McCain's International Institution Problem

John McCain yesterday called for the establishment of a new international organization, a League of Democracies. The organization McCain envisions would not supplement the United Nations, but "act where the UN fails to act."

What McCain may not know is that this so-called "League of Democracies" was dreamed up as a Trojan horse by John Bolton, Anne Bayefsky, Claudia Rosett, and others who wish to retire the United Nations. A United Democratic Nations, they have reasoned, would advance American priorities and thus run the United Nations, an institution they view as an obstacle to the uniltateral exercise of power, out of business.

Bayefsky's argument for a United Democratic Nations appeared last year in the New York Sun. To state the obvious, such an organization is doomed to fail for a number of reasons.

First, the universal membership of the United Nations gives it a unique legitimacy among international actors. When it acts or speaks as one, it does so with a power that cannot be matched by any other institution - a power that, according to the RAND Corporation, makes it the most effective nation-building organization in the world. A new organization may be more efficient and take collective action more readily, but it will be viewed with suspicion by outsiders and cannot possibly succeed.

Second, splitting the democracies from the non-democracies is the surest way to increase the rift between the two camps. At the United Nations, countries have to care about all global problems. That's a big reason why rich countries are starting to pay more attention to global poverty and poor countries are starting to pay attention to global terrorism.

Finally - and this is McCain's major mistake, too - Bayefsky and company somehow think that the United States is capable of shaping a new world order all on its own. Even in the nascent Community of Democracies, an up-and-coming organization dedicated to helping build democratic institutions, the U.S. must tread lightly to get what it wants.

McCain should know that the "American brand" is far too damaged to pull off something like this effectively. If the U.S. were to found a League of Democracies or a United Democratic Nations tomorrow, no more than a few nations would sign up.

For what it's worth, I think McCain is frustrated with the U.N., but does not want to shut its doors as Bolton, Rosett, and Bayefsky do.

I think McCain is looking for a way to speak to his traditional supporters in the multilateral wing of the Republican Party, satisfy conservatives who hate the U.N., and project himself as a visionary all at once.

McCain has bitten off more than he can chew here. The thinking behind this idea is incredibly sloppy, and it makes a campaign that is struggling for a foothold seem even more desperate.

Democracies should be cooperating more. The Bush administration - and John Bolton at the U.N., in particular - has splintered democratic coalitions. Aren't consolidating the U.N. Democracy Caucus, strengthening into the Community of Democracies, and making the U.N. stronger and more effective ambitious enough goals already?

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