Monday, December 17, 2007

Responding to Kagan

Over at the Atlantic Community, Robert Kagan again makes the case for seeing the world redivided between "the democrats" and "the autocrats." I've posted this response:

If only it were so easy ... a world divided between democracies and autocracies. Facts, of course, are stubborn things.

Autocratic governments in Sudan and Burma are kept functioning not simply because of Chinese investment but the continued need of other Asian democracies--India and Japan among them--for resources.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to see the split over Kosovo as one between good democracies and bad autocracies? But how does one explain the ongoing debate within the European Union--and the concerns of states like Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and Slovakia, among others, for a solution to Kosovo that both bypasses the United Nations and is imposed in the absence of agreement from both Pristina and Belgrade? Last time I checked, these states were all democracies. And I don't know to whom Mr. Kagan has been speaking with in New Delhi--but there are certainly concerns about a Kosovo precedent that could then be applied to Kashmir. On the other hand, both democratic India and autocratic China have signaled that if Kosovo is considered to be purely a European problem and that neither the United States nor the EU will ever seek to use Kosovo as a precedent anywhere else in the world, they might be prepared to let "this one slide."

Another objection one could raise is that the line dividing democracies from autocracies is so often blurred. As we've seen over the last decade it is quite easy for a democratically -elected leader to begin to dismantle checks and balances to create a more authoritarian government. Is this league of democracies going to be constantly shifting its membership: is Ukraine a democracy when it is led by Prime Minister Tymoshenko but not one when it is led by Prime Minister Yanukovych?

Finally, nothing has stopped or prevented such a league from taking shape. But the Community of Democracies is stillborn, the Democracy Caucus at the UN doesn't seem to be moving, and democracies don't agree on how they should frame policies toward the so-called rogues. There wasn't a great deal of approval for Nicolas Sarkozy's efforts to reintegrate Colonel Muammar Qaddafi into the club of world leaders.

There are time when democracies can form ad hoc groupings to address specific issues--such as the joint response of India, Japan, Australia and the United States to the tsunami. But to continue to extrapolate from such examples that some sort of permanent alliance can be formed is wishful thinking. I believe Richard Haass has it right when he describes the era we find ourselves in as the "Palmerstonian moment"--where states will cooperate with each other on some issues but not on others, and as a result the value of formal alliances will continue to decline.

Seductive idea, this league of democracies--but not grounded in reality.

Guess he hadn't read this essay a few months back--doesn't sound like a league of democracies to me.
More of this, the US will lead and others will follow nonsense?
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