We need to renew and revitalise our democratic solidarity. We need to strengthen our transatlantic alliance as the core of a new global compact – a League of Democracies – that can harness the great power of the more than 100 democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests.
At the heart of this new compact must be mutual respect and trust. We Americans recall the words of our founders in the Declaration of Independence, that we must pay “decent respect to the opinions of mankind”. Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed.
The words about respect and trust are welcome. However, the idea of a leage of democracies is also likely to run into some opposition among America's European allies. The reasons McCain gives for his league of democracies, both in the FT and in a May 2007 speech reported on in the Washington Post, have much to do with America's perceived national interest. On issues like confronting the 'turn towards autocracy' in Russia, 'acting where the UN fails to act' on a problem like Darfur and providing 'unimpeded market access' to open market democracies, continental Europe has completely different perceived interests.
John Vinocur noted the wide divergence between John McCain's and Germany's approach towards Russia in a recent piece in the International Herald Tribune. This divergence is not limited to either McCain or to Germany, but also extends to other European countries, like France, and to the Democratic presidential candidates. Vinocur is hostile towards the German policy on Russia, which he partially attributes to a leftward shift.
The more friendly policy towards Russia is, however, well-established in the German political mainstream, because it is perceived to be in Germany's interests. There is a much more acute desire for stability with regard to Russia and the former Soviet Union countries in Germany than there is in the USA, as both a hostile Russia and a chaotic Russia would have a large potential for causing trouble in Germany's backyard. The US does not have this problem, so its focus on democracy promotion comes at a lower cost. The divergence in policy clearly follows a divergence in interests.
And that is part of the problem with McCain's league of democracies. John McCain appears to think that the democracies of the world will naturally have an overriding common national interest, as democracies. Although being a functioning liberal democracy will have some effect upon the perceived national interest of a country, this notion of McCain seems naive. If there really were such a large amount of shared interest, the democracies of the world would already be acting in concert in the United Nations.
As Nikolas Gvosdev has noted on The Washington Realist, problems with getting democracies to act together on a topic are ultimately caused by unwillingness to do so on part of the countries, not by institutional obstacles.