to suggest just that possibility. However, there will remain an insistent demand of elites, nations and organizations that states and their international organizations and institutions protect individuals and populations where states are unwilling to act, or in the case of Zimbabwe where the state and its organs actively promote violence against its own people. This demand to protect vulnerable groups will not likely to be stilled by the veto wielding actions of the BRICSAM.

It is troubling to see three prominent BRICSAM states so quick to accommodate the villains and thugs of contemporary international politics. It is even worse when Russian leadership apparently supported, at least at G7/8 Summit at Hokkaido, the actions proposed by the US in its sanction resolution before the UN Security Council. The Russian veto was rationalized on the basis that Zimbabwe failed to pose a threat to international peace and thus lay outside the UNSC jurisdiction. As for China its rationale was it might interfere in the negotiations between Zimbabwean factions (what negotiations?). And South Africa. As Thomas Friedman stated in his New York Times op-ed of July 16th, “But when it comes to pure, rancid moral corruption, no one can top South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, and his stooge at the UN, Dumisani Kumalo. They have done everything they can to prevent any meaningful U.N. pressure on the Mugabe dictatorship.”

The voices - apparently strong within some of the BRICSAM - insisting on universality and the UN model of global governance will not prevail, I am reasonably confident, where the emerging powers, and others, insist on ignoring the plight of victims in countries where autocratic regimes remain intent on harming their people. It will be a world of multiple multilateral institutions. Not necessarily a happy prospect - but a real one.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.