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Monday, March 21, 2005

Democracy and international institutions

I've been trying to figure out what John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz plan to do their new jobs (pending approval by the Senate). Given what Bush administration officials have said in the past, it seems fairly clear that these new appointments are designed to bully these institutions into alignment with America's latest Wilsonian prioritization of "freedom" in its foreign policy.

Kim R. Holmes, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, gave an insightful speech on "Democracy and International Organizations" on December 5, 2003.
The United States remains firmly committed to the global expansion of democracy and, as President Bush puts it, “the hope and progress it brings as the alternative to instability and hatred and terror.” “Lasting peace is gained,” he added, “as justice and democracy advance.”

We carry this strategy into all our work in international organizations.
Indeed, these goals are pursued even in development organizations, like the World Bank:
Helping to build or reinforce democratic institutions should be a goal of every UN development program. It should be a touchstone for reform aimed at reducing corruption, protecting political and civil rights, increasing investor confidence, and generating financing for development.
Holmes outlined the administration's logic for pushing elections and institutions rather than human rights per se:
First, true democracy rests in popular sovereignty—the voice and will of the people expressed through elections, and reflected in the maintenance of democratic institutions.....

Second, liberty and human rights may be universal values, but you need democratic self-government—a social contract between people and their government—to protect them. If the power of government is expanded too much, human rights will inevitably be in danger. Democratic self-governance, then, cannot be separated from human rights. It is the main instrument by which human rights are preserved and advanced.

Third, international organizations are most effective in advancing human rights and development when they focus on advancing democratic self-governance. Advancing democracy, therefore, should be the goal of every international organization. But by this, I mean democratic self-governance—the democratization of society—the building of democratic institutions and civil society as the foundations of true democracy.
What will all this mean? Well, in addition to emphasizing electoral processes and institutions over "human rights," the administration means to continue its assault on the sovereignty of non-democratic states:
...if international bodies are based on democratic principles, those principles should infuse every deliberation and decision. Giving equal status to democratic countries and to non-democratic countries—whose decisions rarely reflect consent from those they govern—creates an inherent tension in these bodies that can make implementing decisions quite challenging.
The same logic pervades its view of Security Council reform, which will be a key issue throughout this year in the wake of the Secretary General's latest efforts on this score:
Democracy and accountability suffer when we accept as members of the Security Council countries that threaten their neighbors, oppress their people, and break international laws and treaties. I believe the Council’s decisions would have more moral authority if every member elected to it governs justly and abides by the rule of law.
Holmes makes a similar recommendation for the Commission on Human Rights:
If we want the Commission’s decisions to be more democratic—more important, if we want its decisions to mean something for the suffering people who look to it for help—then the democratic members of the UN must take the lead. Countries that uphold the purposes and principles of the CHR should see that more democratic countries get elected to serve on it.
It is noteworthy, by the way, that Holmes challenges the democratic nature of the EU in this 2003 speech.

I look for the administration to embrace neocon Max Singer's idea for a democratic caucus at the UN.

The Bush administration seems to be arguing that there's no need to work with non-democratic states -- better merely to change their governments.

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