AXIS OF GOOD FILES:

Voting Bloc: In Geneva, the U.N.’s successor may be testing its wings (Jonathan Rauch, March 22, 2004, Reason)

Since 1996, a handful of foreign-policy wonks have been kicking around the idea of a “democracy caucus” at the U.N. Two administrations, first Bill Clinton’s and then George W. Bush’s, took quiet but significant steps in that direction. Now, according to Bush administration officials, the concept will be test-flown at the six-week meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that began on Monday in Geneva.

Reached at his Chicago law office shortly before his departure for Geneva, Richard S. Williamson, the U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Commission, said, “It’s our hope, going to Geneva, to have two or three working sessions of the Community of Democracies—the democracy caucus, if you will.” Asked if the meetings would be simply organizational or social, as earlier ones have been, he said: “We want to move beyond that. We are hopeful there will be meetings to discuss particular agenda items at the commission meeting and seek to find a common approach to them.” Losing no time, the democracy caucus convened over breakfast in Geneva on Wednesday. […]

In 1996, a private group called the United Nations Association of the United States of America floated the idea of a caucus solely for democracies. With 120 or so nations (out of 191 U.N. members), such a caucus could serve as a powerful counterweight to the traditional caucuses.

Late in the second Clinton administration, with a push from the State Department, the democracies began to organize. In 2000, 106 democracies gathered for the first meeting of an informal group they called the Community of Democracies. It had no permanent staff or formal powers, but it did produce an endorsement, in principle, of a democracy caucus at the U.N., a stance that the community reaffirmed in a second meeting in 2002 and, most recently, at a U.N. meeting last fall.

The Bush State Department then began lobbying Community of Democracy nations in a series of diplomatic lunches. “And these lunches with ambassadors from all different geographical regions—but all democracies—talked about all kinds of ideas, including this one,” Paula J. Dobriansky, the undersecretary of State for global affairs, said in an interview. “Overall, it was very clear that other democratic countries from various regions embrace this idea and feel it could be of great value at the U.N., that it can bring together and highlight issues relevant to democracy.”

All of that was groundwork. What had yet to happen was for the caucus to meet at the U.N. to do actual business: devise common positions, advance resolutions, eventually vote as a bloc on nominations and policies. It is this operational coordination that the administration hopes will now begin in Geneva, under the leadership of Chile, which currently heads the Community of Democracies’ steering group. […]

[C]onsider the long-term potential. By the time the Community of Democracies becomes strong enough to act coherently inside the U.N., it will also be strong enough to act coherently outside the U.N. It will contain most of the world’s countries, including most of the strong ones. It will be unencumbered by the vetoes of tin-pot tyrannies. As it gains confidence and skill, it will attract money and authority. It may sprout an aid budget, a relief program, a peacekeeping arm, perhaps treaty powers.

In other words, the Community of Democracies may begin as a voice within the U.N. but go on to become a competitor to the U.N. Perhaps—one can dream—it may someday be the U.N.’s successor.

This is a vital step in the transition from a world where power over a people lends a regime sovereignty to one in which the regime must prove its legitimacy, by gaining the consent of the governed, before it will be recognized as sovereign. The implications are massive. Consider only one: under this standard, the burden of proof would be on regimes like Saddam’s, Kim Jong-il’s, Castro’s, etc, to show why they should not be toppled and replaced by legitimate governments, rather than the liberal democracies having to put on dog and pony shows featuring WMD.

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