A few days old but a worthwhile read on this very slow Friday afternoon, especially in light of the punch-up in the comments to the Headlines item last night. Maverick’s been pushing this idea for fully a year now as a de facto compromise between neocon and realist foreign policy views. For the former, it’s a counterweight to the UN based on the principle that not all nations are morally equal to America; for the latter, it’s a counterweight to Bushian unilateralism based on the principle that some nations, at least, are. McCain name-checked it in his big foreign policy speech but it’s still not clear what he has in mind, possibly because he hasn’t thought the concept through beyond what it’ll do for him with independents and Reagan Democrats in the fall. The LA Times thinks he’s lately taken to “scaling back” the plan, but I think he’s just keeping things nice and vague so that you can read into it whatever your heart desires.

McCain first proposed a League of Democracies last year, describing a formal organization that could use military force as well as economic and diplomatic pressure. It would be organized by the United States, much like NATO after World War II…

In an article in Foreign Affairs magazine in November, McCain called for “linking democratic nations in one common organization” that could provide a common structure for countries whose troops serve on joint missions…

Now, however, McCain says the group would not use military force, and would be an informal organization in which democratic nations come together in different groupings, depending on their varying concerns.

“It does not envision military action,” McCain told reporters in Dallas on April 11. He said it would “not be a formal organization; it would be a coalition of nations that shifts sometimes depending on what their priorities are.”…

Noting McCain’s language in the Foreign Affairs article, [former Clinton advisor James] Lindsay said that what McCain described to reporters April 11 “are ad hoc coalitions of the willing, which are something quite different, even if they draw on democracies for their main contributors.”

Yeah, good point. If the coalitions are going to shift from issue to issue then why do you need a League? McCain himself promised in Foreign Affairs that it won’t supplant the UN but would merely, ahem, complement it, in which case all it is is another drag on effective international action. Sometimes you’ll want or need help on an issue from an undemocratic country; the League structure will make it hard to engage them without it looking like a betrayal of the organizing principle. On other issues there’ll be rifts between League members, leaving the U.S. with a choice of either bowing to the dissenters’ opinion in the interests of comity or ignoring them and undermining the organization. I think it’s a disaster in the making, ultimately good for little beyond making the symbolic point that, contra the UN, national legitimacy derives from something grander than the simple fact of sovereignty. In which case, it’s really just a non-Non-Aligned Movement. Exit question: How am I wrong? Sell me on this idea.

Update: One other thought. The risk you run by building a potential counterweight to the UN is that it encourages your enemies to build a counterweight to the counterweight, which may have the effect of bringing mostly independent bad actors into closer coordination.

Tags: Democrats