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Concert of democracies: The liberal internationalist case

August 10, 2007

Ivo Daalder’s and Robert Kagan’s “Concert of Democracies” opinion-editorial has been generating waves of derision from the left coast of blogland.

I’ve already argued that Kagan’s ‘Cold War II’ outlook on the liberal-authoritarian divide amounts to a self-fulfilling prophecy–although the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s activities suggest that we’re already heading in that general direction. So I’m certainly not going to defend every aspect of the proposal. But I have been a bit frustrated with some of the criticisms coming from the left. In brief, while Kagan’s case for a Concert of Democracies certainly stems from neoconservative ideology, or what I’ve termed “Exceptionalist Internationalism”, there is an “Exemplarist Internationalist” case for a Concert of Democracies. Consider the Princeton Project on National Security’s endorsement of the Concert of Democracies idea (PDF):

While pushing for reform of the United Nations and other major global institutions, the United States should work with its friends and allies to develop a global “Concert of Democracies” – a new institution designed to strengthen security cooperation among the world’s liberal democracies. This Concert would institutionalize and ratify the “democratic peace.” If the United Nations cannot be reformed, the Concert would provide an alternative forum for liberal democracies to authorize collective action, including the use of force, by a supermajority vote. Its membership would be selective, but self-selected.

Members would have to pledge not to use or plan to use force against one another; commit to holding multiparty, free-and-fair elections at regular intervals; guarantee civil and political rights for their citizens enforceable by an independentjudiciary; and accept the responsibility to protect.


Neither America nor the world can wait forever for U.N. reform, no matter how desirable it is. The United States must take the lead and invest the time, energy, and resources to accomplish significant reform, on the principle of “mend it, don’t end it.” At the same time, however, we should work with our allies to develop a new global institution dedicated to the principles underpinning liberal democracy, both as a vehicle to spur and support the reform of the United Nations and other global institutions and as a possible alternative to them.

This alternative body would be a global “Concert of Democracies.” Its purpose would be to strengthen security cooperation among the world’s liberal democracies and to provide a framework in which they can work together to effectively tackle common challenges – ideally within existing regional and global institutions, but if those institutions fail, then independently, functioning as a focal point for efforts to strengthen liberty under law around the world. It would also serve as the institutional embodiment and ratification of the “democratic peace.”

This is basically a proposal for Kant’s “League of Nations.” Note that the Concert of Democracies proposal is intended, in this context, to accomplish a number of things:

First, to put pressure on the UN to abandon the Security Council veto and implement other reforms. The Concert of Democracies functions as a graduated exit option for the US and other democratic states.

Second, to provide a more robust constitutional order to bind the US to strategic restraint and provide enhanced voice opportunities for other powers. In theory, at least, a Concert of Democracies would be more difficult for US policymakers to ignore; a supra-majority system would make it more attractive to small powers and also diminish the ability of the US to revert to Bush-style unilateralism, e.g., adventures like Iraq.

Third, to increase the prestige and benefits of democratization in world politics.

I’m not endorsing a Concert of Democracies. My point is merely this: arguing for a Concert of Democracies does not require endorsing neoconservative foreign-policy principles.

UPDATE: James Poulus has a good–and critical–discussion of the issues raised here.

Image source: Freedom House

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.