… some sort of league of democratic nations. There should be quite tough criteria for admission, the ability to be expelled, and benefits for joining (such as free trade between members).
Not a new idea by any measure – it’s almost ancient. The current proposed name, “The Concert of Democracies” is also much less lame. Not a bad idea in principle. It probably wouldn’t work. Referring to Metternich’s Concert of Europe of 1815, as the Economist thusly noted in 2008:
But there are some catches in the concert idea, as any historian could tell you. For one thing, it is simpler for absolute rulers to defend monarchy than for democracies to act together in defence of democracy—if only because electorates are fickle and may want to change the score.
Take Australia. As long as John Howard, the pro-American prime minister, is in power, a “concert of democracies” could get a good hearing in Canberra. But if it means open-ended commitment to American-led military ventures, voters won’t want to play. Sending Australian troops to Iraq has been unpopular, though voters are more sympathetic to Australia’s role, alongside NATO, in Afghanistan.
Like most other countries invited to the concert, Australia must also consider the fact that not all its good friends are democracies. America is Australia’s closest ally, but China is its second-biggest export customer after Japan; Australia is exploring a free-trade agreement with Beijing. Nor will the idea of keeping awkward types out appeal to all Australians. “International bodies are better if they include countries that cause problems as well as countries that fix them,” says Michael Fullilove of the Lowy Institute, a Sydney think-tank.
Another advantage of the 1815 concert was that the powers excluded from it were less powerful than those it embraced. France was initially kept out but by 1818 it had won a place; the other excluded player was the waning Ottoman empire. The concert failed when greed for Ottoman spoils prevailed over the ideal of co-operation.
The concert now proposed would face a bigger range of outsiders trying to spoil its tunes. As Fyodor Lukyanov—editor of a journal, Russia in Global Affairs—argues, the “non-democracies” would include not just two nuclear powers (Russia and China) but half the global population, and oil powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. A world thus divided could make the Soviet-American stand-off “seem like a children’s game”, says Mr Lukyanov. In fact, he adds cheerfully, a world of “democrats versus non-democrats” would be a “horrific place, doomed to war”.